Part four in our five-part series, where Greg Schwartz literally pulls a triple shift, finishing the night shortly before the sun came up. Don’t let the number of entires fool you. One of these sets was almost three hours long.
Rebirth Brass Band, Congo Square Stage
A local institution since 1983, the Rebirth Brass Band has become one of the bands that personifies what New Orleans music is all about. Mixing heavy funk with old school second line jazz, the band entertained a huge crowd on another overcast but thankfully dry afternoon. A funky take on “It’s All Over Now” saw the big horn section used to great effect. Later, the band jammed on TLC’s “Waterfalls” for another highlight that had much of the throng dancing. Others sampled the great food and many craft selections that lined the area, including some stunning artwork such as stained wood paintings that retailed for $3,000. The overall crowd was much larger than the previous two days, due to it being Saturday and with Pearl Jam headlining. But a laid back vibe still permeated the air.
Band of Horses, Gentilly Stage
These rising indie rockers from Seattle have an intriguing sound that mixes orchestral pop influences with rock ‘n’ roll flavors that recall groups such as My Morning Jacket, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, the Shins and Pearl Jam’s more melodic side. The band’s new LP Infinite Arms leans to the atmospheric side, but they can rock out too, and they did for much of the set with vocalist/guitarist Ben Bridwell delivering an energetic performance. The laid back sound of “Factory” sounded nice, but it’s songs like “Laredo” that show the band at its most accessible, with an infectious melodic rock that makes it easy to see why Pearl Jam tapped the band to open their current American tour. I would have liked to stay for the whole set, but I had to get over to the main stage for one of the festival’s main events.
Galactic, Acura Stage
If there’s one band that personifies the modern funk rock sound of New Orleans, it has to be Galactic. Heavily rooted in the classic funk of the Meters and the Neville Brothers, the band mixes in a forward-looking acid jazz sound as well as classic rock and hip-hop flavors that have made them one of the planet’s most dependable party bands for over a decade now. But while the band can always be counted on to get the good times rolling, they also throw in an occasional socially conscious vibe that has also become a New Orleans trademark. The band distributed a little pamphlet called “Galactic’s Guide to the Planet of New Orleans – a guide to New Orleans music, food & fun,” filled with great recommendations from each band member. “If you happen to catch any of our shows, you will be seeing the band in our element: the place of Galactic’s formation, in our hometown city during a special occasion,” read the pamphlet. So an extra air of anticipation accompanied the band wherever they went.
A massive crowd was gathered at the main stage by the time Galactic hit the stage at 3:15 pm for a most festive hour-long set. Irma Thomas joined the band for the bluesy “Heart of Steel,” as she does on the band’s great new album Ya-Ka-May. Her soulful vocals enhanced the band’s funky sound with an old-school flavor that rocked the stage with a triumphant vibe. The band was later joined by local legend Trombone Shorty, in addition to trombonist Cory Henry from the Rebirth Brass Band, who has been touring with the band since last fall. The duo combined with saxman Ben Ellman to deliver extra jazzy flavor on a big jam over a heavy funk groove from ace drummer Stanton Moore, bassist Robert Mercurio, keyboardist Rich Vogel and guitarist Jeff Raines. The band delivered a strong set, but it was only a taste of what would come later with their evening club show, which is their truest element of all.
There was a 45-minute break before Pearl Jam was scheduled to come on and a pal and I talked about how we would have liked to go check out The Allen Toussaint Jazzity Project in the Jazz Tent as well as Cyril Neville & Tribe 13 in the Blues Tent. But such a massive crowd had formed in anticipation of Pearl Jam (some ventured a guess of close to 100,000) that we felt trying to get there and back would be more trouble than it was worth, especially if we wanted to lock down a good spot for Pearl Jam.
Pearl Jam, Acura Stage
Seattle’s finest took the stage five minutes early, which became a factor when their scheduled two-hour set ended about 20 minutes early. But the band delivered as always with a set that combined hits and rarities to please both casual and die-hard fans alike. The massive festival crowd and daylight setting seemed to take some of the band’s usual edge off, as the overall show couldn’t quite match up with the barnburner the band threw down at the Austin City Limits Festival last fall. But they gave it a good go.
Opening with The Byrds’ “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” was a unique choice and delightful treat to get the party started. The set featured standards like “Corduroy,” “Given to Fly” and “Evenflow,” all of which thrilled the crowd with that classic ’90s alt-rock power. “Severed Hand” was a smoking choice from the band’s self-titled 2006 album, with Mike McCready and Stone Gossard delivering one of the band’s most scintillating guitar workouts. The rare “Down” from the band’s Lost Dogs collection was an upbeat gem that delivered another dose of positive energy with singer Eddie Vedder declaring “It’s really about being up, but it got stuck somewhere.”
Vedder later took note of current events by taking British Petroleum to task for the massive oil spill that threatens the Gulf Coast, saying that the children of company executives should be sent to Louisiana. “Send your sons and daughters, BP, to clean up your fucking mess,” Vedder suggested as a way of introducing the band’s classic song “Daughter.” New tunes “Got Some,” “Unthought Known” and “Supersonic” all rocked with a vital energy, while classics like “Do the Evolution” and “Why Go” sounded as strong as ever.
“The Fixer,” lead single from the band’s 2009 Backspacer, is getting better and better and starting to sound like another Pearl Jam classic in the making. An incendiary jam on the band’s breakthrough hit “Alive” was the highlight of the set, with McCready and bassist Jeff Ament going for broke. The band topped that off with a cover of the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” which was fun, but seemed to end the encore segment of the show abruptly. It wasn’t one of the band’s greatest overall performances in this longtime observer’s view, but they’re such a great band that even a merely average show is still a rocking good time nonetheless.
Galactic, The Howlin’ Wolf
The Rebirth Brass Band hit the stage shortly after 10 pm for their opening set at this hip and spacious club, although there was hardly anyone in the club at the time. Galactic are known as a late night force and it seemed that most ticket-holders for the sold out show were off somewhere saving their energy for the main event. Even the following set from the Funky Meters saw many fans idling in the grassy median outside the club, resting and relaxing. It was around 1:45 am by the time Galactic hit the stage and were they ever worth the wait, throwing down a sizzling two-and-a-half hour show that was pure fire. The acid jazz kings delivered one smoking hot funky jam after another, featuring both old and new material alike. The new “Cineramascope” lit a fuse as the rhythm section of Stanton Moore and Robert Mercurio got everyone going, while the horns and keys added funky layers, which were then topped off by molten hot guitar from Jeff Raines.
But what made this show extra special was the presence of “The Uptown Ruler” himself, Cyril Neville, who has been touring with Galactic throughout the year as their guest vocalist and percussionist. The youngest of the Neville Brothers, yet an elder statesman of the scene at age 62, Cyril Neville brings a dynamic presence that elevates every tune he touches. For anyone who ever felt Galactic’s original singer – Theryl “The Houseman” deClouet – could veer a bit to the cheesy side of things, Cyril Neville is just what the doctor ordered. His ultra-soulful, deeply funky and borderline shamanistic vibe fits Galactic like the proverbial glove. The band introduced Neville early on by playing the first song he ever recorded, 1969’s “Gossip,” a super funky jam that kick started the late night dance party into overdrive.
Neville then also sang on new tunes “You Don’t Know” and “Heart of Steel,” bringing his old school soul to the new school funk for a match made in New Orleans music heaven. Neville went on to sit in for most of the show on both percussion and vocals, elevating the whole evening to a higher level. The band would also feature the “Gossip” B-side, “Tell Me What You Want,” with Neville starring once more. Known as an activist for the downtrodden of both New Orleans and society in general, Neville’s socially conscious vibe came through on several occasions as well, such as on Galactic’s 1998 classic “Something’s Wrong with This Picture,” where he improvised lyrics about how money spent on the war machine should be sent to “the 9th Ward and Haiti.” The conscious vibe was summoned again during the encore on the new “Bacchus,” with Neville’s vocals urging listeners “don’t get caught in a rut, the future’s waiting for you / You can help set the pace, don’t let your talents go to waste.”
An already epic show was then sent over the top when Neville came back out front for the Meters’ classic “No More Okey Doke.” The entire club seemed to slip into one synchronized dance groove with everyone getting down on the good foot as Neville led the band through one of the funkiest and most uplifting songs of all time. It was the type of peak moment that is absolutely transcendent. Neville is scheduled to continue touring with Galactic throughout the summer and this reporter advises fans not to miss this fantastic combo.
It was after 4 am when the show let out, but it left us way too sky high to even think of heading home yet. We hopped a cab over to Frenchman Street where another friend had reported that Toubab Krewe out of Asheville, North Carolina were jamming out at the Blue Nile, with no cover required. The place was indeed still rocking when we arrived to discover that the Blue Nile is another gem in the New Orleans club scene. The band’s set was winding down, but a big psychedelic jam was keeping things going. They followed by ending the show with a big percussion jam that saw every band member getting in on the action while music legend Richie Havens observed from up front. After that, it was down the street to the Dragon’s Den to catch the end of the set from Mike Dillon’s Go-Go Jungle. This was another great little venue, with the stage being upstairs in a very intimate setting. There was also a balcony patio that allowed the first rays of the new dawn to shine in, which had a surreal effect when the band played a supremely psychedelic and ambient rendition of Jane’s Addiction’s “Summertime Rolls.” This reporter doesn’t witness too many sunrises, but this one felt great.