Galactic/Papa Mali, The Paradise, Boston, MA- 3/26
From the moment Galactic took the stage in front of a sold-out Paradise Rock Club, it was clear that there were no hard feelings left over from the early February date the band had postponed due to keyboardist Richard Vogel's sudden illness. In fact, a month of mounting anticipation on the part of fans, and a recent European run may have been just what the doctor ordered for Galactic's return to the Northeast.
New Orleans blues troubadour Papa Mali opened the night with an acoustic set, traditional while engaging. True to both his delta roots and his experience with reggae band the Killer Bees, Mali may be the first performer to dub the blues. After leading the crowd in a call and response "True Religion," he closed his set with James Booker's "Junco Partner," an impressive translation of boogie-woogie piano to the slide guitar.
As a gracious gesture to patient fans, Galactic launched their opening set with a barrage of favorites. "Go Go" and "Crazyhorse Mongoose" featured drummer Stanton Moore at his most zealous, rising to his feet with excitement, and inciting fellow band mates with cries and gestures. Saxophonist Ben Ellman was the first to heed the rallying cry, blowing sweeping lines that on occasion overpowered the keys and guitar. While subtle and supportive, Jeff Raines guitar was the last to wake up, sometimes even masked mid-solo by Ellman's raspy, comping harmonica.
After a dark, gypsy shuffle, Papa Mali joined the band for a bouncy tune built upon a 6-feel on the drums and a 4-feel on Robert Mercurio's bass. The result was loose and wiggly, something perhaps more appropriate for a String Cheese show than a swamp-funk showcase. While strong in his own right, Mali's sound was not flattered by the backing band, as the subtleties of his guitar work became lost in the mix.
That said, the first set closed with a sampling from Galactic's forthcoming hip hop disc. As Ellman scratched sampled electronics on his onstage MPC, Moore and Mercurio descended into a heavier backbeat. The sign of a burgeoning Zeppelin obsession (Moore covered "When the Levee Breaks" on his latest solo disc), or perhaps a testament to how NO-savvy Zeppelin was, the beat evolved into the immediately recognizable "Kashmir," with Ellman even aping Robert Plant on the tenor sax.
The second set took off in much the manner of the first. "Hamp's Hump" found Moore pushing the second-line beat to the brink of disintegration without ever fully dismantling the pocket. Mali took stage for a mid-set space break, accompanied by a curious hovering balloon, and then Raines let a little fire from his belly on a slide tune. As Moore's spark had, at last, ignited the rest of the band, Ellman announced a last-minute addition to close out the show. Four trombones from Bonerama brought the cast to nine for a smoking rendition of "Baker's Dozen."
Good things come to those who wait, they say, and if by good things they mean steam-roller funk, then patience truly is a virtue.