February 14, 2011
Every year, on the fourteenth of February we celebrate love of all kinds: the adoration of a man for a woman, the affection one feels for his friends and family…even the pride a patriot feels for their native land. That last one, in this case applies to the five musicians known as Galactic and their hometown that is filled with rich traditions and “let the good times roll” attitude. If it’s possible for a band to be more of a city than from a city, then Galactic is that group.Â They are not just from New Orleans, but are a product of its streets. They are standard bearers of their beloved Big Easy’s rich musical spirit.
Over their 15 years of existence, the core five players: Ben Ellman on saxophone, Rich Vogel on keyboards, Rob Mercurio on bass, Jeff Raines on guitar and Stanton Moore on drums have been alive with the free-wheeling spirit of the Crescent City. From the beginning they fashioned themselves into a funk juggernaut, alternating instrumentals and vocal numbers with Theryl “Houseman” Declouet singing leads.
After DeClouet left the band in early 2004, they continued on embracing the various styles and sounds of their hometown by incorporating hip-hop, jazz, soul and even techno. Right up to the bounce and sissy trends that are just now gathering steam, Galactic has become the epitome of Carnival by using the different genres of music they’ve mastered as if they were feathered and bejeweled masks; slipping them on to play a part in the parade of madness seen only at Mardi Gras or a Galactic show.
On this night, their love of their hometown could only be matched by one thing, the love for them in the crowd at the Vogue in Indianapolis who gathered to pack the house and dance the Valentine’s night away.
The Vogue rests on the northern side of the Indy, a restored and repurposed movie theater that has housed hundreds of shows and has had many a sellout crowd rush through its doors. But the love vibe in the air made this particular evening stand out from the rest.Â Hundreds of couples chose the show as their destination for the evening’s romantic outing and because of this clutch decision, were treated to another band, Orgone, who through groovy soul and jangly percussive funk, would ready the crowd for Galactic’s brand of funky melodies.
Hailing from another American music Mecca, Los Angeles, Orgone was at first an instrumental outfit that played originals and select covers to ever-growing crowds. Forming around the turn of the century, the band added what was missing a few years back: a voice. They found it in Fanny Franklin, a singer whose playful sensuality and raw vocal power has propelled the band to new heights both in the studio and on the stage.
Orgone seems to be coming into their own right before your eyes. Sergio Rios and his assortment of funky riffs and show-stopping wails command attention, and horn players Darren Cardoza and Devin Williams punctuate the ends of phrases with staccato bursts. Percussionists Stewert Killen and Sam Halterman snap and pop along with bassist Ethan Phillips, forming an ensemble that organically and progressively feeds into each other’s element. All of this, in conjunction with keyboardist Don Hastie’s lush organ fills, thicken out the sound and manage to work the crowd into a crazed, energetic frenzy.
Closing out with a ripping rendition of Parliament-Funkadelic’s “Cosmic Slop” that was both faithful to the original and enough of a rave up for them to put their own stamp on the tune, Orgone managed to take this funk staple to an even funkier place than its former. No easy feat, but well within this ensemble’s purview.
It is rare for a band to bring an act out as their opener who is as musically strong as Orgone, but when you’re as sonically powerful as Galactic, you worry less about being outdone and more about helping the next generation get the word out. This throng of Vogue admirers was on the scene for the main event anyway, as evidenced by their refraining from taking a break to refill their drinks or grab a smoke as the instruments and amplifiers from the opening set were cleared. Rather they waited patiently for the reason they were there in the first place.
The cheer from the crowd was deafening as Galactic took the stage, settling behind organs and drum kits, taking last sips of water before launching an assault on our auditory canals. Joining them from the start was trombone player Corey Henry of Rebirth Brass Band. Henry has been travelling with the band on and off for the last couple of years, and his addition to the outfit provides the perfect partner in crime for Ellman to roam the stage with and an ideal supplement to his brass outbursts.
Starting things off with a blistering “Santa Cruz,” the band reeled off three instrumentals, establishing a tone for the night and foundation for funk supremacy.Â At this point they were joined by the second but certainly not lesser Corey to be on the road with them, Corey Glover of Living Colour. Glover remained for a trio of songs that was highlighted by a fiery “You Don’t Know” that had the crowd rocking with its call-and-response chorus and Glover’s leave it all on the stage vocal style. Knowing that he would only be doing a few songs at a time seemed to free Glover to use all he had vocally and he stretched each emotive note to the furthest reaches of his range.
The New Orleans tradition of sharing the stage with friends extended to the opening act as well, with the Orgone’s horn players and Franklin and Rios retaking the stage to join their elders for “Tell Me What’s on Your Mind” and the guitar-heavy “Break in the Road.”Â As Jeff Raines traded licks with Rios, he demonstrated the effectiveness of restraint, a touch of class from the veteran who seemed to making a conscious decision throughout the show to speak volumes with as few notes as possible. His clean style cut through the more dense sounds that were laid down by his band mates, easing home into a rhythmic place that was held down by the stellar bass work of Mercurio.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of the night was how each band member was always willing to take supporting roles whenever it was needed for the sake of the song itself.Â Every player in the band could easily take over at any time, but instead they all work within the structure dictated by the piece itself, lending their strength to the compositions. As such, when the opportunity to take a few bars for some personal expression came along, they did so hungrily. There is no better example of this testament than Stanton Moore. With a rare combination of mad knowledge, perfect timing and raw energy, the drummer is the pulse of the band, the heartbeat of the living funk entity that is Galactic.Â Whether he is taking himself down a notch, playing a simple snaking pattern for his partners to paint their masterpieces upon, or crashing with a thunder that belies the precision with which he plays, Moore is the consummate drummer.
As it always does with Galactic shows, it ended far too quickly for the fans in attendance, and did so with a slab of Bayou speak, “Ooh Nah Nay,” with Henry leading the crowd in the exuberant chanting of the chorus. Â The ultimate closer was a reading of the Led Zeppelin staple “How Many More Times,” led by Glover and easily the heaviest piece of the evening.
As the band raved up the final few moments, crashing and thrashing about the stage, it was easy to see why they are as revered on the road as they are in their own home: they bring a brand of funk like no other band in the land.