Galactic brought their raucous brand of New Orleans funk to the El Rey Theatre and we had a friend of the blog, Alex B., review it while D. Lee snapped some pics.
It feels like a band’s average shelf life is getting shorter every year and my new favorite songs won’t outlive my smartphone. So it’s rare and welcome for me to see a band perform over a decade. It gets even better when I’m not going in for the nostalgia of yesterday’s hits but for a band as good today as they were back then. The first time I saw Galactic was in 1999 for a long and hot Halloween at Irving Plaza. 15 years later they are not a throwback act, they are a great band playing New Orleans funk, music that never gets old.
Opening the night was Kung Fu, a hard kicking funk band. Playing fast and relentless and vamping up every opportunity, they played their part well, warming the audience up. They smelled of a bar band that’s outgrown the bar but is still used to playing over a noisy crowd, their songs don’t risk any slow build ups or subtle grooves. If they keep working it and try new spaces, they can develop the chemistry of a more travelled funk outfit like Lettuce. On this night at the El Rey, they had a large early crowd and got them fired up. They had one card and they played it well. But their single sided style seemed even more narrow when Galactic took over with their full deck of talent.
In 1999, when I first started listening to Galactic, there were a good number of jam bands going through my CD player – the genre that I feel right putting Kung Fu with. But while Galactic songs play nice on a mix tape of those acts, they work even better on a tape of backpacker hip hop, a soul jazz compilation, or even a world music sampler (meant in the best way possible).
Having a mastermind like Stanton Moore driving the rhythm, it would be hard to stay in one place, which has been key for them to deliver 10 consistently fun and interesting albums over almost two decades. Their bread and butter is that sweet Nawlins jazz funk – crisp marching drums, rubber bounce bass, greasy keys, and big rude brass. Almost every song starts and ends with those bits, but how they mix it up in the middle is how they keep from falling into a rut. I should note they are touring without having released an album in 3 years, and except for some cameos at Jazz Fest, I haven’t seen them perform in about 7 years.
Yet nothing about the show felt stale or worn out. In between their gold standard funk, they tore off a few RnB burners with help from guest vocalist Erica Falls. Got in a slightly mellower instrumental that featured guitarist Jeff Raines with a touch of Django Rienhardt swing. Galactic also brought out another vocalist, Nicki Crawford, to sing the rousing “Break In the Road”, having the audience engage in a moment of call and response that really made it feel like New Orleans was all up in the house.
And then they killed it on an easy highlight – a cameo from LA’s own Chali 2na (of Jurassic 5) as they played “Comin’ Through” I realized during this song how much Chali’s voice resembles a saxophone as his lyrics came rolling over each other from low to high and back around. This was also the only part of the night when I drifted into a moment of nostalgia: for 1999, for college, for dancing till my feet hurt, for not knowing any better. But much as Chali’s classic, “Concrete Schoolyard”, brings out a sense of nostalgia the first time you here it – any nostalgia with Galactic isn’t about reliving a memory, it’s remembering how simple good can be. No need for a big sample … or sick synth wash … or new bass drop … or whatever effects musicians are cluttering the dance floor with. A tight rhythm and horn section never goes out of style.
They wrapped the set up with their final guest vocalist, David Shaw from the Revivalists, to break down the audience with their raucous song “Hey Na Na” off their most recent album “Carnivale Electricos.” They got the crowd worked up into another eager call and response that was across town. It’s always great to be in a crowd that doesn’t give up, even after 2+ hours of dancing and cheering, and these guys never give you an excuse for getting quiet. Most of the crowd looked like they had been through this show before, and will do it again, but there was a fair number of fresh faces who were learning what they’ve been missing out on for so long and didn’t want to miss another beat. And I’ll bet they will get plenty more opportunities.
While this night wasn’t as long or sweaty as the first time I saw them, the band isn’t trying to replay their past. They continue to grow and find new turns for their signature sound with every album and every tour. It’s a bit unfortunate how few bands I can say that about – nearly two decades later and I’m still psyched to hear them say “and now for a song off our new album.”