Here's a scenario: You've never seen Shaquille O'Neal play basketball live, and buy a ticket to go check the game out. You're pretty psyched, and in your mind you're thinking anything is possible: he could bust out 35 easy. As it turns out, you kind of caught him on an off night. Shaq winds up with 18 and didn't seem too fired up overall. For most players, an 18-point night would be something to be happy with, but much is expected from those to whom much is given. Bottom line is you leave seeing a good performance, but just a little let down knowing what could have happened. Now onto the show...
Following a Valentine's Day weekend tradition, The Fillmore in Denver was set to host a two-night stand with Galactic and moe. Galactic co-headlined the show with Medeski Martin & Wood last year for two memorable shows, and the anticipation leading up to the performances this year was palpable. I had been looking forward to the weekend for a while: I've seen Galactic nearly a dozen times (with good cause), and had never gotten the chance to catch moe. The stage was set for an epic weekend.
Galactic kicked things off with "Go Go," and turned out a decent version. It didn't really seem like the band was hitting on all cylinders, and Stanton Moore's patented "jump-drumming" (aka "Mooregasm") seemed a little forced on this occasion. The next few selections were primarily newer material, but something was happening that I had never seen at another Galactic show. People were talking instead of dancing. Truth be told, the band wasn't sounding their sharpest. For starters, the levels were off: when the full band was jamming, the combo of Moore and Robert Mercurio on bass was virtually drowned out entirely. There is something to be said for the direction the band is evolving--more of a group-based sound--but when it comes at the expense of not hearing Stanton Moore, you've gotta do some re-tooling.
Then came "Hamp's Hump." Vintage Galactic. It seemed that the band had turned a corner at this point in the show, and were now settled in and giving one other a bit more space to play instead of running into each other. Indeed, through "Villified" it sounded as though they had come to play. As "Crazyhorse Mongoose" made its appearance, it was evident that the band was a little rough around the edges. No, it wasn't dissonant... they were just off a little bit. They finished their set with "Whole Lotta Love," a nice nod back. What a difference a year makes: last year they were jamming the tune with John Medeski and Chris Wood, which summed up the show in everyone's mind. This year they got through it, but it wasn't as jaw-dropping. More like, "Remember last year? We played this song then..." It was the only time I've ever been a little disappointed with Galactic. No worries though: moe. is coming up.
Now I must confess, I'm not nearly as well versed in moe.'s repertoire as many others. I have a few of their albums and a couple live shows. That's it. I listen to them a couple times a year. That's neither good nor bad, just how it goes. I was interested to see what their live shows were all about. They opened with "Rebubula" and opted to leave it unfinished and hop right into "Understand." A nice little opener. The other main highlight of the set was a solid "Hi and Lo" that preceded "Timmy Tucker," a tune that prompted members of Galactic to come back out and jam for a bit. To cap things off and bring things full circle, the band ended with a "Waiting For The Punch Line" > "Rebubula." Not a great set, but not too bad either. Kind of like going to a game and seeing Shaq come away with 18.
Okay, so for me personally the show last night was a little on the weak side of things. They've gotta bring the heat tonight, eh? I mean, it is Valentine's Day. So for the second night, the bands were switching things up: moe. opens and Galactic shuts the place down. While there was a nice "Seat of My Pants" > "Happy Hour Hero," I was grinning when the opening notes of "Nebraska" came ringing out. It may be a basic tune, but it's pretty damn catchy and they played an enjoyable version of it. After "Nebraska," the rest of the set was one massive segue. On paper, it looks to be a pretty interesting arrangement of tunes, but in all brutal honesty it simply wasn't too captivating. After speaking with a few people more knowledgeable than myself, they concluded that, "Yeah, they really didn't play too well overall... I think they're better when they close the show." Maybe so, but I really don't have a desire to see them again.
For the set break, the audience was treated to something I had actually listened to that morning: Outkast's "Happy Valentine's Day." Then they played it again. Now for those of you that dismiss all rap or hip-hop out of hand with the same tired arguments, get out of your ivory tower and pick up some Outkast. They are today's answer to Sly & The Family Stone. I'm not the only one that thinks this way either. Whoever was in charge of set break music played "Happy Valentine's Day" no less than six times in a row. No joke. I was liking it, don't get me wrong, but I just didn't gain that much appreciation for the tune between the fifth and sixth times I consecutively heard it that night.
After their performance the previous night coupled with their position as the closer, I figured Galactic would crank it up a notch on Valentine's Day. Good versions of "Doomed" and "Bobski 2000" opened the show. The Houseman came out for the third tune of the evening with "Never Called You Crazy," a centerpiece off the new album Ruckus. This offered the band one of their first opportunities to jam for a bit, and they were in much better form, giving each other enough space to propel the song forward. Next came one of the highlights of the weekend, "Gypsy Fade." The band has jammed out the intro to the tune a great deal more than they did on the album, or the show I saw in the fall. One of their best new songs (out of a very promising crop of new tunes), this version lasted a good ten minutes and gave Ben Ellman an opportunity to shine. "Shibuya" was also noteworthy--this rendition was particularly explosive and saw the whole band gelling together as a unit. One other song of note was a nice performance of "Uptown Odyssey." While I normally don't go to see a Galactic show for the Houseman, his vocals were on point and the band delivered the goods musically. While there may have been a misstep or two, those were minor complaints; Galactic put on a great show on the 14th.
Not every show can be transcendent, and sometimes you've got to call a spade a spade. moe. has been touted as "the next" big jam band to explode for years. With performances like this weekend, it's easy to see why they never made the next jump. Their playing is truly uninspired at times, during other times they can sound completely derivative, and the vocals and songwriting are sub-par to put it mildly. I gave them ample opportunity--they had me for two nights--and they just didn't flip my switch. Enough said.
Instead of ending it on a sour note, I will say this: Galactic puts on one hell of a live show. While the 13th wasn't one of their best performances, their Valentine's Day show brought enough love to make the whole weekend enjoyable. Their new material seemed to dominate the set list, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The new album Ruckus shows that when it comes to Galactic, the best is yet to come. The band is just beginning to hit full stride, and now has enough material in their repertoire to keep the audience guessing. There will be many years of good listening ahead.
Words by: Nathan Rodriguez
Images by: Tony Stack
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