Review By Kara Wilbeck
To call Galactic a funk band would be like calling Led Zeppelin a rock ‘n’ roll band. It would be to do them a major injustice. Indeed, the band’s music goes far beyond the idea of New Orleans funk that older generations may imagine as something akin to the Meters.
Galactic is on a seemingly never-ending quest to embody and define the very soul of New Orleans through their music, and the product twists and evolves as quickly as any city’s heartbeat. It reflects new discoveries, friends and conspirators, and as many ideas as possible that haven’t yet been explored.
Alas, any venue that this group steps into instantly transforms into the type of electrically energetic party that might call to mind 3 a.m. on Fat Tuesday. This energy is a palpable, sweaty static within any room, and Galactic’s show at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom on March 24th was by all means no exception.
After several years of almost nonstop touring to promote “Ya Ka May,” their tribute to the topsy-turvy, mixed-up and self described “incestuous” music scene of the streets of New Orleans (the album is named after a traditional stew consisting of… well, everything), Galactic has finally managed to bust out another album, “Carnivale Electricos.”
It’s certainly surprising that “Carnivale Electricos” is Galactic’s first album written exclusively as Mardi Gras music, considering that the band has been a “Carnivale” mainstay since its inception. It is a departure from the dirty hip-hop infused funk that they’ve become known for, and sounds big, wild and colorful.
At the Crystal, the show opened with a song vaguely familiar to fans: “Boban”, which is a cover of Balkan trumpet god Boban Markovic’s “Mere Yaara Dildara” with a little more funk in its trunk. This is a tune that any good Galactic listener will recognize, but not remember exactly why. That’s because it was never included on any of the band’s studio albums — only the relatively recent live album “The Other Side of Midnight,” which is a perfect update to “We Love ’em Tonight” (most likely the album that got all of us into Galactic in the first place.)
The band then quickly laid into the new material with a pair of songs from the new album: “Hey Na Na,” which has an old-school shout-along sound to it, and “Out in the Street.”
Next came “Boom Boom” and a very sneaky “Bongo Joe,” a track from Galactic’s 2003 album “Ruckus.”
Carnivale Electricos reared its head once again with “Karate,” calling for the assistance of opening band Orgone, a Los Angeles funk unit who ripped up the backing horn section in place of the Kipp Renaissance High School Marching Band (who played on the studio version of the song.)
Next up was “Total Destruction to Your Mind,” a Jerry Williams Jr. (AKA Swamp Dogg) original, and two songs from Galactic’s previous studio album, Ya Ka May: “You Don’t Know” and “Heart of Steel,” which is fantastic live (but will never quite equal the epic album version featuring the legendary “Irma Thomas.”)
By the time the set turned back to a Carnivale Electricos song (album opener “Ha Di Ka,”) the entire Crystal Ballroom was bouncing like a liquored-up trampoline.
The remainder of the show was a distinct departure from the first half, featuring a whole mess of songs, zipping all over the place in every different direction. First up was the unreleased live favorite “Keep Steppin’,” which you might know as that fun song that has those convenient breaks that allow the crowd to scream, “Woo!” Next was the fusiony “Black-Eyed Pea,” from the 2000 release “Late for the Future.”
The covers continued with the “Allen Toussaint” produced “Betty Harris” track “There’s a Break in the Road,” followed by two Galactic originals: “Ya Ka May’s” “Boe Money” (named for Galactic collaborator and BFF “Corey Henry,” a member of “Rebirth Brass Band”) and Ruckus’ dark and sexy “Bittersweet.”
The next contribution to the epic mash-up was one of everyone’s favorite covers (and another Allen Toussaint tune!): “Goin’ Down Slowly” which was performed by Galactic as a feel-good booty shaker. (Author’s Note: Seriously, Galactic does the best version of this song out of them all. If you haven’t heard it, “YouTube” it now!)
In keeping with Galactic’s latest theme of covering “Led Zeppelin,” the set closed with a raging “How Many More Times,” leaving the crowd, well, a bit rowdy.
Concert goers didn’t have to wait long to get dancing again, however. The band came back out in practically no time at all, playing Carnivale Electricos’ tribute to the haziness and chaos of waking up hung the f*ck over: “Ash Wednesday Sunrise.”
The band obviously felt the Crystal deserved a second encore, because they piled on “Cult of Personality,” a throwback to front man Corey Glover’s roots in Living Colour.
For those that were tired of a few years of seeing awesome, yet relatively similar Galactic shows, this one was a refreshing change, a mixture of some new material, old material and rarely played covers and unrecorded songs.