Galactic | 10.10.03 | The Showbox | Seattle, WA

While carousing around with my neighbor one afternoon, between returning a carpet cleaner and renting a DVD, I picked myself up a copy of Galactic's new album, Ruckus. The album was conceived of in a collective think-tank type environment as a song-oriented album. It was recorded in Galactic's new studio, and was produced by hip-hop engineer and DJ Dan the Automator and his team. This is a departure from Galactic's norm, but something the band has been very excited about. When all was read, listened to, said, and done, I found Ruckus a little tidy. Somehow stark, compared to the band's other albums and live concerts. But that's true of oodles of albums when compared to a band's live show, and we are talking about Galactic here. One of the band's greatest assets is their ability to cut loose-for one member to light a fire under another and spontaneously, almost competitively, throw down, then appear to tame the layers, pause to catch their groove, and reel it back in, only to really blow it all out again. So I wasn't deterred by Ruckus' stripped-down instrumentation and overall economical sound. So I was excited to go support the band one Friday night in early October at Seattle's Showbox.

By Danny Clinch
The show began with a vocal sample from the darkness announcing to the snug audience, "you are the last people in the world to see me jump." This, as Stanton Moore's chugging drums announced the bumpin' opening number, "Doomed." My first impression of the new material is that it is, indeed, more economical and form-oriented than older Galactic. The tour itself is being touted "somewhat as a traveling CD release party," and most new songs clocked in around four or five minutes (generally, about a minute longer than on the Ruckus disc). The album's live interpretations aren't as big as pre-Ruckus live Galactic, but I didn't expect all the material to be. A friend of mine noted that the album sounds like the band is trying open themselves up to a wider audience, perhaps hoping for airplay and a single. Evolution is necessary for bands to progress and grow up; on Ruckus there are a couple tracks that could do it for them. In a live setting, "Mercamon" and "Doomed" seem to have the most potential to be great, due in great part to their forward, motivating beats. As the band focuses on the balance between form (evident on the album) and the chaos for which they are known, there are bound to be some ups and down. Seattle was only the second stop on the 37-show tour, and it took about four tunes, but whether it was the music, the crowd, or the booze, it slowly began to feel like New Orleans in Seattle.

By Danny Clinch
Clearly excited to play the new tunes and comfortable doing so over the course of two sets (the first just under an hour, the second an hour and twenty minutes), plenty of new material was introduced. "Bittersweet," "Kid Kenner," "Never Called You Crazy," "Paint" and others were supplemented with older tunes, such as "Vilified" and "Shibuya." Theryl "Houseman" DeClouet taunted the crowd: "Seattle, can you feel this?" Yes, we can. People were going nuts. From my vantage point what I saw looked like an overgrown lawn of heads and arms waving in a rhythmic breeze. Confident and playful, during "Hoss" bassist Robert Mercurio integrated a mellifluous bass solo-a tease of the SugarHill Gang's "Rapper's Delight"-before segueing into Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love." (After re-listening to the show, the tease could actually be Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," but I fondly maintain it was the former). Whipping the crowd into a mild fit, the Houseman's voice echoed "Bobby Mac on the bass! On the bass... On the bass." The Houseman was far more of a presence on stage than in the past, due in great part to the songs on Ruckus. The band shifted effortlessly between playing backup to his vocals and the instrumental powerhouse they have proven themselves to be. Also covered were Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Saturday Night Special" and a Seattle-appropriate encore of Jimi Hendrix "Little Miss Lover," featuring Ruckus (the album and the tour) guest vocalist Teedy Boutte.

By Danny Clinch
The addition of a live projection-style light show is a great touch, given the simplicity of some of the music, it provides another place to focus your attention. An unintended attribute of the 15x25-foot (give or take) video screen backdrop was, depending where you stood, the silhouettes of the band members projected across the bottom of the screen. Periodically you'd see a one-dimensional, faceless Stanton Moore spring up, drumsticks in hand-pause-then lunge downward, colliding with the beat. The projections on the screen varied--still shots, moving pictures, some color, some black and white, sometimes inverted. Objects found in nature, frames of moving filmed images, some moderately unsettling claymation-type action, and several strange phrases: "Long Live the Stork King!" Often the images seemingly moved to the beat; opening and closing flowers appeared to be grooving away with the rest of the room.

Given the musical prudence of many of the tracks on Ruckus, the sound each musician uses in a live setting must speak volumes. Unfortunately, that was not always the case; Jeff Raines' guitar and the texture it has provided in the past have taken a back seat to Rich Vogel's keyboard-led melodies and samples, as have Ben Ellman's sax and harmonica. It is understandable given the unadorned instrumentation of Ruckus, and unfortunate. With a couple exceptions, Robert Mercurio's bass lines were less than dynamic: it seemed that he was amused, but uninterested, or maybe it was just hard to hit on and maintain a groove. One issue the band may encounter is that their fans, and those of the "jam band" scene in general, crave and thrive on intelligent, complex music. Whether Ruckus satisfies those cravings can only be decided by the individual. While the album may leave fans wondering what direction Galactic is headed, their live show allows the songs on Ruckus more dimension and room to move. Regardless (and as I said before) it is always a good time when you go see Galactic. In the coming months, as they grow more comfortable with the tour and the material, I imagine Galactic's shows will elicit rave reviews. Galactic is welcome back to Seattle any time.

Court Scott
JamBase | Seattle
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[Published on: 10/31/03]

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