Photo by S. Breugnot
Galactic’s performance at the Fonda, midway through the group’s winter tour, could just as well be described as two performances. There is the progressive funk band, anchored by the fatback drumming of Stanton Moore, turning out its sizzling brand of Big Easy-inspired instrumentals. Then, there is the smoother soul outfit augmented by singer Erica Falls, her platinum voice as lustrous as it is strong.
Perhaps spurred by the left-right combination of opening support sets- the gothic rolling thunder of Bright Lights Social Hour, and the Funky Meters seminal grooves led by New Orleans elder statesmen George Porter Jr. and Art Neville—Galactic hit the stage blazing hot. First, without Falls, as a sextet on “Karate,” driven by staccato horns and shared solos, then with her for three, including the thick “Never Called You Crazy,” with saxman Ben Ellman moaning on harmonica.
After a rousing “Higher and Higher,” Falls departed, sending Galactic into to a pair of instrumentals. “Ashley’s Roachclip,” followed by “Paid in Full,” had Moore pushing through the wide-lanes laid by bassist Robert Mercurio. Returning for another trio of cuts, Falls took the near-capacity house back to church starting with a gospel-infused rendition of Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain.”
Yet, it was the last of the three, on Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” that the two sides of the Galactic coin were most in focus. The timeless classic, with Falls reshaping the melody, came off beautifully delivered and flowing, as if done by Aretha Franklin at Muscle Shoals in the late-‘60s. Again, Falls exited, and again, the ensemble shifted, this time into the aerated “Late for the Future Medley.”
The closing third of the set saw the band alternating between its two incarnations: the good-time, call-and-response of Katie Herzig’s darting “Hey Na Na,” then the retro-soul slink of “Does it Really Make a Difference?” from 2015’s Into the Deep. The slide guitar of Jeff Raines darkened “Shibuya,” with Ellman honking again on harmonica, before sneaking in sousaphone references to Lady Gaga on “Doin’ Badly.” Falls came back for a final “Heart of Steel,” then stayed for the jiving “Dolla Diva” encore.
Give Galactic a lot of credit for composing a set that effortlessly rocked between soulful rhythm-and-blues and cosmic hard funk. Rather than sacrifice one aspect of its multi-genre personality for another, they have embraced it all. And, in hands lesser than those of the ever-versatile Moore and his bottomless bag of backbeats, or Falls’ classic styling and animated presence, it may not work. For this band it does work, ultimately as a melting pot homage to their home city of New Orleans, where everything good is tossed in the stew, giving back something even greater.