With Mardi Gras festivities in full swing, it seems fitting that New Orleans’ most prominent funk outfit would hit the road to bring some of that Big Easy love to the rest of the country. The people of Portland were clearly feeling the Mardi Gras spirit when they brought their dancing shoes to catch Galactic at the Crystal Ballroom on Saturday, February 11.
Austin band the Bright Light Social Hour have always been criminally underrated. They’ve grown their sound with each album, going from funkified rock and roll to a sound more influenced by electronic dance music. Both of these sounds translated to the cavernous ballroom tenfold. For much of their set the band stuck to their most recent full-length album Space Is Still The Place, laying down electrifying tunes that felt like a strange hybrid of Southern rock and dance music. Drummer Joseph Mirasole proved to be a beast on the skins as he drove each song into overdrive with heavy relentless beats. Guitarist Curtis Roush and bassist Jack O’Brien split vocal duties as they took a cover the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” into a psychedelic new dimension before dropping into the slow-burning soul of “Detroit”, which broke down into a blistering bluesy guitar solo. Their set closed on a powerful and political high note with their mid 70’s-style anthemic rocker “Tear Down That Wall” (released appropriately on inauguration day), winning cheers of praise from the Portland crowd.
One of the things that makes Galactic such a compelling live act is that they basically become a new band each tour. Their foundation is in funk and jazz, but that only serves as a platform for collaboration. The band has toured with numerous singers and hip-hop artists over the years, catering their sound to the style of each artist in chameleon-like fashion. These days Galactic have been touring with Erica Falls, a promising young soul singer from New Orleans. Kicking off their set with a funky number that felt as groovy as a second line parade on a sunny day, the band quickly set the tone for the party that would ensue. While there were New Orleans R&B staples like “You Don’t Know” and Galactic favorites like “Right On”, there were also left-field covers like Falls’ take on Erik B & Rakim’s hip-hop classic “Paid In Full”. Falls’ chemistry with the band felt natural as if they had been performing together for decades. Even though many in the audience had most likely never heard of her, the singer was able to keep them enraptured with her big smile and an even bigger voice oozing with soul. The band did their part to keep the crowd dancing as they laid down thick instrumental grooves, breaking into ferocious solos at every turn. At one point it felt as if the band was a snake charmer, with the crowd blissfully hypnotized by the seductive power of the funk.
In Portland the members of Galactic and their singer Eric Falls showed that they are all artists who live and breathe music and performing live. It’s exciting to see what new elements they will bring to the table with each respective tour. Their performance was one that will not soon be forgotten, giving this winter-fatigued town a chance to dance and sweat the cold away.