Arts & Entertainment
February 28, 1997
How's the Weather?
Galactic brings its New Orleans jazz-funk to the chilly Northeast
by Pete Gershon
Right away, it was obvious that this is going to be Galactic's first trek up to the Northeast. "It wonít still be snowing up there by the end of February, will it?" asks bassist and leader Robert Mercurio, for whom winter is just a chill that passes through New Orleans around Carnival time. "We played some gigs in Colorado back in November, and had to buy chains for our van. Imagine a buncha New Orleans boys, ankle deep in snow, going ĎHow do you put these things on?í. It was really a hoot -- we were clueless!"
You canít really fault them for being unprepared for inclement weather, considering the Crescent City quartet is anything but clueless when it comes to fashioning their contemporary hybrid of cool, hip-hop attitude, complex, jazzy phrasing, and earthy, low-down swamp funk. From drummer Stanton Mooreís snare-popping intro and keyboardist Rich Vogelís tangy organ on "Go Go" to guest vocalist Theryl deClouetís gravelly goodnights, their debut CD "Cooliní Off" (Fog City Records) is a document of Galacticís even, forward-moving take on the so-called "acid jazz" genre, sure to entrance fans of like-minded groups such as Groove Collective, Medeski Martin & Wood and the Greyboy All-Stars.
Click here to listen to the entire Coolin' Off album - in stereo!
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"Yeah, thereís really a mutual respect there," confirms Mercurio. "Weíll see people with MMW t-shirts at just about every gig, and theyíll tell us they heard about us through them. The Greyboys arenít that well known in New Orleans, so weíll play their disc in between sets. We all try to help each other out, and as a result it benefits the whole scene."
Galactic: tapping into a century of New Orleans tradition
Despite the chains and snow, Mercurio is excited to get on the road and tour heavily just as those groups have done. "I think itís great, what that much playing and time spent together does for a band," he observes. "Everyone gets a lot more inside of whatís going on. And if youíre persistant, every time you play a particular city, the audience will grow and grow." For Mercurio and the rest of the Galactic crew, however, thereís still the small matter of making it through Mardi Gras weekend. "Weíve got seven gigs to play in, like, five days," says Mercurio in between the insistant call-waiting beeps that plague him in his secondary role as band business manager. "Itís going to be crazy, but everyone in the band is dedicating their Mardi Gras to playing... and, unfortunately, moving equipment all over town!"
At least the members of Galactic should know the way, since theyíve been a fixture in the Big Easy for almost two years, circulating through a network of venues such as the tourist haven Mermaid Lounge, the legendary nightclub Tipitinaís, and the completely unpretentious environs of Mid-City Laneís Rock And Bowl. "Itís hard to know where to even begin describing the influence that living here has had on our sound." admits Mercurio. "Thereís so many great musicians, so many different cultures, so many places to play. Itís a multi-generational scene where everybody learns from everybody else."
Indeed, Galactic taps into a century-old New Orleans tradition, a legacy that began with brass bands, ragtime and delta blues and lives on in the funky canon of such groups as The Meters, Chocolate Milk, and Dr. John. In fact, "Cooliní Off" contains an excellent history of the Níawlins music milieu; one of the many "enhanced" CD features that can be seen and heard by popping the disc into your computerís CD-Rom drive.
"That was our producer, Dan Protheroís, idea." says Mercurio. "He had to really, really, really push us into it, though. We kinda thought it was going to look like Atari, but when it finally came out, we were blown away." The discís added features include colorful graphics, band photos, bonus live tracks and video clips, even drummer Stanton Mooreís off-the-cuff New Orleans restaurant guide (of Henryís Soul Food & Pie Shop, Moore enthuses, "For the ultimate taste experience, I recommend pouring the pork chops, with all the gravy and debris, right on top of the beans...").
Within just a few months of its release, the Enhanced CD has attracted attention far and wide. "Itís opened up some doors that would otherwise have been closed to a start-up label and a start-up band," comments Fog City producer and part-time computer programmer by trade Prothero. "Weíve had the CD reviewed on MSNBC TVís show The Site and on PBSí Internet Cafe. More recently, I was asked to show it at the annual MIDEM music conference in France and represent the independant label perspective. None of these things would have happened with a regular audio CD. Not because the music isnít great; having produced the record Iím pretty proud of it. Itís just that in these cases the enhanced part of the disc was the hook that interested people."
Prothero stresses that, "if thereís no story to tell, thereís no point in doing an Enhanced CD. But with Galactic, thereís a real story there, of a great band coming from one of the greatest cities and funkiest musical traditions in America. My goal with the enhanced part of their CD was to tell that story, to make a connection between the music fan, the band, and the New Orleans musical heritage. I think its been successful with a lot of people who havenít been able to see Galactic perform live; itís turned them from curious fans to fanatics."
Check out Galactic's website at http://www.fogworld.com/galactic for more info on the band and their nonstop tour schedule. You can also listen to their entire album online, in stereo and for free!
Article copyright © 1997 The Springfield Advocate.
Copyright © 1997 Fog City Productions. Design by Fog City Graphics.