New Orleans' own funk/jazz fusion jam band Galactic heated up the night with a no-holds-barred, two-hour set that started out high energy and never waned for a moment.
Before they took the stage, however, alternative hip-hop masters Latyrx got everyone's hearts thumping with the dynamic, rapid-fire deliveries of Lateef the Truth Speaker (Lateef Daumont) and Lyrics Born (Tsutomu "Tom" Shimura), veterans of the San Francisco Bay-Area hip-hop scene. The duo bounced lyrics off each other in perfect sync, backed by a live drummer and DJ Shadow on the "wheels of steel," old school scratching from dual turntables. They featured material from their new album, "Disconnection," including "Gorgeous Spirits (Aye, Let's Go!)" as well as a few songs from Lyrics Born's previous solo efforts, including politically charged "The Last Trumpet."
The crowd was somewhat sparse and hesitant at the beginning of their 45-minute set, but by the end of it, the main floor of the Pageant began to fill in nicely and the audience was getting into it, pumping fists in the air and calling out lyrics on cue.
Then it was time for the real magic to happen. Galactic took the stage around 9:30 p.m., leading off with an instrumental jam highlighting solos of each member, proving immediately that this group is a true collaboration, each bringing an unmistakable element to its sound. Over the years, the core quintet of guitarist Jeff Raines, bassist Robert Mercurio, drummer Stanton Moore, keyboardist/Hammond organist Richard Vogel and saxophone/harmonica player Ben Ellman have been joined by a rotating series of guest vocalists and musicians. The current lineup is sweetened by the addition of two Coreys -- standout trombone player Corey Henry (of the Rebirth Brass Band) and legendary rock vocalist Corey Glover (of Living Colour).
Along with its rotating musicians, the band's sound has evolved over the years to go beyond classic New Orleans funk and embrace other musical elements from hip-hop to jazz and even more recently, electronica. But funk is clearly the core, and there was plenty of it at Thursday night's show. Unlike many bands that would place them more in the background, the horns take center stage at a Galactic show, and Ellman and Henry have perfect chemistry, eagerly sharing their deserved place in the spotlight.
Glover's powerhouse vocals added a great dynamic -- his astounding range providing moments of deep down soul to piercing rock n' roll wails. Sporting an oxford and a tie, his now-grey hair covered by a driver cap, he looked more "adult contemporary" than hard rock, yet he proved throughout the show that he still had the vocal chops of his Living Colour heyday, giving it his all on heavier Galactic jams like "You Don't Know," "Hey Na Na," and "Heart of Steel."
In addition to its own material, Galactic did a number of covers, including the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus," which was fun, but seemed an odd choice and strayed a bit too far from the essence of the band's funky sound, as well as Living Colour's 1988 hit "Cult of Personality," with Glover laying it all on the stage, and even hopping down into the audience at the end. They also covered two very different Rolling Stones songs -- "It's All Over Now" (their first number-one hit, written by Bobby and Shirley Womack) and, as an encore, "Sympathy for the Devil." Both were solid performances showcasing Glover's vocal skills; but again, Galactic sounds best when it sticks to what it does best -- getting funky.
Overall, it was a really fun show. Having cut its teeth in the clubs of New Orleans at America's biggest celebration, Galactic is an absolute party band, never bringing the energy down once they pump it up. Who needs Soulard Mardi Gras when you can have a taste of the real soul of the Big Easy? The band's most recent album, 2012's "Carnivale Electricos" is a testament to it -- a party record celebrating all that is Mardi Gras and expanding beyond our borders to bring in elements of Brazil's Carnivale vibe.
A longtime fan of the band's music, this was admittedly my first time seeing Galactic live, and it absolutely lived up to (and at times, exceeded) my expectations.