Over the course of Galactic's first set at Irving Plaza last Friday night, (I did not see the second) they pretty much ran the course of just about every musical style America has invented over the past 70 years. They served up a mix of down-home Delta blues, heavy funk, the occasional rock-fusion touches, and backe with a jazz sensibility. Add the A Tribe Called Quest-influenced openers the Crown City Rockers and master horn players Shamarr Allen and Corey Henry, and you got a night of pretty damn sly musicians putting down a history lesson for a New York crowd that would otherwise be too stoned, ignorant, or funk-parched to care.
Galactic, one of those bands that has fallen into the Jazz category for lack of better description, has built one of the more solid careers of any so-called jam band of the last 20 years. While bands like Phish and moe largely ignored the studio and focused on their live shows, Galactic have been consummate recording artists, focusing on both equally. On the band's most recent album, 2007's From the Corner to the Block, Galactic touched hip-hop after seemingly every general rock style had fallen into their grasp.
Perhaps because of the new-found hip hop appreciation, the opening band Crown City Rockers did more than a little to steal the show. The Oakland based band showed definite musical smarts and chops, but the real energy came from Emcee Raashan Ahmad, who was more of a showman than Galactic saxophonist Ben Ellman. Ahmad's crowd-baiting was so deft that it nearly upstaged Galactic's set, which despite it's unpredictable leanings, settled into something of a solid groove midway through.
Like all good fusion bands (yes, they do exist!), Galactic is a band who picks its stylistic moments carefully. Guitarist Jeff Raines hit the distortion petal sparingly, but every time he did it sent a chill up my spine. With career-spanning songs that fit everyone on the stage, I was a little disappointed to see Galactic's rhythm section stay somewhat stagnant. When solos were in order, however, there was not a disappointment to be had.
In terms of the night's set, lots was modified to accompany the hornsmen on hand. Allen's trumpet and Henry's trombone were the loudest instruments of the night (with the possible exception of Ahmad's mouth), as each note they hit came roaring through the entire venue. You could a make a case that there contributions would have been enough by pure power alone. But both of the hornsmen earned their reputation with their hard-hitting virtuosity as much as their lungs.
I was disappointed most of all by the crowd at Friday night's show; which, save for a handful of roof-raisings, seems largely disinterested. There were mutiple drug busts, and a lot more socializing than music listening. It could be that Galactic's sound is distinctly a New Orleans thing; their lack of appeal to the coasts may be what's been holding them back from being more widely recognized. But there was energy and ingenuity all over the place in their set; it was the first show I've seen in a while that left me genuinely surprised multiple times. Wouldn't it be nice if more of Irving Plaza's other attendees could do that more often?
Galactic played at the Filmore at Irving Plaza on Friday, October 17. Their remaining tour dates are as follows:
Oct 24 – House Of Blues, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Oct 25 – Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, Georgia
Oct 26 – WorkPlay Theatre, Birmingham, Alabama
Oct 29 – Warehouse, Houston, Texas
Oct 30 – House Of Blues, Dallas, Texas
Nov 6 – Richard's on Richards, Vancouver, British Columbia
Nov 7 – Showbox, Seattle, Washington
Nov 8 – Crystal Ballroom, Portland, Oregon
Nov 9 – Ashland Armory, Ashland, Oregon
Nov 10 -Crystal Bay Club/Crown Room, Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Nov 12 – House Of Blues, West Hollywood, California
For more information visit their website. Photo by Ryan Mastro