By J-R Hevron
Galactic :: 12.31.05 :: Tipitina's :: New Orleans, LA
New Orleans has had a well-documented disaster of a year. In a city that Lucinda Williams once described as a place "where everything's still the same," things have changed drastically and people have had to adapt quickly. In a phone interview a few days before New Year's Eve, Galactic bass player Robert Mercurio said, "It's really hard to be a good-time New Orleans funk band when in the back of your mind you're like 'Oh man, my city is destroyed. We don't know what our lives are going to be like.'" Luckily, things fell into place for New Year's Eve at Tipitina's to be the band's first hometown show since the storm. Mercurio explains, "We were always planning on playing Tips for New Years, but then after the storm, we figured we'd have to do something else. After a month had passed and it seemed like it could be a possibility, we were like 'Man, we gotta do what we can. Even if only 200 people show up, it's still the right thing to do.'"
Galactic at Tipitina's NYE ©Erika Goldring
The band shouldn't have worried. Not only was the show packed, but the mood was ebullient. Mercurio said, "I think the city is just ready to rejoice and start rebuilding. Every show feels like a Jazz Fest show. Everybody is so happy, and there hasn't been a bad vibe going around at all. When I returned to New Orleans, I thought that everybody would be bummed out and pissed off at the world or whatever, but everybody seems to be really coming together and making the best of it."
Big Chief Monk Boudreaux & Jeff Raines
Galactic :: 12.31.05 ©Erika Goldring
The fans definitely made the best of it. Pre-show, they littered the neutral ground and sidewalk in front of Tips drinking from go-cups, enjoying the city's lax open-container laws and the misty New Orleans winter air. One girl talked bout how she was glad to have skipped the logistics and long drive to Atlanta to see Widespread Panic for a more local show. Mercurio addressed traveling for New Year's Eve in the interview as well, "It's funny, we used to play San Fran for years, and I'd run into friends from New Orleans and they'd be like 'Man, you're selling us out. We need music down here too on New Year's.' So if playing New Orleans is the least we can do to satisfy our home base, that's what we'll do. Plus, the weather is so much better in New Orleans than anywhere else."
At 11:35, the president of National Public Radio, which was broadcasting parts of the show, took the stage to introduce Galactic and say a few words about New Orleans. Dressed in a coat and tie with graying hair, he didn't look like a rock star, but he accepted the crowd's cheers at the end of his speech like he was a member of the band.
Galactic with Donald Harrison Jr. & Monk Boudreaux
Tipitina's NYE ©Erika Goldring
The members of Galactic filed onstage and launched into a series of hot instrumentals that warmed up both the crowd and themselves. They opened with the climbing organ riff of "Doublewide" and then segued into "Wurligig." Bathed in white light, sax player Ben Ellman switched to harmonica and led the group from the front of the stage. Since parting ways with their singer, the Houseman, over a year ago, Ben has stepped up more and more for front-man duties.
From above the stage, the painting of Professor Longhair looked down, temporarily spruced-up with a plywood top hat and an arm that held a clock for the twelve o'clock countdown. Just before midnight, a crew member on the floor held up a hand-written sign that said, "YOU ARE LIVE" to remind the crowd that the show was being broadcast on NPR — not that their enthusiasm needed prodding. The sign was passed up to Ben who counted down as the crowd toasted the new year with free champagne from the bar in plastic cups.
Professor Longhair :: Galactic at Tipitina's NYE
By Chris Goodyear
With the ushering in of the new year, the music morphed from intense instrumentals to a raw New Orleans groove. The band was joined on stage by Big Chief Monk Boudreaux (in his pink feathered Mardi Gras Indian costume), native New Orleans sax player Donald Harrison Jr. (who opened the show with the Hot 8 Brass Band), and Anders Osborne for the traditional Mardi Gras Indian's song "Indians Comin' Through." Next, they were joined by another Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief Bo Dollis (sadly, not dressed in feathered Indian gear) for the Mardi Gras anthem, "Big Chief." The audience and performers took a special thrill in lingering on the call-and-response line, "Find the levee and burn it down."
As the guests left the stage, Galactic veered back into instrumental territory starting with "Go-Go," a song named after Washington DC's unique brand of regional funk. Rich Vogel threw in some impressive organ work, and guitarist Jeff Raines took over as temporary set MVP during a cover of the Meters' song "Livewire." The set closed with Donald Harrison Jr. joining the band again on sax for "Hot Pants Rd." Towards the end of the song, Harrison played a few short solos. After each one, Mercurio would hold up a number on his fingers, and the whole band would blast out that many beats. It's an old performance trick for the band, but it's always fun to watch them listening to and watching each other so closely.
Galactic and Hot 8 Brass Band
Tipitina's NYE :: By Cara Schembri
Set II opened with "Shibuya," a Galactic crowd-pleaser named after Tokyo's red light district. The version was good, but you got the feeling that the band was itching to bring up the Hot 8 Brass Band, which was waiting in the wings. Though there are normally 9 band members in Hot 8, I counted 18 people on stage at one point including Galactic. It was as if the party in the crowd had suddenly moved onto the stage. It was a whole different concert as Galactic's music was augmented by a funky mess of brass sounds. The onstage party tackled three songs including a cover of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band's "Blackbird Special."
Rains & Mercurio :: Galactic at Tipitina's NYE
By Cara Schembri
While talking to Rob a few days earlier, he explained that New Orleans brass band music has taken on a special meaning for the band since Katrina. "Playing the New Orleans brass band stuff has an extra spirit to it now," he noted. "There's a little more sentimental feeling behind the stuff. We did a gig in Jazz Aspen the weekend after the storm hit, and everything was cool until we started playing a Dirty Dozen song and I could tell by everyone's face that we were all thinking the same thing. 'Where are those guys? How are they doing? Are they all right? And we all started crying on stage.'" There were no tears tonight, only smiles.
After Hot 8 left the stage, Galactic switched to their signature, effects-laden space funk with "Tiger Roll" and "Bounce Baby." MC Know One and DJ Quicky Mart joined for "Doo Rag," one of the band's older songs. MC Know One's smooth vocal delivery on the song, which doesn't normally have words, was a peek into the band's next album, which will have various MC's rapping over New Orleans funk instrumentals. The album will be co-produced by Bay Area MC Lyrics Born. About the album, Mercurio said, "It's going to be our concept album. We're working on a story line that will tie all of the guest MC's together." The music was mostly recorded in Pennsylvania on donated studio time right after Katrina. MC Know One's sit in was followed with "Metermaid," Galactic's own attempt to write a Meters song, and a sweet jammy transition into "Two Dots" to close the set.
Moore, Harrison, Mercurio
Tipitina's NYE ©Erika Goldring
Stanton Moore had apparently saved up his energy for set number three, doing his signature Mooregasm moves: standing up, soloing, and shooting huge smiles towards the crowd and at friends on the side of the stage. The band was joined by guests for much of the set, but instead of heading back to traditional New Orleans songs, they got into jammy party mode to keep all the tired souls in the audience moving. Jeff Raines relinquished guitar duties to a number of the band's friends for the first half of the set, starting with frequent hometown guest Jonathan Freilich of the Klezmer Allstars on a cover of the Robert Walter song "Dumptruck." "Who Took the Happiness Away?" followed with Craig Klein on trombone and Burt Cotton on guitar — both from Bonerama. The BK Instrumental that followed was a total jam with Anders Osbourne on guitar and Brian Coogan on keys. I was disappointed that I didn't get to hear more of Anders's singing, but the band was on a mission, no doubt driven by Stanton's energy. Jeff returned to the stage for guitar duties on the Meters' "Lil' Ol' Money Maker" and Booker T and the MG's "Chicken Pox" and ended the night very appropriately on New Year's day with a "Black Eyed Pea" that will hopefully bring everyone a year of good luck. The band left the stage without an encore at 4:15, sweating and happy.
It was as solid a show as I've seen the boys play. The pacing and flow of the music and guests kept things moving and interesting throughout the three sets. With the Mardi Gras Indians, the Hot 8, and the jammed-out last set, it felt like three different shows packed into one solid performance. At most shows, one or two different band members seem to stand out above the others, but tonight everyone was equally on, making the band truly greater than the sum of its parts. It was as if everyone was just glad to be back home and playing together. For a few hours, it felt like everything was back to normal again.
Ben Ellman :: Galactic :: Tipitina's NYE ©Erika Goldring
Up next for Galactic is their Coup De Gras tour, a set of New Orleans-themed shows with lots of hometown opening acts including the Hot 8 Brass Band, Leo Nocentelli, and the Klezmer Allstars. Hopefully, along the way, they'll find some time to look for a new home for their studio, which was housed in the now-condemned Twiropa building. After all, they need to finish their new album before the next hurricane season, which is just six months away!
Set I: Doublewide > Wurligig, Spiderbite, Garbage truck > COUNTDOWN > Baker's Dozen, Indians Comin' Through (w/ Big Chief Monk Boudreaux-voc, Donald
Harrison-voc/sax, Anders Osborne-voc), Big Chief (w/ Big Chief Monk Boudreaux-voc, Big Chief Bo Dollis-voc, Donald Harrison-voc/sax), Go-go, Clockstopper, Live wire, Hot Pants RD (w/ Donald Harrison--sax)
Shibuya, Snowball (w/ Hot 8 Brass Band), Blackbird Special (w/ Hot 8 Brass Band), It Ain't What You Think (w/ Hot 8 Brass Band), Funky bird > Tiger roll > Bounce baby > Space Headz March, Doo Rag (w/ Know One-MC, Quicky Mart-DJ), Metermaid > 2 Dots
Dumptruck (w/ Jonathan Freilich--gtr), Who Took The Happiness Out? (w/ Craig Klein-trombone, Burt Cotton-gtr), BK Instrumental (w/ Anders Osborne-gtr, Brian Coogan-keys), Lil' Ol' Money Maker, Chicken Pox, Black Eyed Pea
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