Galactic saves Cleveland at Odeon show

Greg M. Schwartz

“Hey, man, listen to my keyboard. It’s far out…”; Galactic played one groovy show at Cleveland’s Odeon last weekend.

Credit: Andrew popik

The hometown Cleveland Cavaliers had just gotten clobbered, casting a pall on the team’s playoff hopes. As any native Clevelander knows, such events can have quite a negative effect on the city’s collective psyche.

Fortunately, the cosmos gifted Cleveland with a treat to go along with this April Fool’s trick — the future funk troubadours known as Galactic were in town to save the night.

It was only a 15 minute walk from Gund Arena’s depression to Friday night salvation with Galactic at The Odeon on the east bank of the Flats.

My basketball jones caused me to miss most of the first set, but I arrived in time to catch the last couple of songs when the band teamed up with artists from the Media Darling Underground Hip-Hop Showcase that had opened the show. They threw down some hip-hop infused funk grooves that had the near-capacity crowd getting down on the good foot.

As a veteran of more than a dozen Galactic shows, I knew the best was likely still to come. Like most jam bands, Galactic usually uses the first set as a springboard to even bigger jam-tastic fireworks in the second set.

Unlike most other jam bands, Galactic’s musical roots are based in New Orleans funk and soul, rather than lead guitar-driven classic rock. But the band has a rock edge too, along with acid jazz and trip-hop flavors that make it equally comfortable headlining Wavy Gravy’s Hog Farm Pignic in Northern California as playing Jazz Fest 2005 in New Orleans. Galactic’s unique sound simultaneously blends the funk/soul roots of the past with the cosmic vibes that point to the future.

If Galactic has a “lead” player, drummer Stanton Moore is it. His mastery of the classic John Bonham “When the Levee Breaks” beat from Led Zeppelin IV helps drive Galactic’s grooves in a way few other bands’ drummers can. The synergy between Moore and groove-monster bassist Robert Mercurio is what put Galactic on the map, and was in full-force Friday night. Powerful saxophonist Ben Ellman also adds an extra element to give Galactic their jazzy sound.

Somewhere in the 1999-2000 range, keyboardist Rich Vogel and guitarist Jeff Raines started evolving their contributions. Both players have got the chops to be musical leaders in their own right. They somehow started stepping up, and all of a sudden, Galactic went from being a good funk band to a great jam band that can deliver psychedelic groove ecstasy with the best of them. (See my review of their June 2000 San Francisco shows at

Raines’ ability to pick his spots is part of what gives Galactic their cohesive groove. But since 2000, he’s also displayed a penchant for wah-wah-infused psychedelic flourishes that jams to another level.

Likewise, Vogel has branched out from his roots in the sounds of funk/soul pioneers like Art Neville, Herbie Hancock and Lonnie Smith and started adding more classic rock influences. Dipping into a wider bag of sonic tricks, Vogel’s playing is no longer just vibe — he has become an integral part of the band’s sound.

The band’s lineup evolved again last fall with the departure of vocalist Theryl “The Houseman” De’ Clouet, leaving Galactic a purely instrumental band. This was the first time I’d seen them since Houseman’s departure, and they didn’t seem to miss a beat. While The Houseman brought a great old-school New Orleans soul to the proceedings, his departure actually plays to the band’s strength — superb instrumental musicianship.

The entire quintet was in fine form Friday night. The synergy that comes from having five instrumental aces shaping a jam, but always deferring to the collective groove is what creates Galactic’s unique musical magic.

The Odeon crowd was treated to one stellar groove after another, with sharp solos that enhanced the tunes but never overshadowed the rest of the band. After the show, I hardly remembered the Cavs game — Friday night in Cleveland was saved.

With the recent lineup change, Galactic can be considered a band that is still space-trucking toward their prime. Considering the number of legendary shows already under their belt, this is great news for music fans. Ohioans will get another chance to catch Galactic when they play at the Hookahville Festival near Columbus May 29.

Contact Forum columnist Greg Schwartz at [email protected].