Saxophones galore at Memphis Galactic


New Daisy Theatre
Memphis, Tennessee
April 19, 2008

The beauty of Galactic has always been their funk.  It’s delivered hard, and driven home by the powerhouse drumming of Stanton Moore and the wailing saxophone of Ben Ellman.  Vocals have come and gone, but the one constant has been that funk.  In Memphis, the funk was there, but so were the vocals, and well, so was a little more sax.

galactic4.jpgFrom The Corner To The Block, Galactic’s latest studio effort, featured a multitude of MCs lending their rap skills to the band’s already super-tight rhythms.  Since the album, the rappers have been regulars in the live setting, and The Coup’s Boots Riley was the featured voice of the show at the New Daisy.

From the opening notes of a scorching "Garbage Truck," it was clear that the band was fine-tuned from the road.  With Jazz Fest looming, Galactic is on top of their game and primed to tear it up for the hometown crowd.  They tore threw "Hit The Wall" and "Go Go," and the fresh-faced, all-ages crowd ate it up.

Things took a turn when Boots came out.  The Galactic fan base has become somewhat splintered with the decision to add MCs to each show.  While some fans really enjoy the hip-hop aspect to the show, others find it a little off-putting and would prefer more traditional Galactic funk.  The Memphis crowd seemed to lean towards the former.

galactic2.jpg Riley was clearly enjoying himself on stage, stutter-stepping to the beat as he spit rhymes to "My Favorite Mutiny."  Lots of times, live rap falls well short of the recorded version.  Here, though, the hip hop serves to augment the instruments and not the other way around, and for the most part, it works.  He stuck around for a few more songs ("Gunsmoke," "We’re The Ones") before ceding the stage back to the main event.

"FEMA" was top-notch – definitely one of the stand-out moments of a strong show.  When Galactic’s got its groove on, there are few bands that can turn a concert venue into the all-out party like the guys from New Orleans can, and they were holidng court at the Daisy.  As the lights flashed, and the band hit its groove, the Memphis crowd ebbed and flowed with the music.


Things got cranked up to surreal levels when Art Edmaiston (Mofro, Gamble Brothers Band) emerged on stage, saxophone in hand.  As he and Ellman dueled it out on "Baker’s Dozen," saxophone versus saxophone, it was Galactic at its finest – funked out, hard-edged Delta jazz.

galactic3.jpg Stanton Moore eventually emerged from behind his drum kit, sticks in hand, and did what he did best – he beat the shit out of his drum set.  Circling his kit and moving from tom to snare, and from cymbal to kick drum, he threw down a drum solo for the ages.  The crowd cheered as he hopped from drum to drum, and as he eventually went back behind the set and took a seat, the rest of the band came back out and picked up right where they left off.  

  Edmaiston and Ellman got back to it, and the crowd erupted as "Baker’s Dozen" came to a close and Edmaiston retreated to the wing of the stage.

Riley came back out, and by this time the crowd was amped up and ready to continue the party.  Adding the hip-hop artist provides an element that instrumental acts often lack – the ability to work a crowd.  Sure, Ellman can stand front and center, harmonica in hand, pouring his heart and soul into every single note.  But, it’s just not the same as what Riley brought – the ability to really, REALLY  hype the audience.

By the time the final notes of Led Zeppelin’s "Immigrant Song" evaporated into the Memphis night, Galactic had shown the tired but satisfied Memphis faithful just how things are done in New Orleans.