Yeah, you're right, yesterday's affair at the Greek lived up to expectations with extraordinary displays of musicianship, lots of cross-pollenation between bands, and a surprise mid-set appearance by the super-jamband Garage A Trois!
The day started off with the always bizarre, psycho-jazz madness of
Seattle's Critters Buggin. Decked out in outlandish costumes, these five extremely talented musicians twisted and turned through noisy, psychadelic percussion-driven jams that seldom bore any semblance of composition or melody. This stuff is not for the faint of heart.
Skerik | Photo by SuperDee
Next up was the hot newcomer to the jam-scene, Robert Randolph and his Family Band, straight out of the 'hoods of northeast Jersey. Robert's band takes a fresh angle on jam music. Rooted in gospel style compositions derived from Robert's background of playing in local churches, these guys rock it out with funky bass and keyboards, while Robert's pedal steel guitar wails and sings with uplifting crescendo after crescendo...
kind of like a rockin' revival. Nothing too fancy or challenging, but quite danceable and eminently pleasing. By the time they rolled around to a cover of "Voodoo Chile," it seemed the entire place was on their feet getting down to the groove.
Robert Randolph | Photo by SuperDee
Act Three brought us Charlie Hunter's band, which featured a drummer, percussionist, and the ever-so-smooth John Ellis on sax. Starting off quite mellow, as I've come to expect from Charlie, this set turned out to be the most upbeat and danceable Charlie Hunter set I've seen. Charlie knew he was playing to a fired up crowd of several thousand, so they cranked up the energy near the end of the set with some nice up-tempo afro-groove romps, joined by drum-meister Stanton Moore and members of Critters Buggin for extra oomph, that had the hips a-shaking and the twirlers a-twirling.
Finally, the icing on the cake, a powerful rhythmic journey through
the roots of the Mississippi Delta by jamband supreme, Galactic. From gritty Meters-style funk and soulful r&b, to raw bluesy stomps
and joyous brass-band romps, Galactic delivered the goods with
authority. While the Greek was only about half-full, a crowd of about 4000 is still probably the largest show Galactic has headlined
to date. Instead of the show seeming undersold, the intimate Greek
housed the Bay Area's rabid Galactic fanbase quite comfortably, with
plenty of room to get a groove on.
The View | Photo by SuperDee
The show charged out of the gates with an incendiary "Baker's Dozen,"
a powerful tribute to Dirty Dozen Brass Band that immediately raised the temperature in the Greek by about 7 to 10 degrees. If you can sit through a song like this with Stanton Moore pounding out such an infectious groove, somebody must've stapled your pants to the seat. Next came a soulful version of "Church," hailing back to the earlier, smoother Galactic sound that is rarer and rarer these days. The cartoon-funk of "Shucktime" followed, driven by the squishy sound of the Rich's moog and the fat honking of Ben's big baritone sax. This led to the first Houseman segment of the show, which featured a couple new tunes, including the absolutely ~nasty~ "Won't Wash Out" (my new favorite Houseman tune).
The first Houseman break was followed by another new tune, which I
believe is called "Size It Up." An extremely up-tempo, complex song
with lots of drums-and-bass action that is quite a departure from
the more traditional funk, this song was one long, wild, psychedelic
ride that had my head just about spinning. If this kind of stuff
is what we can expect more of in the future, look out! What came
next may or may not have been an actual song; it was more of a funky
delta blues jam, with Ben wailing on the harmonica and Jeff churning
out a gritty slide solo, over a percussion frenzy. This segued into
an extended Drums featuring both Matt Chamberlain and Mike Dillon of
Critters Buggin. Stanton played some kind of psychedelic drum during
this section that had me dreaming I was at a Dead show and it was
Mickey and Billy banging away up there. Pretty soon it was just
Stanton alone on his kit, putting on a clinic of how to jazz out a
fat funk groove.
JUST when I was starting to think "Okay, this drum solo is really
getting too long and tedious," out strolled Skerik and Charlie Hunter (joined by Mike Dillon, who also sat in for Galactic's entire set),
and out of nowhere we were treated to about 30 minutes of the most
demented jazz-funk-fusion super-jamband in the land, the legendary Garage a Trois. Skerik confirmed the moment by announcing "we're
here to annoy you for a little bit, while Galactic are off using
the bathroom." Most people know of this band from their appearances
at JazzFest, where they opened for the other legendary super-jamband
Oysterhead a year ago, but this trio of musicians first joined forces
for a Stanton Moore solo album several years ago. These days many of
us are just drooling at the prospect of a full-blown Garage A Tois
tour. Well needless to say, the Garage A Tois set at the Greek will
only further heighten the demand for such a venture. All I can say
is, WOW. The only song I recognized was Ornette Coleman's "Ramblin'"
which Living Daylights are also playing frequently these days. The
set ventured into complete weirdness when Mike Dillon (who seems to
be part of the band now... Garage A Quatre?) started singing something along the lines of "Everybody get small" that was extremely dark and twisted. It's no surprise that Dillon and Skerik seem to have such a similar warped musical vision.
Anyways, soon enough, Galactic were back on the stage, joined by a throng of sax players that included Skerik, Brad Houser from Critters, Cheme from 20th Congress, and John Ellis. Inevitably, another brass-band romp emerged, Dirty Dozen's "Charlie Dozen."
This song had me smelling boiled crawfish in the air, as if I were somehow magically transplanted to New Orleans. The sax duel was just off the hook, as the horns snaked around each other in a raucous, swirling fury of crescendos. This lineup stayed on stage for an excursion through the Lionel Hampton big-band classic "Hamp's Hump," before yielding the stage back to pure Galactic.
The rest of the show was heavy on Galactic's new heavy delta-blues sound, starting with a run through the "Bobski/Jeffe 2000" stomp, into a tight segue into "Villified" and the second Houseman segment of the show. This segment featured a great cover of a Holland/Dozier/Holland tune, the bluesy harmonica-laced "Don't Do It," that The Band made famous. A really catchy heartfelt tune that has been running through my head for about 24 hours straight now. A roaring "Sweet Leaf" wrapped up this segment and had the security guy standing next to me laughing in surprise, then rocking out like a fan-boy to the funkified classic Sabbath stoner anthem. The set finished up with another harmonica stomp, the blues-heavy-metal of "Shibuya," embellished by the fiery steel guitar of Robert Randolph.
The encore, an authoritative reading of the Meters classic "Africa,"
tied everything together perfectly. All night I kept pondering on how Galactic so expertly and thoroughly explore and expand on the roots of black music in America, and it just amazes me that it's these 5 white guys up there playing this raw, gritty stuff with so
much heart and soul. With Houseman's gruff voice belting out "Take me back to the motherland," somehow it all made sense.
JamBase Bay Area Correspondent
Go See Live Music!
Galactic's Set List
Set I: $ Baker's Dozen, Church, Shucktime, Won't Wash Out (new Houseman tune), Thrill, Size It Up, # (bluesy/harmonica jam) --> # Drums --> [GARAGE A TOIS - 4 or 5 songs, about 30 min, starting with Ramblin')
Set II: $@ Charlie Dozen, $@ Hamp's Hump, Boski/Jeffe 2000 --> Villified, Don't Do It, Sweet Leaf, % Shibuya
** entire show with Mike Dillon (Critters) on percussion **
$ with Skerik (Critters) on sax
# with Matt Chamberlain (Critters) on drums
@ with Brad Houser (Critters), Cheme (20th Congress) and
John Ellis (Charlie Hunter) on sax
% with Robert Randolph on pedal steel guitar