Digging the family Pinto out of a snow bank is a helluva lot different than seeing it float down the street. Each situation could certainly inspire a somber lyric, though one would more likely spark a heart wrenching minor key riff. As the New Orleans based band Galactic recorded their last album a few years back, From the Corner to the Block, Hurricane Katrina hit and scattered band members around the country. But instead of changing their tune to echo the devastation to their home, they picked up the pieces, went to the Poconos and pumped out a pulsating fusion LP that screams change louder than an Obama rally.
Thursday night at the Majestic Theatre, Galactic broke the silence of our frozen tundra with a galaxy of sounds that lived up to their name. Instrumental tunes focused on their jazz and funk backbone. But as soon as one thought it was safe to call this another Medeski, Martin and Wood type jam session, Jurassic 5's Chali 2na and his sidekick, The Laid Law, busted onto the stage to a roar of applause that could have blown out eardrums in Fitchburg.
A hip hop player and a band of funky white boys? Yes. Jurassic 5 has always been from a different side of the hip hop hood. (The first time I saw J5, they opened for Fiona Apple on her "When the Pawn…" tour. Would Lil' John do that? ) It's no surprise that one of the J5 crew would be included in the new Galactic roster.
Clearly all of Galactic's players are ridiculously talented instrumentalists. Occasionally, the "Look what I can do!" factor turns into the "Ok, we get it…" sentiment, especially on older songs. The new breed of Galactic, however, is truly something else. Chali 2na and The Laid Law fuse to Galactic like soldered metal: The snappy rhymes layered on Robert Mercurio's monstrous bass lines and Stanton Moore's tricky beats crack you over the head and make you their bitch.
During "Think Back," saxophone and harmonica player Ben Ellman, guitarist Jeff Raines, and keyboardist Richard Vogel kept the melodies kickin', each player lip synching Chali 2na's rhymes as the rapper dominated the stage. When the MCs took breaks, the buoyant vibe they brought hung around.
I'm still seeing stars from staring at Galactic's epileptic unfriendly light display, but it was a sacrifice worth making to glimpse Stanton Moore, one of the world's most notable modern drummers and provider of the night's blistering beats. CDs of his side projects (Garage A Trois, etc.), his how to drum technique DVDs, his own edition drum sticks and other schwag could fill a museum. But he's not just some KISS style marketing engine. When Moore has time on tour, he even fits in a drum lesson or two for a lucky fan. After seeing Moore in the flesh, I honestly wonder if he is part machine, like the Terminator. How else can all those beats come from one man? His limbs function with a life of their own!
Whether it was the unified dancing, the guy running around giving people hugs or just the fact that, collectively, the audience smelled like one giant blunt, the sense of community was omnipresent. Despite two simultaneously occurring sold out shows -- Sara Bareillis at the High Noon and Girl Talk at the Great Hall in the UW Memorial Union -- there was no shortage of audience. The entire building was packed. And that says something for Galactic's sound and their continued evolution.
When the levees broke, it was the people of the U.S. who came together to help their fellow citizens, like strangers pushing stuck cars on the slick streets of Madison. Galactic's fusion is more than musical. They are the embodiment of where they come from and a testimony to the melting pot of American culture.