Longstanding New Orleans-based funk band Galactic is in the midst of their Winter Tour 2022 and they stopped at Hollywood’s Fonda Theatre on February 18 for a Mardi Gras celebratory performance. It was their first Los Angeles area appearance since 2019 and both the band and audience were excited to reconnect. Galactic has evolved over more than 25 years on the road as they have added vocalists, rotated horn players, and experimented with hip hop as well as other musical genres. However, at their roots, they are a funk band with incredible arrangements and musicianship.
Their show at the Fonda was a mélange of tunes that included both new and old material, guest appearances, and exceptional performances. Sadly, saxophone ace and founding band member Ben Ellman had to miss the show to deal with a family emergency. Trumpeter Eric Gordon more than pulled his weight, filling in for Ellman on all the horn segments and a myriad of solos during the set. Leo Pellegrino (baritone saxophone) and Matt “Doe” Muirhead (trumpet) from Too Many Zooz, who opened the show, also joined Galactic for two songs.
In their early years, the band played mostly instrumentals with a few lyrical songs. Now, the instrumentals are the exception but are still a funk-heavy gift interspersed through their live sets. Their newest band member Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph is a dynamic vocalist with tons of stage presence that she brought to the show. Her powerful and melodic voice suits the older material as well as the new songs. Jelly belted out “Clap Your Hands,” “Domino” and “Higher and Higher” to open the set. Guitarist Jeff Raines played an intricate and riveting solo at the end of “Higher and Higher” and he appeared in the zone the entire set.
Pellegrino and Muirhead came out from the wings to join Gordon for a horn-heavy instrumental called “Cineramascope.” Each horn player took an extended solo supported by the rhythmically thumping beat produced by drummer Stanton Moore and bassist Robert Mercurio. That masterful rhythm duo has been holding down the foundation of Galactic’s sound since the beginning of the band’s formation and continues to set the standard for modern funk drumming.
Jelly came back to join the band, still with the Too Many Zooz horns for “You Don’t Know.” She followed that up with “There’s Something Wrong With This Picture,” dedicating it to the memory of original vocalist Theryl “Houseman” deClouet who died in 2018. The song is a powerful statement about the horrendous injustice and inequality faced daily by African Americans. “Right On” came next and it’s up-tempo, infectious beat elevated the energy in the room.
Another fine, older instrumental called “Go Go” featured a hypnotic organ riff from Rich Vogel who also took an extended, melodious solo during the song. Jelly led the band through “Dance at My Funeral” before introducing frequent Galactic guest, Charli 2na, the hip hop legend from Jurassic 5 who is best known for his powerful bass-baritone voice. 2na brought his quick delivery rapping style on “Comin’ Thru” as he continues to be one of Galactic’s most trusted collaborators.
The remainder of the show was a showcase for Jelly’s vocal talents. She exhibited great range and tone on “Hey Na Na,” “Never Called You Crazy” and “Dolla Diva.” The biggest surprise of the night was the band’s cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” The blues song was turned into a heavy metal classic when Led Zeppelin covered it and Galactic infused their version with funk while maintaining the Zeppelin vibe.
Near the end of the show, the band took another deep dive into their instrumental catalog with a fine version of “Crazyhorse Mongoose.” The song gave each musician a solo showcase, with a rarely seen, extra funky bass solo at the front of the stage by Mercurio. Jelly came back and invited Charli 2na to wrap things up on “Getcha Sum.” Jelly repeated the title lyrics while alternating with 2na’s rapping.
Galactic came back for a two-song encore. They led it off with guest tuba player Devon Taylor, (known as Tuba Red) and made a name for himself playing sousaphone with Preservation Hall Brass Band along with several other New Orleans-based groups.. He joined the band on the instrumental “AP Touro” and his deep tuba rumblings coupled with Mercurio’s bass line had the house pulsing.
Jelly came back out to wrap things up with a cover of Dr. John’s “Qualified” which was dedicated to the legend who died in 2019. It was a fulfilling performance and a long-overdue return to Los Angeles by a New Orleans-based band that continues to reinterpret funk and soul with a modern rock-leaning.
Live photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©2022.