Openers and fellow NoLa natives the Mike Dillon Band started their set with strong instrumentals highlighting trombonist Carly Meyers and Dillon's unique percussion abilities, particularly on the vibraphone. An all-percussion jam with four band members banging away on drums was a highlight. However in the second half of their set, Dillon's screaming punk vocals took over and were a distraction from the music, ending in what sounded mostly like schizophrenic noise.
Once Galactic hit the stage, though, funk reigned supreme as core members Jeff Raines (guitar), bassist Robert Mercurio, drummer Stanton Moore, keyboardist/Hammond organist Richard Vogel and saxophone/harmonica player Ben Ellman, joined by trombone standout Corey Henry (of the Rebirth Brass Band), began doing their thing. Focusing at first on the instrumental sound they are known for, they seemed to get off to a slightly sluggish start (Mardi Gras hangover perhaps); but that all changed as soon as new vocalist Maggie Koerner took the stage for her very first time in St. Louis.
When Galactic visited The Pageant last year for its Carnivale Electricos tour, Living Colour's Corey Glover was serving as lead vocalist, giving the band a heavier rock edge. Up-and-coming New Orleans crooner Koerner brought a completely different vibe with her sultry, raspy voice ranging from a deep, low growl to powerhouse wail. Put quite simply, this girl has some pipes and she knows how to use them. Her sexy dance moves and way of engaging the audience instantly sucked the crowd in and kept them entranced every time she appeared on stage. There were more than a few young men on the dance floor looking moon-eyed and shouting cries of "I love you" and "will you marry me" each time she'd finish a song.
Koerner's voice brought depth and new life to vocal-driven Galactic tunes like the upbeat Mardi Gras booty-shaker "Hey Na Na," soulful "Heart of Steel," and hard-hitting "You Don't Know," as well as her own "He Calls Me Mama." She also slowed things down for a sweet cover of James Brown classic "It's a Man's World."
Though they don't have a new album out, Galactic has recently been releasing a few new individual tunes via streaming services and their website and played a couple of them, including the super-funky "Dolla Diva," co-written by Koerner and The Revivalists' David Shaw.
At its core, Galactic has always been an instrumental band, with a flurry of various vocalists rotating in and out over the years; and they nailed it, as always, in this respect with great solos throughout the night by the core musicians. Vogel's organ dominated, providing that "Carnivale" vibe, while Mercurio's bass anchored the funky rhythm, and Henry nearly blew the roof off with his trombone. Taking a break from the sax during a full instrumental jam, Ellman proved he's equally skilled on the harmonica. As the rest of the band left the stage briefly, Moore got to show his stuff with a drum/percussion spotlight, joined by Mike Dillon.
While Galactic's instrumental jams are always a delight, Koerner's star shone so brightly that it was bittersweet every time she briefly left the stage, and the audience eagerly cheered her return each time she re-emerged. Fortunately she returned for a two-song encore, beginning with groovy "Doesn't Make a Difference" and closing the show (seemingly her choice) with a smile-inducing cover of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," that had everyone singing along.
The lights quickly came up, but the party didn't end there. It spilled over into the Halo Bar, where KDHX's own Andy Coco and his Rhythm Section Roadshow kept it going into the wee hours. Laissez les bons temps rouler!