Review by Kara Wilbeck
Photos by Alexander Maso
There are not many bands that can consistently reinvent themselves every few years while remaining beneath a single genre umbrella. Fortunately for all of us, Galactic is one of these bands. Since its formation in 1994, the funk outfit has spent the last 20 years representing every aspect of the fluctuating New Orleans musical culture.
The original Galactic sound was far on the jazzier end of the funk limits- there was a sophistication and maturity to the sound. Over the next decade, the group evolved into a looser, edgier form of itself, and started to enjoy mass appeal from a huge range of ages and demographics. Finally, in the late 2000s, Galactic dived deep into further exploring their hip hop side with From the Corner to the Block, which was rounded out by the “melting pot” album Ya-Ka-May, whose songs ranged from relentlessly funky to anthemic to, well, totally gangsta.
Galactic’s most recent album celebrates yet another essential aspect of NOLA culture: Mardi Gras. Carnivale Electricos added festive and bacchanalian sounds to Galactic’s palette, furthering the band’s incredible diversity.
The most recent tours have focused mainly on these last few albums, and featured vocalists (and New Orleans music royalty) such as Cyril Neville and Corey Glover. And just when we were expecting another tour with this formula…BAM! Galactic goes and changes it up on us again.
The show at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom on March 14 was a jump forward from what was becoming Galactic’s norm. Since the band plays in Portland at least once a year, the crowd gets extra excited when something new is in store for them. The band’s arrival was preceded by rumors of a new singer, an absolute wild woman that, well, no one had ever heard of before.
For a singer with such little experience touring with a well-known band, Maggie Koerner sure knows how to work a crowd. From this small, young woman emanates a huge, commanding stage presence. The addition of Koerner to the band allows Galactic to choose from a far larger and more diverse pool of songs, including several older tunes from their repertoire, a handful of soulful covers, some brand new Galactic material, and even one of Koerner’s own songs. In fact, with the exception of “Hey Na Na” (which Koerner sings in the album version), Galactic left their newest release, Carnivale Electricos entirely untouched.
The show opened with “Cineramascope,” one of the powerhouse instrumental hits from Ya Ka May. Usually placed as a mid-to-end of set main course, “Cineramascope” as an opener was a serious indication that we were in for a treat. Koerner made her first appearance for the third song (“Hey Na Na”), which she followed with her own song, the slow and beautiful “He Calls Me Mama.” She stayed on stage through “Dolla Diva,” the first of two brand-spankin’-new Galactic songs that gave us a sneak peak at the direction the band is headed in.
Later in the set, Galactic invited opening act Brushy One String up to the stage to perform his song “Chicken in the Corn,” before the band jumped into an old instrumental favorite, “Funky Bird,” from the band’s debut album, Coolin’ Off. Koerner’s vocals went back on display- in a big way- during the middle of the set, with a trifecta of powerful tunes: The anthemic Ya Ka May sing-along “You Don’t Know,” the James Brown classic “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” and the second brand new Galactic tune, “Higher and Higher.”
The later half of the set featured a trip back in time to older albums such as Ruckus, Late for the Future, and From the Corner to the Block, before closing out with two more strong numbers from Ya Ka May, “Heart of Steel” and “Boe Money.” After a thunderous cheer from the crowd, the band returned to the stage to showcase Koerner’s exceptional talent once more. Starting out with a newer addition to the Galactic repertoire, “Does it Really Make a Difference,” Koerner ended the show by erupting into the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” The already energetic song turned into a whirlwind of sound with Koerner’s voice behind the wheel, howling like a banshee with perfect pitch.
Once again, Galactic has gone and re-invented themselves, and once again, they’ve totally blown us away.
Galactic, March 14, 2014
Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR
Hey Na Na (feat. Maggie Koerner)
He Calls Me Mama (feat. Maggie Koerner)
Dolla Diva (feat. Maggie Koerner)
Chicken in the Corn (feat. Brushy One String)
You Don’t Know (feat. Maggie Koerner)
It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World (feat. Maggie Koerner)
Higher and Higher (feat. Maggie Koerner)
Lil’ Ol’ Money Maker
Black Eyed Pea
From the Corner to the Block (feat. Corey “Boe Money” Henry)
Right On (feat. Maggie Koerner)
Heart of Steel (feat. Maggie Koerner)
Boe Money (feat. Corey “Boe Money” Henry)
E: Does it Really Make a Difference (feat. Maggie Koerner)
Gimme Shelter (feat. Maggie Koerner)