From the Hip | Saved by the Funk of Galactic

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On a good day I am as cheerful and optimistic about humanity as a member of PETA at a dog fight. So, I will immediately preface this story as upbeat and inspirational and requiring a box of tissues to be kept at the ready. I will write of the triumph of good over evil, soul over “metrics,” and of the coolest cats on the road right now spreading the love and funk groove of New Orleans: Galactic.

I am grateful to these musicians of The Big Easy who have chosen to travel north and help to battle my seasonal affective disorder and remind me that even a small dose of funk can lay waste to the Hoosier winter doldrums.

As a freedom-hating, bleeding heart, secular humanist , arugula-eating liberal, I only go to Indy if I can see a concert, go to a Trader Joes, and visit Babushka’s—a fine Russian grocery store and deli. My guilt over excessive gasoline usage is slightly assuaged by this multitasking effort as these creature comforts are not available to me in “Little Bavaria on the Three Rivers,” Fort Wayne, Indiana. Guilt or no guilt, a post-Mardi Gras show by the premier funk masters always justifies a road trip.

The current Galactic line-up consists of Jeff Raines on guitar, Rich Vogel on keyboard, Robert Mercurio on bass, Ben Ellman on saxophone, and Stanton Moore on drums.  On this tour, the Grammy winning Corey Henry is on trombone and the kinetic mania of Corey Glover, of Living Colour---which blew me and the entire crowd away---provides the vocals.

The unusual Sunday night date for the concert in no way dampened the excess and debauchery of the show, and I was left profoundly impressed with the party credentials of both the band and the fine funk fans of Indianapolis.

The opening band was Blue Moon Revue, a budding blues rock band hailing from Chicago. They are an impressive band but not what I was expecting.  On the rest of the tour, the Soul Rebels are accompanying Galactic and they represent some of the best of New Orleans brass. At least on this night Corey Henry, who headlines the Rebels, was playing. And, if you have never developed an appreciation for trombone as a lead solo in a band, it is because you have not experienced Henry.

Henry on trombone sets the pace in a way trumpet players usually do. At one point in the show, in true New Orleans style, Henry leapt into the audience and played while navigating the crowd until arriving at the club’s island bar, then climbed to the top of the bar, and continued to serenade the audience and his stage-bound band mates.

Corey Glover
Corey Glover

Corey Glover on vocals has always been a rock god, but now a funk god as well.  He is “a man of a certain age” as I myself am. So a rock star from the ‘80s leaping into the audience, circling the balcony, and scaling towers of speakers garners my props. Glover dresses in the dapper club style of Kanye West and sounds like Cee Lo Green and James Brown mutated into pure ecstatic energy. Not only did Glover perform the Galactic song list flawlessly, but performed his song “Cult of Personality” with the band in an utterly cool, Cajun-nuanced way. The performance of “Kashmir” from Led Zeppelin was probably the first time I really dug this song in a new way since I was a wee rocker.

It is impossible to look at New Orleans music or any other subject pertaining to the great city without at least mentioning Hurricane Katrina and also the HBO series Treme, now beginning its third season. The show begins three months after the hurricane hit and deep into the ongoing manmade disaster  as viewed through the eyes of the residents of the Treme, the neighborhood that is home to so many of New Orleans’ musicians and second line leading Indian chiefs.

The show is created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer, whose collaboration on the HBO series The Wire is widely viewed by critics as producing one of the best TV series of all time. Treme is a great show as well that, while illustrating the disturbing realities of post Katrina life, still manages to capture the exotic attraction of the unique culture of New Orleans and her people.

Few places in corporatized, franchised, cul-de-sac America possess the cultural significance of our great cities and I believe that our failure to support the rebuilding of Detroit, New Orleans, and other cities is a sign of a society in decline.  Fortunately, the residents of America’s cultural communities are hardy souls who have great experience at surviving and flourishing despite the depraved indifference of the cultureless culture warriors.

New Orleans jazz, funk, art, and cuisine are all great gifts not in spite of the ugliness, decay, violence, and corruption of their environment, but are part of the gumbo that creates something irreplaceable.  All of our nation’s strip malls, subdivisions, office parks, and franchises could disappear tomorrow and there would be little to mourn. I believe the existence alone of groups like the Rebirth Jazz Band, The Soul Rebels, and of course, Galactic, demonstrate what really matters in the struggle of the human soul and not the extreme tropes of economic and religious dogma.

Let everyone find a little Mardi Gras and funk to sustain their weary souls.

Photos by Phil Patterson.