Galactic with Boots Riley and Chali 2na – Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver

by Raymond Hoh

After working with Dan the Automator on 2003’s Ruckus, for their sixth studio album, Galactic moved closer from the “funk” corner to the hip-hop “block” with From the Corner to the Block – a “funk meets hip-hop” collaboration featuring a who’s who of emcees from the indie scene.

Translating this guest-filled album over to the live stage proved to be a dilemma: How many of the eight emcees who were on the album could the band manage to bring on tour with them? Fortunately on the Vancouver leg of the tour, Boots Riley, Chali 2na and Vursatyl were able to make it.
Opening act, Vursatyl’s crew, the Lifesavas took to the stage. DJ Shines, MCs Jumbo the Garbageman and Vursatyl make up the trio and have a certain on-stage chemistry that can only come from being together for a long time. Highlights included the hook-laden “What If It’s True” and spanish guitar-influenced “Hellohihey”. Once their set ended, the group from Portland, Oregon definitely made new fans in the process as they worked the crowd with their De La Soul-inspired hip-hop.

In the crowd is a varied mish-mash of baseball cap-sporting hip-hoppers and alcohol-imbued suburbanites. Drummer Stanton Moore, saxophonist Ben Ellman, guitarist Jeff Raines, bassist Robert Mercurio, and the man on the keys Richard Vogel, collectively known as Galactic “land” onto the stage so to speak and the rhythm to The Coup’s “My Favorite Mutiny” begins bringing out a Bruce Lee vintage t-shirt-wearing Boots Riley. After Mutiny, Galactic and Boots follow up with “Gunsmoke” and “We Are the Ones”, which sounded especially nice with live instruments.

After his brief set, Riley goes backstage to give a little stage time to Galactic, who perform a couple of instrumental tracks, which included “FEMA”. The guys with the baseball caps leave the dance floor at this point, while some stay behind to acquaint themselves and others with Mary Jane.

Your friendly neighborhood baritone, Chali 2na comes out next with his little brother, Laid Law, and it’s clear that Vancouver are avid 2na fans as he performs “Comin Thru”. More frenzy erupts when the band switch to the J5 classic “What’s Golden”, which is accented well by Vogel’s Hammond. “Think Back”, Chali’s track from Corner to the Block, follows and then 2na and Laid Law leave the stage.

It becomes apparent at this point that the show is going to be an alternation of rapping and instrumental jams and it appears that I’m right as Galactic perform a few more jazz/funk rock fusion gems. Marxist rapper, Boots makes his way back onto the stage and rips into “5 Million Ways to Kill A CEO” and his track on Corner to the Block, “Hustle Up” – a crowd favorite venturing into hard rock territory that got everybody bobbing their head.

As Boots leaves again, Galactic keeps the groove going with “Moil”, an instrumental uptempo crowd-pleaser that has everyone in the Commodore Ballroom moving and grooving. Raines’ guitar work is exceptional and Ellman’s sax is distorted to sound like a psychedelic guitar. We are then treated to spectacular solos from Mercurio on bass, followed next by an entranced Stanton Moore drum clinic. It is clear that these guys are musicians in the purest sense.

If that’s not all, “Shibuya”, a close-to-ten-minute, harmonica-infused instrumental cut, has the suburbanites dancing uncoordinated and poorly. But that’s not all Galactic’s fault! Call it a mix of Lady Luck and voodoo-rock!

As the crowd chants for an encore, Galactic comes back on stage to perform a cover of Zepellin’s “Immigrant Song” where Ellman’s sax displaces Robert Plant’s guitar. The rest of the emcees, including the Lifesavas, join the band to spit a couple of verses on top. When the track ends, everyone has their fists in the air and I get a high-five from Boots as the emcees and the band leave the stage.

The Galactic show proved to be a musical scale trying to find the right balance between hip-hop on the new album with material from their extensive back catalogue. Though this concert goer wished there could have been a few more instrumental jams, this was only a minor quip. Galactic, contrary to their band name, are definitely down-to-earth guys as after the show ended they made their way to the merchandise table to meet and greet their fans. Musicians like the guys from New Orleans make the concert-going experience a pleasant and memorable one.

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