By Jenny Peters and Andy J. Gordon
Three talented bands energized a receptive gathering of music fans at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood on Friday, March 30, 2018, as Galactic, New Orleans’ leaders of modern funk, headlined the show. Memphis-soul quintet Southern Avenue opened and Brooklyn’s nine-piece powerhouse Turkuaz followed. The audience was treated to a long night of great, booty-shaking music.
Southern Avenue’s sultry lead singer Tierinii Jackson won over the early arriving crowd with her powerful, soulful vocals. She and sister Tikyra, who plays drums in the band, grew up in Memphis and started out singing in church. The band’s short set included tracks from their self-titled 2017 album released by legendary label Stax Records. They closed the set with the album’s popular track “Don’t Give Up,” a guitar strumming, hand-clapping, infectious tune.
Turkuaz hit the stage next. They are an amazing live band that keeps getting better. The tight arrangements, catchy tunes, incredible energy and excellent harmonies drove the crowd at the Ford Theatre into a dancing frenzy. Their ten-song set included a couple of nice new tunes, covers and funky songs from their albums.
The scorching covers were Sly and The Family Stone’s “Babies Making Babies” and Hot Chocolate’s “Everyone’s A Winner.” Greg Sanderson had a killer tenor sax solo on the Sly Stone classic. Sammi Garett and Shira Elias shared lead vocal duties on the Hot Chocolate tune while Craig Brodhead nailed the funky guitar lick. Taylor Shell thumped his bass on a thunderous solo. The rest of the set included some of their dance-party favorites like “Night Swimming” and “Percy Thrills the Moondog” from 2017s “Digitonium” album and “Bubba Slide” from 2014s “Future 86.”
David Brandwein handled lead vocals on the up-tempo “Lookin’ Tough, Feelin’ Good” while Craig Brodhead blasted another massive guitar solo and Michelangelo Carubba delivered a rhythmic drum solo. By the time the band finished their regular show closer “Monkey Fingers,” the crowd was bouncing around the theatre and applauding loudly.
The anticipation for Galactic grew until the lights came down and the curtain came up for the headliners. Galactic has definitely evolved over the band’s more than 20 years on the road, by adding vocalists, rotating horn players and experimenting with hip hop as well as other musical genres. However, at their roots, they are a funk band with incredible arrangements, coordination and musicianship.
Their show at the Fonda Theatre was a mixed bag of tricks that included both new and old tunes, guest appearances and extraordinary performances. Historically, the band played mostly instrumentals with a few lyrical songs. Now, the instrumentals are the exception, but are still a funk-heavy treat. They opened with a brass band, second-line-inspired instrumental “Sugar Doosie.” Founding member Ben Ellman on saxophone and recent addition Shamarr Allen on pocket trumpet blasted their horns on the tune as a precursor to the rest of the lengthy, horn-driven show.
Erica Falls, their amazing vocalist for the past few years, came out to sing “You Don’t Know,” “Hard Times” and “Never Called You Crazy.” Falls has a huge voice and animated stage presence. With the tight band behind her, the songs reverberated through the theater. After another funky instrumental, Ellman introduced the first surprise guest, Charli 2na, the hip-hop legend from Jurassic 5, who is a frequent Galactic collaborator.
He rapped the lyrics to his tune “Comin’ Through” with the band laying down the hypnotic beat. Next up was the Jurassic 5 song “Freedom” that he sang with help from Erica Falls. They implored the crowd to put their hands up for freedom and everyone complied. Charli 2na finished his guest appearance with another Jurassic 5 tune, “Quality Control.”
The band brought out the Turkuaz horns for one of their instrumental classics, “Cineramascope.” Ellman and Allen were joined by Turkuaz’s Chris Brouwers on trumpet, Greg Sanderson on tenor sax and Josh Schwartz on baritone sax. The horn extravaganza was in full flight as the five masters played synchronized riffs and took turns playing solos. They followed that song with Erica Falls leading the expanded band on vocals for “Does It Make a Difference.”
After a few more earth-shaking tunes, Ellman introduced the last guest and biggest surprise – Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews came out of the wings. As Falls sang “Going Down,” Shorty waited patiently at center stage for his chance to shine. His solo and subsequent horn sound-off with Ellman and Allen were the highlight of the show and a fitting closer.
The band left the stage for a brief break but came back quickly for an encore. They played a song written by Trombone Shorty that was recorded by the Rebirth Brass band called “AP Touro.” Erica Falls came out to finish the show with “Dolla Diva.” The night of amazing music came to an end as the house lights came on and the fully exhausted crowd filed out.
If you missed them on this tour, you will have another chance to catch Galactic as they join Trombone Shorty on his Voodoo Threauxdown shows around the country along with Preservation Hall Jazz Band, New Breed Brass Band with special guests Cyril Neville, Walter “Wolfman” Washington and Kermit Ruffins. This New Orleans-focused funk fest will be at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on September 15, 2018.