Galactic & Maceo Parker :: 04.09.05 :: The Fillmore Auditorium :: Denver, CO
I had my calendar dated mentally since the lineup was announced: April 9 - Maceo Parker and Galactic at The Fillmore Auditorium. A long-time fan of Galactic, I was interested to hear their sound sans Houseman, or any other vocalist. Add to that Maceo Parker, the inevitable collaboration between the two, and you have a show for the ages.
On paper at least.
Maceo and his sizable band assumed the stage in front of a half-full Fillmore. People were milling about and chatting incessantly as they began the set. Compounding the problem was the sound mix: the low end was sludgy, and the result was a cacophony of horns, keys, and guitar sputters with Maceo straining to rise above the fray. This lasted for the first twenty or thirty minutes of the show. The actual volume during the opening tunes was entirely too low as well, with the audience in the balcony straining to make out what was happening onstage.
It was one of those seemingly improvident things that you absolutely hate to bring up, but the question hung heavily in the thin Colorado air: Is Maceo's band a 'nostalgia act?' That possibility entered my mind as the two groups from whom Maceo drew his acclaim, James Brown and P-Funk, had both left me a little let down after seeing them in the last few years.
The rest of the crowd began strolling in casually mid-way through the set as Maceo and the crew turned out some lighter, jazzier numbers. The kinks in the sound mix had evened out, but the band still wasn't firing on all cylinders. So far the show hadn't lived up to its "knock you on your ass, filthy funk" billing, and there were plenty more folks glancing at their watches, texting friends, or idly chatting than one would ever have anticipated.
It was the stage banter that held up the festivities more than anything else. It was friendly, but embarrassingly outdated. Maceo would step up to the mic and repeat "We Love You," several times, on several different occasions. Saying that once or twice to a raging crowd is one thing, but saying it to a predominantly disinterested congregation becomes painful.
Sweet words are like honey: A little may refresh, but too much gluts the stomach
Other than the "We Love You" mantra, Maceo tried to juice the crowd up a bit by asking, "Are you ready for Galactica?" At first I thought I must have misheard him, but several others confirmed it. "Yeah, he called 'em Galactica, at least two or three times."
Things just weren't clicking, and I couldn't believe it. Or I could, but didn't want to. Here's an artist who when you put any disc of his into your computer, the RealOne Player refers to as 'the preeminent Jazz-Funk saxophonist.'
Just about the time I started thinking, "How the hell am I going to say that Maceo freaking Parker came up soft?," the band sprung back to life with a few fiery renditions from Life On Planet Groove, the band's 1992 release that catapulted them onto the radar screen of college-aged listeners everywhere. One of their closing songs and the highlight of the evening, "Got to Get U," featured the entire horn section in perfect sync and set the table for Maceo to belt out some soulful wailings on the alto that just about made up for the rest of the night. Phew.
In retrospect, Maceo & Co. seemed like they were adjusting to the room more than playing sloppily. The beginning was a Grade-A sonic disaster, for which the band compensated by slowing things down. After the sound was straight and the crowd filed in, they went out with a bang.
Galactic :: 04.09 :: Fillmore, Colorado
At 10, the lights dropped, and the video screen behind the stage lit up. A grainy black and white film styled after a 1940's public service announcement address followed with a word of caution: "You are about to give up a night of your life for the musical ass-whipping of a generation."
I wish they'd given a warning like that before I saw Galactic for the first time.
Horn man Ben Ellman stepped up to the mic and greeted the audience while heaping praise on Maceo, calling him the "greatest sax player on earth." A few seconds later a vintage "Funky Bird" found the band playing with swagger, taking the song out for a spin and building it up repeatedly to a climax before sending it back over the top.
Ben Ellman :: 04.09 :: Fillmore, Colorado
Galactic's two-hour performance was purely instrumental. To keep people's ears fresh, they used to drag out the Houseman for vocals on a slower song. He'd croon for a bit, make an elaborate exit, and then it was back to full-throttled funk. To compensate for the lack of vocals, Galactic opted to explore some new musical ground in their set. A good idea, sure, but in order to do so the ruckus had to calm down enough for a solo to start up. At different points, both keyboardist Rich Vogel and drummer Stanton Moore attempted to lead the others from experimental soloing to a crescendo, but neither really hit the mark as the transitions back into the songs came off a little forced.
"Hamp's Hump" made a welcome appearance midway through the performance, and after a characteristically strong delivery, the band seemed back on top. The remainder of the set felt as though the band was on cruise control - in a comfortable groove but not really pushing it.
As midnight drew closer, the anticipation was heightened for a cameo by Maceo. As the band headed backstage before the encore, the question asked by most was not "Is he going to come out?" but "What song are they going to play with him?" An epic jam was not in the works, however, as a rollicking version of "Shibuya" provided the nightcap for the Fillmore crowd.
Jeff Raines :: 04.09 :: Fillmore, Colorado
Over the past few years, it's tough to come up with more than a handful of bands that can match the consistent intensity of Galactic's live performances. Having Houseman come out to handle vocals would occasionally bring some in the audience to mutter that the band's momentum was waning. To be fair, some of Houseman's antics did get stale rather than age well over the years, but his departure leaves Galactic at a crossroads.
In its current form, Galactic needs a vocalist. Houseman's velvety delivery offered the perfect counterpoint to Galactic's aggressive rumble. The past year saw the band subbing in guest vocalists at various shows and festivals before the split was made official. While the Denver show was a solid effort, it felt as though an ingredient was missing from the original recipe that brought the band fame.
Stanton Moore :: 04.09 :: Fillmore, Colorado
The band is clearly in transition, but in which direction? A vocalist is needed to fully utilize the sounds and songs in their repertoire. Aside from the smooth delivery, Houseman more importantly gave everyone a breather between the slammin' funk jams. With him in the mix, Galactic is at the top of their game - thrashing with intensity one minute before cooling off with a silky ballad. Going full-throttle only sounds great when it comes off as fresh and inspired.
Maybe expectations were a little too unrealistic - I had friends considering an extended road trip solely to see the show. Even though Maceo didn't tear it up until the clock was running out, and Galactic had a couple more soft spots than usual, it's still Maceo Parker and Galactic - two acts that have the ability to convert ordinarily stoic concertgoers into rump-shakin' funk fans within minutes.
Words by: Nathan Rodriguez
Images by: Tobin Voggesser
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