When: 8 p.m., Wednesday
Where: Ventura Theatre, 26 S. Chestnut
Tickets: $32 to $37
Information: 805-653-0118, www.venturatheater.net
For the record, the veteran New Orleans-ian groove machine of a band known as Galactic has made its presence known in the Santa Barbara area only occasionally, including an opening slot for BB King at the Santa Barbara Bowl in 2004 and a steamy show at SOhO two years back. On Wednesday, the band re-enters the 805 cultural atmosphere in a fitting venue, somewhere between the scale of those two earlier locales, in the suitably funky expanse of the Ventura Theatre.
Calling Galactic a card-carrying member of the “jamband” scene is, at best, a half-truth. Its history extends back to 1994, before the “jamband” cosmos was as evolved or codified as it is now (with the help of world wide webbing). Founding Galactic bassist Robert Mercurio explained that the expansion of the “jamband” world and scene served to embraced the N’Awlins band.
“Once we started doing shows back in the day with some of the bigger jam bands acts,” he said, “we saw a big increase to our business. We were not that familiar with the scene when we first started. In New Orleans, everyone is a jam band,” he laughs.
Of course, the essence and job requirement of a good and popular “jam band” is its ability to seize a stage and a live show. Galactic has won high marks in that category for 25+ years. Mr. Mercurio points to the profound cultural soil out of which it grew as a partial rationale for the band’s natural instincts as a live band: “We are from New Orleans and down here the live experience is a big part of our lifestyle and culture. The city is also known for many iconic recordings as well.”
Galactic was originally called Galactic Prophylactic and has become legendary both as a band with its own “brand” and as a backing group for vocalists and instrumentalists, a list including Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint, Trombone Shorty, and hip hopper Boots Riley.
Speaking of its reputation for a moveable feast of singers up front, Mr. Mercurio admits that “we have kind of made a business out of it. Since the parting with our original singer Theryl ‘the Houseman’ de Clouet in 2004, we have been collaborating with all sorts of singers and rappers. We are a unique band where we have been known to have countless lead singers.”
This year’s Galactic news revolves around the release of another strong—and soul groove-fortified–addition to its vast discography, “Already, Already, Already,” on its in-house Tchuop-Zilla Records label. It is the band’s first new album since 2015’s “Into the Deep,” whose vocalist cameos included turns from Macy Gray and the great Mavis Staples.
Although the stylistic menu of Galactic wends its way seamlessly through rock, funk, second line music, shades of hip hop and touches of jazz, the roots of its sound stems from the rich tributary of vintage New Orleans music.
According to Mr. Mercurio, who moved to New Orleans from Chevy Chase, Maryland to attend Tulane University and never left the Crescent City, “we all came together through the love of seminal New Orleans band–The Meters. We always thought of ourselves as a rhythm section, like them or Booker T and The MG’s. Maybe that is why we collaborate with so many singers. That is what those guys were doing back in the day. They were good at adapting to the song/singer.”
Another important news item on the modern Galactic front is its recent acquisition of and appointment as owners of the historic New Orleans nightclub and musical epicenter Tipitina’s. Saxophonist Ben Ellman, who came on board the Galactic story in the early ‘00s, effused “we’re so incredibly honored to be tasked as the current caretakers of such a historic venue. My connection with the club started way before I was lucky enough to take the stage. My first job in New Orleans was at Tipitina’s as a cook in the (since deactivated) kitchen. The importance of respecting what Tip’s means for musicians and the city of New Orleans is not lost on us. We’re excited for the future of the club and look forward to all the amazing music and good times ahead.”
Having the “Tip” as a literal home base of operations may feel like a logical move, a case of poetic justice in which the artists take over the means and venue of production. But Galactic is a road dogging band, on tour more than it is at home.
They take their mythic hometown with them wherever they go, although Mr. Mercurio humbly stops short of calling his band an official torch-bearing enterprise. “We definitely feel like we bring New Orleans with us,” he clarifies, “but by no means feel that we are carrying the torch.”
Dress code at the Ventura Theatre this Wednesday: bring your dancing shoes and your listening ears.