Photo by Danny ClinchYou wanna talk about New Orleans funk, then you're inevitably gonna talk about the Meters. Maybe a little on the Neville Brothers, too, who formed from the Meters' remnants after the band splintered. Mostly though, Crescent City funk is exclusively, beautifully, fantastically, magically, definitively Meters.
But the Meters' heyday was back in the '70s, and the New Orleans kids needed some funk of their own. Enter two DC hardcore cretins who had moved to Louisiana to go to school—one of whom, guitarist Jeff Raines, is the son of ex-New York Times editor Howell Raines, who resigned in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal, but that's getting waaay off topic.
So, anyway—drunk inside a burg whose music scene stretched back several hundred years, if you count the slaves who smacked drums in Congo Square on their days off—these two guys caught the regional fever and started their own funk band, Galactic Prophylactic (obviously, they'd been scavenging through heaps of old George Clinton records).
They hooked up with a local, Theryl "The Houseman" deClouet, who's a couple of decades older and a musical mentor who could sing Southern R&B as if he'd been personally blessed by Marie Laveau. All this was happening in the mid-'90s—perfect timing, just when the jam-band craze was blowing up. They chopped their name in half, played shows, toured ridiculously, blah, blah, blah, and built a loyal following that consisted of three camps: cherubic post-Phish hippies who had never known true funk before, but who did know what great smoke-out music sounded like; ravers looking for more organic dance music that didn't need a lot of power strips; and really, really old people who had actually heard of the Meters. In Galactic, there was sonic unity.
Galactic aren't some lame regurgitation of the aural past, though. They're a completely different beast, laden with some of the darkest, creepiest grooves in all of funkdom—sly, skulking bass lines come off sounding so sinister that you catch yourself looking nervously out of the corners of your eyes while wiggling around your crappy apartment to their tunes. So it would figure that their newest album, Ruckus, comes off with all the subtlety of a French Quarter mugging (or hey, a Mardi Gras titty flash). There are weird, menacing voices—what is that woman wailing about on "Bongo Joe?"—and why, in the middle of "The Moil," otherwise a Bootsy-esque party anthem that could make your iPod sweat, do Galactic pop off a guitar riff that sounds as if it was lifted from a cheapo horror flick? And who's this guest keyboard player who calls himself Astacio the Nudist?
And yet, Galactic provide some levity to go with the mystery, mostly through Theryl's sweet, gorgeous pipes, the way he croons an old chestnut like the English Beat's "Tenderness" and resurrects it into something deeply spiritual. Producer Dan the Automator—he of the DJ/hip-hop résumé—provides just enough of a contempo sheen without screwing up their aural identity. It's certainly enough of a tease to make you want to hear how they go off live, where jam acts always flourish, but here's an even better excuse: this is Galactic's last tour with Theryl as a full-time member, a perfectly apropos occasion to get familiar with the faces of funk's future.
Galactic perform at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600. Thurs., Aug. 26, 8 p.m. $20. 18+.
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