Galactic/The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, The Music Mill, Indianapolis, IN- 4/2
The traditional New Orleans jazz funeral (or, “funeral with music”) begins with a precession from the funeral home to the cemetery. Family and friends march behind the casket as a brass band plays hymns and dirges in remembrance of the dead. The family and band are joined by a group of mourners called “the second line,” who offer their support and spirits. Once the body is buried (called “cutting the body loose”) the rhythm and tempo of the band livens, and the dirges are passed over in favor of more upbeat fair; mourning, that is, passes into celebration.
A young Midwest crowd was treated to something of an inverted jazz funeral celebration then mourning as Galactic brought its Coup De Gras tour into Indianapolis’ Music Mill, an intimate restaurant/bar/music club. This second leg of Galactic’s tribute to New Orleans will see them invite such bayou staples as The Rebirth Brass Band and The Stooges Brass Band to the party, but The Music Mill stop was complemented by the legendary Dirty Dozen.
Spirits seemed high as the sun set on The Music Mill. The young crowd (sporting a healthy dose of Phish t-shirts and hemp) had an air of joy about it, as though it was ready for not just a party, but a celebration. An enormous black curtain, showing off Galactic’s orange USSR-meets-New Orleans Coup De Gras eagle logo, hung behind the small stage and loomed over the entire room. With its expansive wingspan, the eagle boldly laid its claim to the performance space, insisting that tonight would be a night for New Orleans and the crowd seemed ready and willing to join the second line.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band took the stage as scheduled at 8:30, just as Ween’s “Voodoo Lady” was being played as part of the pre-show music, and the celebration began to get under way. The Dirty Dozen’s stage set, with a full drum kit and electric guitar, wouldn’t be seen marching through the streets of the French Quarter, but the bottom is still provided by a parade-ready sousaphone. After a short jam by the rhythm section where guitarist Jamie Mclean got to show off his chops a little, all of the horns came to life and the celebration was in full swing. Though the set was a disappointingly short forty-five minutes, there was no let down in the level of revelry. Highlighted by the relaxed and fun “Junko Partner” (which also featured the entire night’s only hint of lead vocals), the brief set featured tight and spirited jams, with the five different horns often passing solos around the stage. Trumpeter Efrem Towns lead much of the merriment, making sure the on-stage parade didn’t leave those revelers in the audience behind. He danced, laughed, lead chants, and occasionally played both his trumpet and flugelhorn at once. The stately Roger Lewis’ baritone sax solos punctuated the festivities; achieving the highest levels bliss with the lowest notes. The set came to a close with the audience’s spirits raised even higher, and the band left the stage unceremoniously, like musicians that knew they wouldn’t be off-stage for long.
After Galactic emerged, but before they began to play, the light show set the tone: it was dark (rich reds, deep greens), erratic, and eerie. The spotlights darted around the stage, often accenting the output of the smoke machine or the up-stage banner, but rarely focusing on any particular band member. Such was indicative of the six-piece instrumental’s performance: dark, mysterious, and powerful.
“Doublewide” opened the show, with the space between its simple refrain marked by heavy and intricate blues. Ben Ellman made seamless transitions from saxophone to low and throaty Musselwhite-style harmonica, and Stanton Moore, as he would all night, did nothing short of abuse his drums. Moore (who must go through drum heads at about the same rate as an elementary school goes through boxes of tissues during cold season) lead the performance with his brilliant and ruthless percussion. Not a chest in the room was spared from the pounding of his double bass.
If there was the occasional spotlight, it was on Moore, but that was rare. Most often the lights mirrored the music, unifying rather than isolating. The band members would momentarily glow orange or red as lights would catch them on their way by, but the players existed mostly in the shadows of the music. This only furthered the mysterious aura of the show, as if the voodoo lady hinted at earlier, hidden somewhere in the stage smoke, was pulling the strings. The Dirty Dozen’s joyous celebration had moved into Galactic’s brooding and heavy grooves, and the jazz funeral seemed to be returning to the mourning stage. The hardest driving groove of the set, the not-so-subtly titled “FEMA,” brought a remembrance of New Orleans to the fore. The show did not seem politically charged by any means; yet, the tragedy of their hometown has clearly laced Galactic’s performance with emotion not anger as much as the somber search for answers that one feels at the loss of a loved one.
After an extended “Live Wire” jam, Ellman announced, “It’s not often you get to invite your heroes on stage with you” and smiled as The Dirty Dozen’s horn section returned to the stage. For the final two songs of the first set The Dirty Dozen brought the celebration back with them. Ellman’s sax joined with that of Lewis and of Kevin Harris, accented by Towns’ trumpet and Peanut’s trombone, to lead the second line back to revelry. Towns reassumed his place as the joyous ring leader, and the audience responded with similar joy. Several times, Galactic guitarist Jeff Raines became a spectator himself, simply smiling and watching as the horns lead the party. Though the Dirty Dozen’s on-stage time was again disappointingly short, their impact on the show was profound.
Fan-favorite “Crazyhorse Mongoose” opened the second set, and it seemed for a moment that Galactic had left the hard-driving grooves on the other side of their set break. That notion, however, was quickly proved false as “The Moil” followed, with Moore again leading the band through a heavy and powerful rendition. The Dirty Dozen’s Mclean joined the band for two mid-set songs, “Clockstopper” (for which Ellman also did a bit of work on a synthesizer) and “Bongo Joe,” to wail in a way that he rarely gets the chance to do with his own band. His guitar fit very nicely into the dark and bluesy feel of the show. Towns again joined Galactic to close the second set with a spirited “Baker’s Dozen.”
The jazz funeral was punctuated in the encore with a version of one of Led Zeppelin’s most haunting songs: “When the Levee Breaks.” Though laden with enough mournful symbolism on its own, Ellman introduced it as, “a song for New Orleans.” While Moore had been displaying a certain level of Bonhamism all night, he surpassed his predecessor with his commanding performance during this encore. Ellman’s ghostly harmonica tones filled the vocal void, and Mclean (who reemerged for the encore) and Raines traded bluesy licks. The poignant Zeppelin tune resonated with power and meaning throughout The Music Mill, and the inverted jazz funeral finally fully made its way back to the mourning stage. Though not a spiritual hymn or a dirge, “When the Levee Breaks” served as a reminder that it is not yet time to move past the grief of Katrina’s waters. In the end, while both bands ran the gambit of feeling, the lasting emotional stamp of this show was one of mournful remembrance. It was not about Roger Lewis or Efrem Towns, Stanton Moore or Ben Ellman, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band or Galactic, it was about the sound of New Orleans rising from the flood waters and resounding in memoriam of a body that has not been cut loose.