Galactic is a band that just keeps getting better and better. One day after releasing its new live album "We Love 'Em Tonight, (Live at Tipitina's)," the New Orleans sextet fairly burned down Lawrence's Granada Theatre with two and a half hours of fiery funk.
Galactic plays a rich gumbo of rock, soul, funk and jazz, and when joined onstage by vocalist Theryl "The Houseman" de Clouet, they perform the sort of Crescent City rhythm and blues that recalls The Meters and The Neville Brothers.
It's as an instrumental quintet that Galactic truly astounds. Playing with confidence, its muscular funk is built from the bottom up. At center is the drumming of Stanton Moore, whose style seems based in the synchopated rhythms of New Orleans second line music. He's fearless and endlessly creative on the skins.
Galactic is a master of working a groove and bassist Robert Mercurio provides it that groove. Guitarist Jeff Raines is constantly exploring, experimenting and playing out musical ideas on stage. A solid rhythm player, his soloing ranges from the noble experiment to the sublime. Keyboard player Richard Vogel excels on the Hammond B3 organ. The instrumental centerpiece of the band is the saxophone of Ben Ellman, who covers an amazing range of territory from supporting R&B; licks to screaming, outside jazz.
Galactic's music is relentless, almost exhausting. Playing nearly every piece to a crescendo that is usually reserved for a single, set-closing climax by most outfits. The respite from all this instrumental intensity comes from the several visits to the stage made by The Houseman.
A fine soul singer, de Clouet is and even better showman. Appearing in a silver suit with Nehru collar, a coat down to the knees, and snakeskin boots, his dancing and stage moves were as smooth as his singing and wardrobe.
Soloing takes a back seat when The Houseman is on stage, his presence commanding enough attention for the band to just work the groove in support of the song.
The song selection drew mainly from the last two Galactic albums "Late For The Future," and "Crazyhorse Mongoose." Highlights came during the interplay between Ellman and Raines during "Pocket Full Of Sap," the dense, thrashing solo by Raines during "Size It Up," and the deviation from their prepared set list to perform "Baker's Dozen" and "Groove Holmes."
The Houseman sang a stirring, funky rendition of Holland, Dozier and Holland's "Don't Do It," first recorded by Marvin Gaye and well known as a standout piece from The Band's "Last Waltz" as sung by Levon Helm.
Opening act, The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey from Tulsa performed an outstanding set of original instrumentals. The iconoclastic trio of Reed Mathis on bass, Brian Haas on keyboards, and Richard Haas on drums play a dynamic, improvisational brew derived from rock and jazz sources. Fans of Captain Beefheart, King Crimson and Frank Zappa would enjoy their brand of creative, noisy loopiness.
Bands like Galactic, Jacob Fred, and others such as Medeski, Martin and Wood have made great strides in expanding the notion of what "jam bands" are well beyond the hippie noodlers that flourished in the wake of the Grateful Dead. Traditions such as sanctioned taping and trading, and following the bands on tour, stem from that culture and survive and thrive with these bands as well as those with a more patchouli-scented fan base.