New Orleans’ Galactic ushered in the month of March to the Tahoe area on Sunday to a sold-out crowd at the Crystal Bay Casino. For two hours the band administered a clinic in funk music that proved it is one of the pre-eminent live bands in the nation.
Before Galactic took the stage, after an opening set from New York’s funk-fusion ensemble Kung Fu, the band’s roadies crisscrossed the stage testing mics, taping wires down and tying up loose ends. The exhausting and usually unheralded work of roadies, bus drivers, managers, production assistants, lighting and sound technicians and a slew of others is essential before bands take the stage to the crowd’s cheers. Bands can’t play and audiences can’t cut loose without these dedicated workers. After the stage was set and the show was minutes away from starting, Galactic’s roadies gathered around the soundboard to take a well deserved shot of Jameson to chants of “Weird!” For them and all people who make concerts possible, cheers!
Galactic took the stage at the Crown Room and immediately hopped into “Boban.” The band members, which consist of Robert Mercurio on bass, Stanton Moore on drums, Jeff Raines on guitar, Rich Vogel on keyboards, Ben Ellman on saxophone and Corey Henry on trombone, each introduced themselves to the audience with mini solos on top of a firm beat from Moore. With the salutations complete, the band locked into the rhythm and brought the song to its funky conclusion.
The band wasted no time in bringing up their guest for the night, singer Erica Falls, to give a spark to the band’s “Higher and Higher.” Her impact was felt immediately as she got the crowd fist pumping along with her charging vocals. The band then ripped into the first highlight of the night with the one-two cover punch of Baby Huey’s “Hard Times” and the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s “Theme De Yo Yo.” On the former, Ellman and Henry rattled the crowd with their brass blasts over soulful singing from Falls, with Henry even taking over the mic for a rap verse in the middle. The song apexed in a bombastic outro as Moore shot out of his stool and stood twirling his drum stick in between cymbal crashes. It’s always exciting to see the expressive Moore being moved from his perch by the music, and the crowd responded with a frenzied roar.
The band capitalized on the energy and moved into “Theme De Yo Yo.” Mercurio held down a delectable bass line that fit like a glove as the rest of the band chimed in with forceful blasts of guitar, horns and organ. Mercurio and Moore noticeably got lost in the heavy groove, and noded along in appreciation of the band firing on all cylinders. Falls sang confidently on the song and left the stage to the crowd’s warming applause, to reappear throughout the show on most of the night’s songs. After the show, Devildog Productions’ Kyle Miller said, “[Erica Falls] took them to another level. She needs to be a permanent member of the band.” Falls will be touring with Galactic throughout the year and will be featured on an upcoming album.
Galactic has been together since 1996 and have actively reinvented itself from a strictly New Orleans funk band to one that infuses soul, hip-hop, rock and electronic stylings. Galactic muscled its way through the set exercising these various styles enthusiastically, from Jeff Raine’s acrobatic fusion guitar work on “Church,” to the crunchy rock of “Hey Na Na,” to the soulful sway of “Does It Really Make a Difference?” But the band knows it comes from the land of Mardi Gras, and tipped its hat to its New Orleans roots with the voodoo-carnival-ish “Technocheck Collision” and the call-and-response rhythm of “Ooh Na Nay.”
Another highlight of the night was the instrumental “Groovy Lady, when the band condensed into just drums, keys, guitar and bass and worked its way through a cavernous jam in the style of Booker T. and the M.G.’s. Rich Vogel’s keyboards were spacious yet full and the band let him guide them through the funk. The band crescendoed into an exuberant outro before letting Moore take an extended drum solo. The power and precision of Moore’s drumming is astonishing and after his final cymbal crash, the crowd erupted into the loudest cheers of the night.
The band closed out its show in the Crown Room with a soulful rendition of Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” which got the crowd bouncing one last time. The band members waved their appreciation to the crowd as they exited the venue, and the crowd spilled into the night with funk fresh on their minds.
Galactic spent a solid portion of their night celebrating the music that had come before them and influenced what the band is now. As the band keeps crafting solid albums and enthusiastically performing its life’s work to a nightly audience, it too will be influencing generations to come.