NOLA Funk on a Sunday Night:
Galactic in Little Rock
Louisiana Music Issue Preview
The fourteenth annual Oxford American Southern music issue, focusing this year on the state of Louisiana’s contribution to the canon, is due out in December. In anticipation of the magazine—and the free twenty-one-track companion compilation album—I went to see New Orleans funk outfit Galactic here in Little Rock last night.
I once witnessed Corey Henry crowd surf during an extended trombone solo, riding a veritable ocean of people without flubbing a note, or clubbing a reveler with the slide for that matter. To this day the physics of that performance are beyond me, and I sometimes wonder if it actually happened at all. It seems impossible in hindsight.
That was at a big outdoor festival in Asheville; Galactic was the headliner and a downtown thoroughfare had been closed off to accommodate the aforementioned sea of bodies. A repeat of that science-defying feat of tromboning insanity was never in store for those of us at their show last night at Juanita’s. The venue, small to begin with, had ample room to spare on a Sunday night, and the crowd in front of the stage could not have accommodated Henry had he decided to dive in. That’s not to say Little Rock did not receive these contemporary legends of New Orleans funk-fusion without the level of raucous enthusiasm necessary for their live shows to really hit. And that’s not to say Galactic didn’t deliver.
A buddy cancelled on me day-of to avoid getting a late (and inevitably hungover) start on Monday, in fear of the inexorable party that Galactic brings, irreverent to the conventions of the workweek. I assume there were many others like my friend, who decided against spending their Sunday night in a boozy, funky rapture. It’s a good thing they didn’t come, for a party exceeding its apparent capacity was wrought.
For the sake of avoiding offense I’ll withhold commentary on the opening act, a local jam band of fading deadheads. The show effectively began when Galactic took the stage around 9:15. Without hesitation—merely a hello—they started in on a ranging setlist, dipping at random into their fifteen-years-rich catalog with a couple new tunes and some reinterpretations thrown in. Veteran Living Colour frontman Corey Glover has been touring with Galactic of late, adding some flair and directly engaging with the audience in call-and-response à la Mardi Gras Indians.
In the spirit of the season they got spooky on a cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You,” which was almost my favorite of the night. That distinction, however, belongs to the encore, “Hamp’s Hump,” a funk oldie they have made their own but play infrequently these days. That song would have you believe that the baritone saxophone—and particularly Ben Ellman’s weathered silver-and-gold issue—is humankind’s greatest invention.
Some say the true test of a group is how well they can play to an underwhelming crowd. If that’s a fair method for appraisal, Galactic is certified excellent. For a while there Sunday night in Little Rock felt like a certain Tuesday in New Orleans.
I’m primed for the Louisiana music issue. Are you?