WHAT IS GALACTIC?

In true Jeopardy fashion, if the answer were to be, A six-man N'awlin's funk-jazz band creating waves all over the nation, the question most certainly would be, What is Galactic? With their scintillating style and fiery live performances, it is no wonder that the answer would be a dead give away. Galactic is not only continuing with their success, but even more so, building upon it with each and every note they play.

Though the band originated from the Crescent City, their roots actually lie in the nation's capital, where bassist Robert Mercurio and guitarist Jeff Raines grew up. Attending college in New Orleans for more reasons than just pure academics, the two formed Galactic Phrophylactic, a seven-piece college funk band. Changes orchestrated along the way resulted in the duo "cleaning house," so to speak, when they hooked up with drummer Stanton Moore, and shortly thereafter, keyboardist Richard Vogel. Since then, the line up has expanded to include vocalist Theryl DeClouet (better known simply as "The Houseman") and saxophonist Ben Ellman. Dropping the "Phrophylactic" part of the name helped the band to move in a more "serious" direction while still maintaining the band's original identity.

In addition to new personnel and name modifications, the evolution of the band lead to some changes in their sound. Veering in a slightly different direction from the original Meters-like funk, the band has an almost harder and sharper edge to their music that is now clearly definitive of Galactic.

"The Meters were the funkiest guys around. And we were in their town, and so we took time to learn and ingrain as much of that into our playing. Now, we feel like we can try and put our own spin on it," explains Moore of the early days. He continues, "But we felt like we really owed it to the music to do that; to go and learn all that, and put ourselves to school, really."

Attributing their new sound to playing larger venues and countless shows together with a band, Raines adds, "I would be more worried if we still sounded like our first album. I think the new sound shows the evolution of the band, and I think that's great."

Along with new original tunes, the band has also been working on a new Curtis Mayfield cover, How Did I Get So Far Gone, with the rest of the band singing vocals.

"Our records have background vocals, and they sound so great because it just adds warmth and tone," describes Mercurio. "But live," he confesses with a laugh, "we are all still to shy [to sing]."

Coming off a summer tour with Live and the Counting Crows, and a fall tour with Ben Harper, the band has had ambiguous reactions to their choice of affiliating themselves with non-jamband type bands on the part of Galactic enthusiasts.

"We were trying to get in front of a crowd that we had never played in front of before," explains Raines of the thought process. "For the past four years we have been playing virtually the same sized room, and this was an opportunity for us to do something different."

And while the touring has been a successful experience, the band willingly admits that performing at last August's Berkfest was a more than welcome return to the jambands' scene. "For that we were coming off the Counting Crows tour and we were like, OUR PEOPLE," describes Mercurio. "It made us feel loved," he added with a laugh.

Not content to limit themselves to State-side performances, the band also managed to squeeze in a mini European tour, hitting cities in Germany and Belgium, as well as London, Amsterdam, and Paris. Even more impressive, the band took a brief venture to the Orient for a follow up trip to Japan - all before the Christmas holidays.

In discussing the touring, Mercurio took a moment to reflect on their first trip to Japan. "On the flight over there, we were really hyped to be playing in Tokyo, but then there was this part of us that was like, what if it turns out to be really bad," retells Mercurio. "When we landed, our first question was like, how are ticket sales???"

Playing a sold out show for fans that stayed until the wee hours of the morning resulted in the planning of a second trip, where they played Park Tower Blues Festival in early December.

Though Galactic is certainly appreciative of their overseas fans, there is something to be said for their fans from all over this country as well. Such devotees of the band, in fact, have started an inner discussion group joke about a Galactic song called Weasel Ball that even has the band mystified.

While they offer varying explanations to the origins of Weasel Ball, they ultimately admit that while they can't figure it out, it certainly has not escaped their notice.

"Not only do fans request it, but it even shows up on setlists as: Weasel Ball???" relays Raines of the whole joke.

And while the band has yet to write a song named Weasel Ball, they obviously have no plans to rest on their laurels, as they recently recorded a live album at Tipitina’s in New Orleans.

Raines admits that they had always talked about their fourth album being a live one, but then concluded, "Being in the studio is a lot of fun for us, and we learn so much. It is also a good diversion from the live thing; we play music, but it is a little different- a little different way of looking at it."

No matter what, if one can judge a band by their past endeavors, fans will be sure to walk away more than satisfied. On the stage, or in your car, no matter which way you look (or in this case, listen) Galactic is a band for the new "official" millennium that you won't want to miss. Though their latest album may be entitled Late for the Future, with new tour dates listed, Galactic may be cruising into a city near you "just in time."

Kristin Ciccone

Galactic is currently on tour with the SnoCore Icicle Ball. Check here for upcoming tourdates.

[Published on: 1/29/01]

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