Galactic, Barrymore Theater, Madison, WI- 4/12
I had the pleasure of catching Galactic as they swung through Madison, WI on their current Midwest tour. I have been a fan of the band for years but somehow I hadn’t seen a show since May 2001, which seems like a very long time indeed. The good news is that in the span of one year Galactic has continued to write new material and work very hard to hone its unique blend of New Orleans psychedelic-soul neo-funk music. For this Midwest tour, like the recent FreezeStyle Tour with the Triple-Threat DJs, most of the dates have included support acts, but this date was an evening with Galactic without any opener, which was fine by me.
The Barrymore Theatre is a converted movie house that has a 900-person capacity. There are 750 seats total which includes a small balcony and there is room for 150 in the orchestra pit / dance floor. I would venture to guess that there were about 600 in attendance. The dr features a very unique collection of carved heads of various cultural derivations, which are liberally hung throughout the lobby area. The sound system at the Barrymore is excellent as well as the sightlines and overall vibes.
Galactic took the stage and started out with two tunes (“Hook & Sling,” “Sprung Monkey”) that, I believe, became part of the band’s repertoire back in the fall of 2001 (which meant that this was the first time I had heard them live). The band seems to have mellowed a bit, their grooves deeper, somewhat more relaxed with less frenetic energy than I remember. I imagine this is part of an overall maturation of the players coupled with more thoughtful intention about what it means to be Galactic. After a bubbly reading of "Workin in a Coal Mine" it was time for Theryl “Houseman” de Clouet’s first vignette of the night. Houseman brings a great deal to the Galactic palette, his soulful voice, encyclopedic knowledge of music, and guru-like vibes are an integral part of the Galactic experience. Theryl sounded great and looked fine in a shiny purple waistcoat. I appreciate it when Galactic does Meters covers and “Change/Reform” is one of my all-time favorite tunes for either band to play. Next, reading words from sheet music, Galactic broke out, for the first time, the new tune “Flying High”. “Vilified” was up next, another one of my favorite vocal tunes. The remainder of the first set featured solid versions of a couple of tunes that have been somewhat out of rotation (“Greyboy Hell,” “Who took the Happiness away?” and “Metermaid > Two Clowns.”
The second set started out with the Houseman on stage (a favorite configuration of mine) offering another tribute to the Meters with the tongue-n-cheek “Pork Chops-n-Gravy” (or “Just kissed my baby”). This was a great way to step immediately back into the groove. Another one of my vocal favorites, “Start from Scratch,” followed, before the band continued with more instrumental tunes including both newer material as well as older tunes. The crowd and band settled into a wonderful groove, with everyone up on the rail doing their thang as Galactic continued to weave its sophisticated yet accessible groove. Houseman came back out with “Thrill” (which he dedicated to me- thanks- Houseman does a great job acknowledging and involving the crowd and this one is usually dedicated “to all the ladies in the house”). Next up was “Ice Cold Daydream” and again the vocals and overall groove were wonderful. The set closed with “Spicoli’s Toe”, another older tune that has not seen much playtime recently. The encore was the Allen Toussiant/Lee Dorsey classic made famous by The Pointer Sisters, “Yes We Can,” with excellent vocal work and a great groove.
The band’s performances continue to get better and better, which is bound to happen when you play together as often as Galactic does. From an individual perspective, I have seen quite a bit of growth from all the players. On this night Robert “Bobby Mac” Mercurio, was laying down some serious bombs along with the inspired use of some new pedal effects I had not heard from him before. Meanwhile, guitarist Jeff Raines continues to expand his influence on the Galactic sound. He is heavily inspired by the delta-blues and I love the way he continues to add that spice to the overall sonic gumbo. After the show Jeff mentioned that they were working hard on new stuff, with special emphasis on the vocal material and harmonies. I noticed that there was much more use of backup vocal harmonies now, which adds nicely to the rich tapestry of Galactic. Rich Vogel on keyboards continues to demonstrate his mastery of the moog, clavinet and especially the B-3. Rich is the quiet, somewhat mysterious one in the band; his electronic musings add a very cool outer-worldliness to the sound. Ben “Ben-E” Ellman offers his full-bodied tone and tasty phrasing on both tenor and baritone saxophones, and his use of octave splitters and other pedals is done with great effect. That brings us to Stanton Moore, who continues on the path of perpetuating the long and storied tradition of gifted drummers that have come out of New Orleans. Stanton’s incredible sense of rhythmic melody and syncopation is deeply rooted in New Orleans traditions but at the same time he plays with his own unique style and technique. His use of the traditional brass-band bass drum via foot pedal is unique and over the past two years he has seamlessly incorporated sequences and loops with his playing, which adds dimension and intensity to the rhythmic pulse of Galactic. Stanton is always a pleasure to watch as he pounds away in syncopated bliss all the while grinning with that silly smile on face
All in all the band remains a delight with its groove-oriented gumbo of delta-blues, syncopated funk, outer-worldly spaciness, and psychedelic soul.