Medeski Martin & Wood | Galactic
The Fillmore | Denver, CO | 02.14.03 & 02.15.03

The evening began with the sounds of DJ Z-Trip warming up the audience with his unique concatenations of familiar “rock ‘n’ roll” tunes spiced up with some signature moves on the turntables. Some notable moments included a “Sweet Home Alabama > Sweet Emotion” segue that seemed to typify his musical proclivities, and also a couple of old-school rap songs and some Motown classics that were modified to melt into the mix. Z-Trip was incredibly appreciative of the crowd, and noted that while his taste was “all over the place,” his intent was to bridge the gap between different genres of music by linking together some unlikely combinations of sound. While there were a couple of repeats on the second night by Z-Trip (another "Sweet Emotion" and another "Been Caught Stealing"), he managed to provide some nice opening sounds for the crowd to get settled in for a night of improvisational splendor.

By Jaci Down
Robert Mercurio’s bass guitar cranked out the opening notes for Galactic, as the band launched into “Baker’s Dozen” (one of my favorites) to begin the festivities on Friday night. Not a bad way to start out the show, to say the least. It seemed to take a few minutes for the band to get acclimated to the acoustics of the Fillmore, as Ben Ellman was visibly frustrated by how low his saxophone was in the mix for the first several minutes. After working out the sound situation, the funksters from New Orleans settled back in a nice, thick groove that pervaded their performance. About midway through the set, they invited Z-Trip to the stage to add another layer to their sound. What followed was a remarkably inspired instrumental rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Custard Pie.” Ellman was hunched over, producing some searing notes out of the harmonica during some ferociously tight jamming by the rest of the band. There was also a nice little exchange by Stanton Moore and Z-Trip during the song, which helped make it the highlight of the set for most in the audience.

After forty minutes or so, the inimitable trio Medeski Martin & Wood assembled on the stage. My immediate impression was that I had never heard so much funk come out of them before. It was ridiculous. For a solid ten minutes, I could have closed my eyes and thought Galactic had never left the stage. Early on in the set, MMW delivered the goods with a solid performance of “Uninvisible,” the title track off their most recent studio effort. They came through with a nice mix of newer tunes and some old crowd-pleasers that grabbed the audience’s attention. During some of their more “atmospheric” portions of the show, some segments of the crowd grew a little antsy and began chattering idly, which somewhat diminished the range of sound that the band could perform. A friend of mine taped the show, and I have listened to it several times already. It is a performance that would be difficult to match the following night, but Medeski Martin & Wood have always tested the boundaries of what is possible.

We were running late on the second night, and found ourselves at the end of a line to the box office that extended out into the street. Miraculously, we made it in just in time to hear the beginning of the show. This time MMW would be opening, and they took it upon themselves to perform at an even higher level than the night before. They produced one of the more energized sets I had ever seen them play with a number of silky-smooth segues. Boulder native Chris Wood churned out some ineluctable grooves that allocated more room for Billy Martin and John Medeski to venture out into a number of captivating fugues. A number of old favorites made their way into the set, including a phenomenal performance of “Night Marchers.” In winding down the set, the band went into a truly delicious jam of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” which found the audience in a much more propitious and receptive mood than the previous night. As enjoyable as the first night was, MMW seemed even more fired up for Saturday night and it showed in the quality and intensity of their performance.

After we heard Z-Trip play “Sweet Emotion” again (and I pretended to enjoy it as much as the night before), a representative from Clear Channel came out to address the audience. He wanted to voice solidarity with the various peace rallies that had taken place earlier in the day. This struck me as odd, given Clear Channel’s seemingly tolerant stance of the Bush administration. But it was a nice message from an interesting source.

Stanton Moore was already grinning from ear-to-ear before he even sat down at his drum kit for Galactic’s set on Saturday. The man Trey Anastasio dubbed “the greatest drummer in the world” always seems to be having the time of his life playing at shows. His enthusiasm is infectious for the rest of the band and the audience as well. I’m always a total sucker for his “jump-drumming” - the point where the band reaches a level of intensity where Moore is out of his seat thrashing the cymbals and occasionally reaching around to the front of the drum kit to pound out some sound. Because of Moore’s previous collaboration with Chris Wood, many had anticipated some sort of MMW/Galactic jam at some point during the two nights.

While a drums segment with Billy Martin and Stanton Moore would have been the stuff dreams are made of, the crowd erupted midway through Galactic’s set when some familiar faces from New York came out on the stage. The absolute apogee of the weekend emerged when John Medeski and Chris Wood joined Galactic for “the” jam that everyone had been hoping for. This was the type of jam that could cause someone to hop in the car for a few hours just to witness again. Everyone was given an opportunity to showcase their talent during the jam, which raged for a solid twenty minutes. Just as in sports where a team will play to the level of their competition, the fusion of the best of the best seemed to propel everyone into a frenzy and featured each individual in top form - an absolute treat for everyone in attendance.

After dipping into some tunes off Crazyhorse Mongoose, Galactic brought out “Houseman” for the encore. The band did a nice one-two combination of “Quiet Please,” a tune that can gain some serious momentum, and a slower, more soulful version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” that seemed to sum up everyone’s opinion of the shows. A perfect finish to a memorable couple of nights in Denver.

Nathan Rodriguez
JamBase | Denver
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[Published on: 2/25/03]

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