Galactic, Portland Waterfront Blues Festival, Portland, OR – 7/7
Photo by Jeffrey Dupuis (Galactic the previous day)
Galactic is showing off. It’s dusk on a July Saturday, and summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest.
The Portland waterfront is electric with energy. The party boats moored on the Willamette River twinkle while the city bridges are illuminated with multicolored lights. On the riverbank, the 25th annual Waterfront Blues Festival is in full swing.
There’s nothing like some dirty New Orleans funk to get a diverse crowd going.
Just a few minutes earlier, the scene was quite a bit different — the 50-plus crowd was lounged on picnic blankets, quietly reading or napping. Small children were frolicking, chased by their sundress-clad mothers. The 20-somethings weren’t even there yet, having chosen to pre-game elsewhere to save their precious beer money.
But now it’s almost dark. The small children have gone home. The 50-plus crowd has woken up. The 20-somethings have donned their sequins and zebra print. And everyone’s ready to rage.
Let’s get it on.
Galactic has been around since 1994, and have managed to make quite a name for themselves in that time. Their popularity is nearly universal — if a person isn’t into them, they probably haven’t heard them. Over the years Galactic’s sound has morphed from a funky jazz fusion to a dirty melange of even funkier hip-hop, soulful party music.
Their shows are finely tuned to their intended audience, and tonight, they’re out to impress everyone. The last time Galactic played in Portland, the band showcased music from their two most recent studio albums, 2010’s Ya Ka May, a jambalaya of New Orleans street sounds, and this year’s release Carnivale Electricos, an album dedicated to the heart and soul of Mardi Gras.
Tonight’s show is much more of a mix. Tapping into their full range of abilities, Galactic is pulling out jams from their full repertoire, old school and new, covers and originals. They’re joined by their two most regular guests, vocalist Corey Glover of Living Color and Corey “Boe Money” Henry of Rebirth Brass Band.
The setlist is packed with crowd-pleasers, one of the best being “Funky Bird,” a sneaky jam from the 1996 release Coolin’ Off. This one doesn’t get broken out too often, and it’s a pretty serious treat when it does.
What really is making this show special is the wild way in which Corey Glover is showcasing his vocal range. During Galactic’s high-energy rendition of the classic Allen Toussaint song “Goin’ Down Slowly” (which was popularized by the Pointer Sisters), Glover’s vocal train runs straight off the tracks, prompting fellow Blues Festival performer Bettye LaVette to jump on stage and scold him.
“I don’t like when a man can sing higher than I can,” she explains to a wildly excited crowd.
A handful of newer tunes were scattered throughout the set, including Ya Ka May’s “Heart of Steel” and “You Don’t Know,” two songs that most everybody knows well enough to sing along with. From Carnivale Electricos, the band chooses “Karate” and “Hey Na Na.”
Several other covers round out the show — a skeleton from Glover’s Living Colour closet is broken out with the band’s hit “Cult of Personality,” and a rendition of the Ripple track “I Don’t Know What it is, But it Sure is Funky” gets the audience chanting, “Oh la oh la hey!”
When it’s all over, everyone’s hungry for more.
Galactic takes the stage yet again for a much-needed encore. Surprising everyone, it’s an electrified, funkified, absolutely rockin’ cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For the Devil.”
After “hoo-hoo“ing until the cows come home, Portland finally has to say goodnight to Galactic, and the band leaves the stage once again.
And after lingering for a while in the bright lights of the empty stage, the audience slowly trickles away, wishing they could do the whole thing over again.