Galactic: the black-and-gold of New Orleans music
There’s nothing like home-field advantage. The adage rings true especially in New Orleans, where our haunts, domed or otherwise, provide us and our local favorites with a certain level of comfort and, certainly, support. We live in a city that bestows on us the wonderful gift of being able to see world-class musicians in their weekly gigs, residencies where they can settle in on otherwise quiet nights and absolutely blow the roof off the joint.
If that old haunt Tipitina’s happened to be domed and held 72,000 people – Galactic would without a doubt be the team in black and gold, in all their different forms, protecting their HQ for the better part of two decades.
Most recently, these hometown shows have been reserved for New Orleans’ favorite holidays: Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, Halloween, and New Year's (in that order). This year, in addition to the October 31 Halloween blowout, we got another Tipitina’s holiday show: the first day of fall in New Orleans, also known as Saints opening weekend.
The house was packed, sold out by showtime, leaving more than a few outside without a ticket. In true Galactic gusto, the kick-off for the evening’s festivities would be a booming drum roll from metronome extraordinaire Stanton Moore. As Ben Ellman and de facto member Corey Henry approached their spots, it took no more than a quick blast from the horn section to light up the packed house like it was Sunday in the Superdome. It was “Karate”, a raw New Orleans tune that rests somewhere between a second line and a club-banger, perfect for setting the tone for a wild Saturday night on Napoleon Avenue.
The band welcomed a few guests onstage throughout the evening, the first being John Michael Rouchell of MyNameIsJohnMichael for a lively “Out In The Street,” a song John Michael helped pen for this year's Carnivale Electricos album. The latter part of the first set was a balanced juxtaposition of old and new, with the deep-pocketed “Funky Bird” and the swinging “Doublewide > Go Go” suite busting the pre-2000 repertoire out of the closet for a welcome step back in time.
“Touch me and you will be struck by lightning…”
When I first started seeing Galactic, it was a churning funk-machine with enough jazz finesse to pull off Lou Donaldson, all the while grabbing the attention of the Y2K jamband crowd with its unique intensity. For a kid whose Mom bought him We Love ‘Em Tonight at Tower Records in New York City, Houseman was the voice of a band that began taking up more and more room in the CD case.
By the time Ruckus came out, I was a freshman in college and seeing Galactic whenever the band stepped foot in Baton Rouge or Bonnaroo, let alone the nights when I could sneak off to New Orleans for a Tipitina’s, Twi-Ro-Pa or Riverboat show. So when Houseman left, I naively wondered how Galactic would continue without its vocal front (who was appearing less and less leading up to his departure) or how would band members would play shows without that segment of the catalog.
But, much like the city that gave life to them, they maintained, and four solid releases later they are stronger and and more versatile than they have ever been – and it is a pleasure to see.
I think it is easy for many to forget just how much Houseman WAS Galactic. The string of records that culminated in Ruckus will always stand out to me as the golden age of Galactic’s music, and who knows where this group would be without the introspective, smart, funky lyrics that Houseman delivered on so many of those early cuts.
When Theryl hit the stage, I was ecstatically on the balcony rail just to his left, with a clear view of The Houseman in all his glory. Swaying and crooning in a black velvet jacket, he and his reunited band mates absolutely nailed the sharp and meaningful “Something Is Wrong With This Picture” before closing the set with a monstrous, poignant “Bittersweet” (“Rain is falling hard into the river / time is slipping in between the cracks / touch me and you will be struck by lightning / don’t be shy – don’t be holding back…), a highlight from the tail end of Houseman’s tenure with the band. It was a powerful reminder of what the collaboration was capable of for all those years, and hopefully a glimpse of a future of sharing the stage between the old friends.
The second half of the show maintained the punishing intensity of the first, forcing itself straight back into a pile of driving bass riffs and sax runs with the head bobbing “Cineramascope” and Ellman’s gypsy-tinged “Balkan Wedding.” Glover reappeared as the vocal man for the majority of the set, with “Goin’ Down” and his “Cult of Personality” highlighting.
The deep psychedelia of “Tiger Roll" began the inevitable transformation from typical dance-party second set to some serious next-level Galactic, and just as the blistering peak began to peel back the old show bills that line the walls, the bottom dropped out into “Chicken Pox” – a roaring showcase of Jeff Raines’ powerful guitar work and the band’s ability to quickly shift genres and keep the crowd moving.
Stanton got his, too, sitting down for an extended solo session on the kit before the band came back out for the final few minutes. The music stopped somewhere around 3 in the morning, using the final slot as a chance to showcase a special gem for those still standing that deep into the night. The encore could have been just a simple cover choice, but with the Halloween Tipitina’s show looming in the distance, I think “Sympathy For The Devil” was a bit of sly foreshadowing of the madness that will inevitably ensue.
I say this about a lot of bands, and often about the ones I love, but if you haven’t seen Galactic in a while – now is the time to do so. Especially when, like our Saints, they have a house to protect.