Better Than: Being stuck on a boat with "suspicious liquids."
This past weekend marked an annual ritual: the end of the Jam Cruise, which always floods South Florida with musical talent. Though sometimes this place feels like a musical black hole, sometimes, there's serendipity. Take this past Saturday, one of the most miserable nights, weather-wise, in local history. It was then that Mofro's swamp soul and Galactic's fortified funk proved just what was needed to warm up.
JJ Grey and his band, Mofro, played first. Grey is arguably one of the top frontmen in our underground music scene, but due to his ever-rotating backing band, his supporting players always seem to be trying to keep up. Longtime sidekick and sometimes plugged-in slide guitarist, Daryl Hance, is the only member who has been with him for more than a year or two. But on this occasion, other than an accent lick here and there, he brought very little to this performance.
The two newest band members are bassist Andrew Trube and organist Anthony Farrell, both of The Greyhounds, from Austin, Texas. They joined Mofro in Junem and although it's nice to have a bass player in the band again, they also did little to distract from Grey. However drummer Anthony Cole, plucked from Florida's own Legendary JCs, is a solid addition, and his eclectic playing style definitely adds to the band's soulful vibe. I'm hoping these promising players will eventually find more room to contribute as much as have the Hercules Horns, trumpeter Dennis Marion and saxophonist Art Edmaiston.
The 90-minute set consisted of several standard takes on a variety of Mofro's catalog, spanning all four of the band's releases, including such songs as "Dirtfloorcracker," "Orange Blossoms," and "Brighter Days." Grey's warm, raspy, road-worn voice was especially poignant during heart-wrenching tunes "Higher You Climb" and "A Woman." Fan favorite and singalong "Lochloosa," is all but guaranteed in South Florida, but must spur some uneasiness in this crowd as it rants against the expansion that is so prevalent here.
It's always good to hear "War" and "On Fire," two tunes that challenge society's ethic. But it was the closing number and food anthem "Ho Cake," as well as the guest playing of former Mofro organist Adam Scone, which finally got the crowd moving during an otherwise low-energy performance.
After a short break, Galactic took the stage among inflatable snowflake-like hangings and a large disco "G" ball. The near-sold-out crowd had gotten its dose of uplifting soul, and was now ready for some down-and-dirty funk. It's amazing how prolifically Galactic continues to produce its brand of New Orleans' bounce-inspired jazz, bringing a new show and a new sound year after year.
Unlike Mofro, Galactic has maintained most of its line-up since inception, including Stanton Moore on drums, Rob Mercurio on bass, Jeff Raines on guitar, Rich Vogel on keyboards, and show MVP Ben Ellman on saxes and harmonica. Accompanied by the Rebirth Brass Band's Corey Henry on trombone throughout most of the show, they charged through an array of their signature instrumentals, including opener "Blackbird," organ-heavy "Wurlitzer," the frenzy-inducing "Shibuya," and the gritty "The Moil."
As solid as Galactic is at laying it down, they really please their fans with their collaborations and willingness to taking a backseat to guest performers. Along with Henry, Mofro's Edmaiston and Trube also contributed on sax and guitar, respectively. It's also the touch of tasteful and timely vocals that really engage the crowd.
In addition to his trombone domination, Henry added vocals for the throwback take on Eric B. and Rakim's "Paid in Full," as well as on the Meters' "Hoo-Na-Nay," and Galactic's own "From the Corner to the Block." As if he hadn't stolen the spotlight already, he also marched through the crowd while holding the groove, enticed the audience to get down to the ground not once, but twice, and finished with a crowd-surfing session.
Although the weather remains frigid, Mofro and Galactic provided a great opportunity to warm up the soul and knock the chill from fans' bones.
Personal Bias: Like a good funk show, I'm gonna give it to ya on the one.... Galactic and Mofro have long been two of my favorite bands.
Random Detail: Galactic is the only band to appear on every Jam Cruise to date.
By The Way: Vocalist, percussionist, and quintessential New Orleans icon Cyril Neville (the Neville Brothers, the Meters) will join Galactic for select dates on their upcoming tour to support the band's new release, YA-KA-MAY.