We wandered into the State Palace Theater for the Medeski, Martin & Wood show excited to find Critters Buggin still working the stage, kicking their original brand of spacey avant groove, then surprisingly breaking into a Galactic favorite. The Galactic cover proved to be the foreshadowing of a Stanton appearance. Mr. Moore had run across the street from the Saenger to the State Palace to join his good friend Skerik, assumedly just minutes before Stanton was to take the stage for his scheduled Galactic show.
What then ensued can only be described as an all out drum fest. The Critter’s drummer, Matt Chamberlin, was perched behind his kit, the percussionist Mike Dillon settled in behind Skerik, Stanton and Skerik facing each other, looming over Skerik’s monstrous Concert Bass drums. Stanton locked into Skerik’s hands and eyes while they thrashed in sync on the skins together. The rhythmic quartet broke out a call and response jam that featured some excellent sonic and temporal unity for four percussionists, with one or two banging out a lead line, and then all four together with the response in unison. The crowd and the band obviously enjoying themselves thoroughly in this exercise of what seemed to be the spirited madness of four very talented teenage friends getting together to make some racket.
Critters broke out a three song encore, featuring compositions crowning Skerik as the master of sonic textures. This is proven not only by the selections he decides to play, but the musicians that he decides to surround himself with, always pushing Skerik to find new enjoyment in whatever he decides to play, and never getting stale or growing old with his performances.
MMW also put on a great show, providing a good change of pace from the intensity of the funk we’d been exposed to all weekend. It was a great way to warm up to the long night ahead of us. The trio brought on three horns that set up on the right side of the stage on a riser behind Martin. The guests included a saxophonist, a trombone player and Michael Ray on trumpet, providing a healthy brass texture to the filtered madness of MMW’s sound. That extra layering was thoroughly enjoyable, and it wasn’t just the lines that the horn players broke out, but instead the hegemony provided by the horns section that sealed up a much more coherent MMW sound. The band didn’t have the luxury of a loose and crazy arrangement that the vast freeness of their trio format allows; MMW certainly locked into the groove with the added structure onstage.
The extra brass provided a great opportunity for MMW to break out a bunch of songs from their ’93 album It’s a Jungle In Here that features horn work from a number of talented musicians, including a great smooth jazz version of "Where’s Sly." Other highlights included a Thelonious Monk>Bob Marley super combo of "Bemsha Swing>Lively Up Yourself”, also from It’s a Jungle in Here, and a beautifully powerful and smooth arrangement of Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun.”
We headed out during Medeski’s set and hopped across Canal St. to the Saenger Theater to catch the rest of Galactic’s show. As we wandered in, we noticed that most of the crowd was hanging outside in the marbled hall, it turns out we had timed it perfectly. By wandering in during setbreak, we were lucky enough to meet up with our friends as the lights dimmed.
Towards the end of the second set, I was watching Rich Vogel on the keys when I spotted the long curly brown locks that could only belong to one man. Warren Haynes strutted out from behind the curtain, later joined by Matt Abts, also a member of Gov't Mule, who would settle in behind Stanton’s kit. The band broke into a commanding version of “Quiet Please” that riled the crowd up to close the second set. When Warren joined Galactic onstage, I couldn’t fathom how his sound would fit with theirs, but his style proved complimentary with his soulfully expressive leads. Warren didn’t buy into the frenzied funk of the Galactic sound, but instead drove the sound with his laid back slide guitar leads.
After a wash of cheers from the crowd, the band had earned a true encore and opened with the Black Sabbath cover “Sweetleaf.” This “Sweetleaf” proved to be an incredible melding of instumental prowess from the band with the enthusiastic vocals of the Houseman, easily his best choral display of the weekend. As the jam wore on, Houseman announced that they would break into a drum solo, with Matt Abts behind Stanton’s kit, Mike Dillon at his percussion rig, and Stanton running around adding possessed textures wherever he saw fit. A shatteringly unified drum solo resolved into Galactic’s take on “Third Stone From the Sun,” a monstrous 25 minute encore to say the least. We couldn’t believe that we were lucky enough to catch this song at back to back shows from the two bands playing just across the street from each other. Both versions were stellar in their own right, and definitely highlights of the weekend. The refrain of “Third Stone” was sculpted generously by the soulful stylings of Warrren’s blues guitar.
We headed out fully satisfied, and waded through the masses to flag a cab so that we could make our way down to the Karl Denson show at Tipitina’s Uptown. There was a crazy crowd outside looking for tickets. It seemed that the word had gotten out, because as we stepped in the door it became readily apparent that there was an extra musician onstage. It wasn’t until we sliced through the gyrating flow that I fully realized that musician was indeed Lenny Kravitz. Our friends had told us that although he didn’t play, Lenny was spotted at Karl’s late night show Friday at the House of Blues. I had hoped to take that as a sign that Lenny was checking out the sound, groove and interplay between Karl’s musicians, so that he could adeptly feel his way into the sound should he decide to guest with the Tiny Universe later in the weekend.
Sure enough, there he was center stage, strumming his guitar right behind Karl, exchanging knowing looks and laughs repeatedly with Denson. He was obviously enjoying his ability to sync into the groove, surrounded by these talented performance artists known as jam musicians.
Lenny didn’t play many leads or lines with much depth throughout the night, he mostly stuck to the main chords, strumming to the rhythm . Brian Jordan, the “Tiny Universe” guitarist honorably avoided the spotlight anyway, apparently not wanting to overshadow Lenny’s presence. Lenny had hijacked Brian’s guitar for the night, the hollow-body from which full-toned jazzy leads usually emanate, and instead Brian played his back up Fender. On the one hand, having Lenny onstage definitely energized the crowd and the band, inciting them to crank up the energy a notch, but at the same time it detracted a bit from the guitar presence for the duration of the show.
Lenny was certainly enjoying himself onstage, sweating like crazy, visibly excited for that night’s performance. Lenny also filled in on drums during the first set, not playing with much adept punch or feel, but holding the lines down solidly. Thankfully he would look to the percussionist periodically to lock into the beat, and the drummer, Eric Bolivar, who he had de-throned, stood closely by with percussion instruments to fill out the low-end.
Karl took full control of his stage, structuring the grooves and solos to his satisfaction. Chatting with each member at certain points to make sure they knew what he was looking for. Leaning into the ear of one of his band members and singing the melody or feel he’s hoping to hear. Super-guest star aside, KDTU put on an intensely grooved concert that sustained its energy level well into the morning.
The highlight of Karl’s show had to be a dirty funk “Check out your mind” with Karl singing lead and the whole band breaking the crowd into a frenzied wave of jilted movement. For the encore, Karl broke out a cover of James Brown’s “The Big Payback”, the band still going strong, but Lenny sitting down on his monitor, struggling to stay awake onstage. Halfway through the song, he finally got up, and leaned in to tell Karl he was going to duck out. Karl nodded just and gave his beaming smile. Lenny lifted his guitar over his head to unsheath it, and proceeded to knock the Tipitina’s sign above the stage with the head of the guitar. With a shrug, he shot a ‘sorry’ glance over to Brian, and unannounced, strolled off stage right. The band kept on cranking, though, tearing through their heavy funk version of the classic and finally rounding up the show at 7:30 AM, sending the crowd into the warm Uptown morning.
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