Whenever Galactic visits Lake Tahoe, it’s a big deal. Sunday’s show in the Crystal Bay Casino sold out days in advance.
From the opening saxophone solo laid down by founding member Ben Ellman, with screaming riffs to match the bubbling notes from Corey Henry’s trombone, a molten jam instantly slid out over the room, melting everything and everyone in its path.
Drummer Stanton Moore played like a Gumby-limbed madman, arms, wrists and hands akimbo, pounding his kit like his life depended on it, while bassist Robert Mercurio held the funky down-beat, and guitarist Jeff Raines, along with Richard Vogel on keyboards, rounded out the delicious jam on “Soogar Doosie,” laying down a sweet, second-line to inspire the crowd to get up and get funky.
The next three numbers featured New Orleans’ vocalist extraordinaire, Erica Falls, the latest guest singer for the band. Oh Lordy, what a voice. With a deep, silky vocal range, low and gritty, and high and clear, this woman is a performer through and through. She worked the crowd all night long, got them clapping a fast riff, and of course urging the familiar, “Come on, make some noise!”
With upbeat lyrics and always a bluesy, real-life street vibe, Falls breezed through the vocal calisthenics of “Right On” (“right on, right on, right on, right on!”) into “Hard Times,” which spurred trombone wizard Henry to come to the front of the stage and lay a soulful rap on the crowd – “Ain’t no city like New Orleans!” – Ain’t that the truth! Then, with Henry blowing his praiseful horn to cap off the poetics, the crowd went nuts.
Back to Falls, and her promise to keep the crowd “movin’ and groovin’ ” all night long, querying, “Is that all right? Is that ALL RIGHT?” Moving into the song “Higher and Higher,” the energy in the room rose accordingly with the funky rhythm and blues instrumentation and Fall’s lively vocals working the crowd with style, panache, and undeniable power and verve.
The next couple of numbers featured just the band riffing on a traditional New Orleans’ melody line in a layered exploration that featured another trombone solo from Henry – fluttering staccato notes, and long sustained slides, carrying both rhythm and melody, taking us on a journey in low, deep notes, across an ocean and back to New Orleans in a grinning sonic flight. Next, a brief but ecstatic drum solo from Moore, echoed in call-and- response by Mercurio, until Henry jumped back in with more trombone stylings, and a flourish of commanding saxophone notes from Ellman to wrap up the wide-ranging jam.
The mixed crowd – tie-dyes, long hairs, silver and white hairs, button-downs and ski-vests – was all heads bobbing, shoulders and hips gyrating, bodies swaying to the pseudo-Egyptian-flavored, percolating sounds of “Balkan Wedding.” Vogel’s piano took the fiery lead, while Mercurio was moving and shaking (as Falls had promised!) to the familiar number.
Falls came back on to get the crowd singing and to woo us with her operatic range and finesse; the singer caught a rose a fan threw to her, and tucked it first behind one ear, and later into the neckline of her blouse, a perfect red complement to her classic, black silk attire. She bent down to chat with those closest to the stage, as the sax ground it down and back up again, surely raising the roof off the whole rocking place. Laying in on thick for “Out in the Street,” Falls sings and croons, hollers and shouts all in the same breath, a fierce angel possessed of some deep-rooted, Southern fire that reverberates through her whole body and out through powerful vocal cords. The next two numbers raised the ante even more, with the entire Crown Room singing call and response to Falls’ “Hey Na Na” – “Hey now, hey na na, hey na!” Bringing the tempo and the temperature (momentarily) down a bit, Falls’ launched into a sultry, bluesy version of Dylan’s classic, “Like A Rolling Stone.”
Next, another instrumental: “65 Bars and A Taste of Soul” – the title says it all! – featuring Henry’s trombone blazing, as he turned to honor all corners of the room while soloing. Sounds akin to a siren, and then a barking dog wafted and sang from the ‘bone, while Ellman’s saxophone, breathtaking and articulated, drove the melody and accentuated harmonies with the keyboards and guitar. Next, “Smoking at Tipitina’s” featured mini-jams and shoutouts to classics like Stevie Wonder’s “Masterblaster (Jammin’)” – “We’ll be jammin’ until the break of dawn” – and Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (For Letting Me Be Myself).” Fun!
Drums and bass kept throwing down complementary beats, leading into a drum solo that then led into a drums and bass slap-happy jam – the crowd loose and happy to equal their romp – until Falls came back onstage to lure the crowd into an even rowdier state. Ellman blew the house down again, with single deep, bass notes and a rousing, rippling chorus of crystalline tenor responses to his own calls. Simply magnificent, reflecting the tastes and styles this band has cultivated for more than 20 years together. With their fluent, New Orleans’ second-line brass band foundation, and truly stellar improvisations and jams in their live shows, Galactic unequivocally earns its chosen name, taking us higher and higher as only a full-on funk and glory ensemble could.
Falls captivated the audience for two more driving numbers, “Running” and “Dolla Diva,” before slowing down to take on the title track from Galactic’s newest release (and premium of this tour), “Into the Deep.” Testifying to the quality of Galactic’s recorded repertoire, Falls, an elegant chanteuse, passionately rendered this beautiful and tender. Of course, shaking it up after that, the band blew through a long version of “Tornado” – we’ve gone galactic! Raines flew up and down the neck of his axe, climbing and climbing into another climactic, searing drum solo.
Voodoo queen Falls came back on for the three final numbers, again stunning fans with her vocal prowess of delicate bird-like calls and soulful, commanding roars.
What a night. Get down, get funky, go all the way to the stars. Galactic rock and rolled and we shimmied and shook to their signature New Orleans’ sound until well into the midnight hour. Hallelujah, Crystal Bay Club, for your righteous Sunday nights in the Crown Room.