Galactic @ Brooklyn Bowl feat. Warren Haynes – June 22
Words: Chad Berndtson
Photos: Robert Chapman
For many years, Galactic was a two-in-one band. On one side, an intense, massively funky instrumental group, and on the other, a rock-, soul- and R&B-soaked backing ensemble for the great Theryl “The Houseman” deClouet, who before he was waylaid by health problems, prowled – nay, owned — the stage for large sections of Galactic shows. Being that two-in-one gave Galactic a split personality, but the New Orleans-associated sounds it’s always been known for provided a common denominator, and gave its concerts natural flow.
[All photos by Rob Chapman]
Since the end of the Houseman era – about 2004 or so – Galactic’s been a lot tougher to define, and not because they’ve branched out farther in other musical directions, notably hip-hop. They’ve always been eclectic. It’s just that these days, a Galactic concert is more of a variety show: a core group of musicians that defines the band, but draws on an extended family of collaborators to fill gaps in some areas and augment Galactic in others. Are they welcome additions? Absolutely. Are they necessary? Depends. With so much emphasis placed on those guests, Galactic limits its repertoire, and also, it can be argued, muddles its identity a bit.
But what guests. Rebirth Brass Band trombonist Corey Henry is firmly in the fold now, essential to the Galactic fabric when a jam gets cooking. Living Colour singer Corey Glover, who punctuates Galactic much like the Houseman used to, is another compelling addition — a seriously capable rock, soul and R&B vocalist with a theatrical streak a mile wide.
READ ON for more from Galactic at Brooklyn Bowl…
And it’s not like Galactic can’t surprise: its core members can still very much sneak the hell up on you when you least expect it. There’s Ben Ellman, who’s a far tamer presence than he used to be and plays more a stage director’s role now, but can still make the hair on the back of your neck stand up with a buzzsaw harp or scorching sax solo. Or Stanton Moore, who in every show is going to be the hugely dexterous, bash-it-out-and-make-it-hurt Stanton of always, but is still able to stun you with how much he can crush it. Or the mesmerizing Rich Vogel – for ages, Galactic’s less-ostentatious, subtly masterful secret weapon – drawing out the type of buoyant, exhaustingly thorough solo sequence he performed during the Tiger Roll > Bounce Baby segment in the middle of this show, Galactic’s second of four sweat-fests at Brooklyn Bowl.
This one was about the guests, though, and after an opening flex through Ain’t What You Think, it wasn’t a long wait for the evening’s marquee sit-in to begin. Warren Haynes was already aboard, axe in hand and leonine grin firmly plastered on face, by the Henry-sung Can I Be Your Main Squeeze, the second song. And he’d stick around for some seriously gnarly jams within Allen Toussaint’s Night People, the Hendrix nugget Little Miss Lover and the Stones’ Can’t You Hear Me Knocking before all was said and done, not to mention blaze his way through the night’s smoldering masterpiece, When the Levee Breaks.
Warren Haynes as a sit-in guest can be a tricky proposition: he’s such an extroverted player and natural focal point, drawing the energy into his orbit, that even as a gentle accompanist or coloring instrument, his fills seem to get progressively more furious, announcing themselves and refusing to be buried even if there are 10 or more other players onstage.
To some, that makes Warren a little difficult to swallow — he can take over a song like few others, and gets accused of crowding out bandmates. Me, I like that intensity: the ominous slide attack, the insistent growl of those stretched-out notes, everything that gives Warren his mojo as a red-meat guitarist. His improvisations at Brooklyn Bowl were by and large medium-grade, just-warming-up Warren, but during the funky Night People, he drew Ellman into a sizzling harp/guitar duel: twisted, psychedelic swamp-rock hot to the touch and leaving a greasy residue.
The rest of the show cranked into musical gang-bang mode: Glover sang several more songs (eight of the night’s 18 songs in total, including a gristly Heart of Steel), and Maurice Brown, Chelsea Baratz, Nigel Hall and Jamie McLean would all hit the stage before the final, wailing jam on Baker’s Dozen wrapped up the encore segment. There was also a percussion ensemble, Brazilian Drums, that jumped aboard during the Eddie Bo chestnut Hook & Sling, locking in with Stanton’s drums with the goal of ensuring every last ass at the Bowl was shaking apace. It was a good exclamation point for the kind of night it was: loosely organized and high energy, freewheeling, funky fun.
Jamie McLean kicked off the evening with a 40-minute set that was in many ways as potent as Galactic’s – a classic “damn you for missing the opener”-type of event, and worthy of special mention. McLean formed the first incarnation of the band in 2006, leaving his gig in the Dirty Dozen Brass Band behind not long after, and it took him a few years to focus the sound and draw his mix of late 60s/early 70s classic rock, soul, folk and blues influences into something that had more of his own personality. But at present, the Jamie McLean Band is a streamlined trio with its namesake firmly in charge: confident in kicking up a fierce blues, rock and soul racket with thick pockets, psyched-out solos and hearty harmonies all around.
They’re a force, and their 40-minute set gave McLean the opportunity for some monster solo excursions wrapped around warmly received versions of some of his best originals. There was long, unhurried jamming during Cupid’s Greatest Thief and particularly during a slow-burning soul ballad, Crazy About You. McLean’s Brother was also particularly hefty: a stomp-rocker that wore its Zeppelin jones proudly, and was the type of power display where you look around and see at least three other fellow audience members playing air guitar. Kudos, Jamie: You’ve fashioned a band quickly becoming an essential catch.