Recap and Video: Galactic @ Park West 4/6/13

On Saturday Night at the Park West, I started to keep track of how funky Galactic's tunes were by counting the number of times drummer Stanton Moore leaped off his stool to emphasize a beat or dramatically finish a fill.

Cutting their teeth as one of the most party-ready bands of the nineties, it is remarkable how their sound has evolved as elder statesmen, while keeping the NOLA funk flame lit. When keyboardist Rich Vogel described his compadres as in our recent interview as an overgrown rhythm section, it resonated quite a bit.

Nowadays, I'd describe Galactic as a "show band" -- offering a diverse palate that frames its funk in rock, jazz, blues, punk and some out-of-nowhere influences but bringing the party when necessary.  Opening up with a bread-and-butter Meters-esque funk instrumental they slipped into a strangely satisfying punkish Klezmer space, with an outrageous distorto-solo from guitarist Jeff Raines, for their second tune.

On this Spring run, the band is touring with David Shaw, the lanky and charismatic lead singer of New Orleans soul group The Revivalists. Collaborations like this round out the show.  David's silky smooth voice and dynamic stage presence as MC get the party going. The Shaw-led sequence of "I Am The Walrus" into "Heart Of Steel" was gripping and very well resolved.

The same goes for trombonist / vocalist Corey Henry, a veteran of several Galactic tours. Equally capable of taking the spotlight, he brings a bit of raw New Orleans to classics like "It's All Over Now" and "Ooh Na Nay", the latter of which featured a remarkable Moore solo which saw him pounding the skins with a tambourine, brushes and sticks.

As always, the drummer provided the motor which gives Galactic its legs throughout the night, never relenting for over two hours. Time and again, my eyes and ears returned to him, with the rest of the band seeming to hover above and around his mesmerizing beats.

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But their touring companions weren't the only tricks the band had up their sleeve. Galactic saxman Ben Ellman apparently has tons of family in Chicago, the most noteworthy being cousin Lucas Ellman of the on-the-verge-of-breakout local band The Heard. Lucas and Ben got down trading sax solos, showing the Chicago faithful that funk runs deep in the family.

And while The Lee Boys Roosevelt Collier was imported to Chicago to play the official after show at Back Room on Rush Street, they couldn't get away without inviting him up on stage for a tune as well. While special guests may disrupt the flow of many other bands' shows, they are essential to a Galactic gig. On "Baker's Dozen", Collier so throughly commanded the stage, I thought he'd be sticking around for more.

As the show navigated through its many peaks and valleys and the mic (and solo spotlight) was passed around, the sold out crowd responded enthusiastically, but nowhere was the  Chicago / New Orleans connection made more clear than in the encore.  The band unleashed a smoldering take on "When The Levee Breaks" with Shaw juking his way around the stage, dipping into the audience, and using a stool as a prop.


Nigel Hall Band opened the show and delivered a contrasting take on the funk.  The keyboardist led his band of ringers through that focussed more on soul-jazz than the genre-jumping acrobatics of the headliner. His cover of Paul Simon's "God Bless The Absentee" was a particular crowd favorite, as was the signficant Motown juice of "Can't Stand The Rain".

Lucas Ellman of The Heard jamming with cousin Ben and Galactic on "Church"

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