With the help of Kid Koala on turntables, who opened and played with the band intermittently throughout the night, and the further addition of artists SKW, and Doze Green working on a rather impressive mural behind the band we were all privy to both audio and visual treats, which would make sense seeing as how this was the "Sight of Sound" tour. The New Orleans-based power funk ensemble Galactic showed that even if you think you have an idea of what you are going to hear from them in terms of style, feeling and sometimes even song selection, they still put on a powerful show and will send you home with a huge smile and tired feet. In all, there were more than enough “sights” and “sounds” to satisfy both Galactic veterans and newcomers alike.
From the outset, it was clear that the night was going to be nothing if not entertaining. As my friends and I were waiting in line to enter the venue, Galactic singer Theryl "Houseman" deClouet made his way to the entrance. In a classic “Visa Check Card”-type moment, a faithful 9:30 Club employee insisted to see some ID from Houseman, despite a number of us in line backing up Houseman’s assertion that he was, indeed, “with the band.” After a moment of apprehension as he dug through his bag to find his credentials, Houseman was allowed in without having to go through too much of a fuss - or at least less than those commercials would leave you believe it takes to write a check.
With the 9:30 Club already close to full on a sold out night, and with an almost palpable energy in the air, Kid Koala began and spun for about an hour, mixing some well-known music with some more out of the ordinary, and even avant garde, selections, as well as taking a few requests from the audience. If you know DJ Z-Trip (who played at Bonnarro) and DJ Logic (who has played everywhere with everyone), you could say that Kid Koala fits in a nice spot somewhere between the two - a mix of popular music and his own style of scratching. In any event, by the end of his set, the audience was well primed for the main course.
After a relatively short break, Galactic came out and immediately served notice that they were not here to fool around. Behind Rich Vogel’s surprisingly hard and heavy keys, Ben Ellman’s deeply resounding baritone sax, and, of course, Stanton Moore’s out-of-his-chair and out-of-this-world-drums, “C Minor” showed in three short minutes Galactic’s power. Appetite's now whetted, the band somewhat disappointingly came back to earth and ran through some of the more recent addition to their catalogue in relatively straightforward order. That’s not to say it wasn’t interesting, however, bassist Robert Mercurio and Stanton showed why they are one of the most solid bass/drum combos around today, providing a creative funk foundation for guitarist Jeff Raines, Rich, and Ben to work around and through. Galactic also benefits from Jeff’s excellent rhythm-guitar work, as he adds to the already rock-solid bass/drum foundation, and allows Rich, Ben, and Stanton more freedom to push the envelope.
Just as the band was beginning to build back to another peak, I felt a twinge of apprehension as we neared the part of the set where Houseman was to take the stage. Now, I must be honest and say that I’m not a huge Houseman fan. While I recognize that he has a huge and enjoyable presence on stage, I have found that his being there often takes away from the band’s playing and that his gritty vocals are often more grit than vocal. Regardless, out he came after Ben’s enthusiastic introduction, nattily dressed as always, this time with the addition of a pair of black gloves.
From his first note, however, it was clear that this particular Houseman segment was going to add to, not subtract from, the show. Throughout his three songs in the set, including what to me has become his signature tune, “Villified,” the vocals were clear and true and the band remained tight, continuing to build to another crescendo. Jeff and Stanton traded licks and Rich provided some excellent solo work while Houseman and the rest of the band remained solid.
With Houseman’s exit, Kid Koala returned to the stage. Always enthused by the presence of a DJ, a smile crept onto Stanton’s face and you could tell that things were again about to take off. Indeed, the band settled into a solid groove with “Doo Rag” and then a jam with Kid Koala, with first Stanton and then Ben (on harmonica) taking turns mixing it up with the DJ. Kid Koala showed true creativity and musicianship in matching Ben’s harmonica licks, not only with rhythm, but also with harmony. Granted, Ben’s harmonica chops are not the same as when he is on sax, but Kid Koala showed that there can be much more to playing the turntables than a collection of scratches.
The final push toward the end of the set began with “Metermaid,” a classic Meters tune, as Jeff set down one solid guitar lick after another and the band settled into a steady funk groove. This went smoothly into “Mario Groove,” with Ben again on bari sax and Stanton out of his seat to abuse his cymbals for the final peak of the set. With that, the set was 'book-ended' nicely, finishing as powerfully as it began.
Set Two began with Kid Koala once again on stage (having played the set break as well, behind a screening of “Watching Paint Dry” - a short film depicting the kaleidoscope-esque changes of a piece of art) and Galactic immediately sent the crowd into a frenzy with a scorching version of “Root Down.” Stanton began the set where he ended it – out of his chair – but was doing more than simply bashing as he pulled an inexplicable collection of sounds from his kit and sampler. One of the things that makes Stanton unique is the often-melodic nature of his playing, which allows him to fit into a band as more than a timekeeper. This proved true again here, especially with Kid Koala laying in percussion and Rob keeping the floor solid, giving Stanton more room to play off his band mates as they traded solos.
After a couple more solid groove tunes, including crowd favorite “Hamp’s Hump,” Houseman again took the stage. Like the first set, the band took the opportunity to build toward something, not merely get through to the other side. As a Hendrix fan, it’s always a treat to hear Jimi covered, and I was not disappointed with Galactic’s version of “Little Miss Lover,” the best version of it I have heard Galactic play to date.
With Houseman’s departure, the set continued to build. The band stretched out with “Doublewide”>“Wurlirich,” getting as close to ‘spacey’ as Galactic funk can, with Jeff, Ben and Rich layering different textures on top of each other. As they moved through this space, the whole band seemed to lock in as a single unit of absolute groove. Then, with a tight sound firmly entrenched, the band began what turned out to be the set closer, “Shibuya.” Now, while this tune is always intensely wonderful (and perhaps because this was the end of the tour), on this night, the tension/release peaks of the song found the highest levels that I have heard them. Quite simply, by the end, the band and the crowd were all whipped into a maddening frenzy, with one final explosive celebration pushing the audience to the point of falling over.
Needing closure after reaching such heights, the band came back for one encore, grooving through “Quiet Please.” Not too long, not too short, it gave the audience and assumedly the band a perfect denouement to the show, and to what has been by all accounts the highly successful "Sights of Sound" of Galactic’s 2002 fall tour.
Hangnail, Sweetback, C-Minor, Change Reform, Truth is Out, Villified, Doo Rag (w/Kid Koala), Jam>(w/Kid Koala), Tippi Toes (w/ Kid Koala), Metermaid>Mario Groove
Root Down (w/ Kid Koala), Baker's Dozen>, Blackbird Special, Hamp's Hump, Ice Cold, Daydream, Running Man, Little Miss Lover, Doublewide> Wurlirich> Shibuya
E: Quiet Please
James Newton | Words
Dino Perrucci | Photos
JamBase | East Coast
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