Six guys holed up for four days in a windowless building in the heart of a crummy San Francisco neighborhood. That might sound about as fun as spit, but for the members of New Orleans funk band Galactic, it was heaven on a cracker. They'd only had two days to record their first CD, Coolin' Off. For their second, Crazyhorse Mongoose, released last September, they had twice as many, plus actual beds to sleep on--though they favored the floor.
"It was a cool time," recalls bassist Robert Mercurio, speaking from a scratchy cell phone on a bus barreling toward Kansas. "We'd all wake up together, eat a little something, and track until four or five in the morning."
What emerged was a remarkably sharp and spirited set of down-and-dirty instrumentals. The attitude might be mellow, but the band is tight. No forays into the stratosphere for these guys, who refined their chops in juke-joint jam sessions with some of New Orleans's finest funk and soul players, including members of legendary R&B back-up band the Meters. "They totally taught us this street vibe," Mercurio says.
Galactic doesn't shake it loose so much as it struts. "It's a New Orleans thing to play less," says Mercurio. "They call that 'the pocket'--keeping it in your pocket, holding the groove so it isn't too fancy." He and guitarist Jeff Raines followed the funk from their hometown of Washington, D.C. to New Orleans about eight years ago, right out of high school. Once there, they didn't have much trouble finding a scene. "It's such a small city in a way. We met [other musicians] just through playing and talking about music."
They joined with drummer Stanton Moore, organist Rich Vogel, and saxophonist Ben Ellman--who has the tendency to sound like a full horn section--for weekly gigs at an after-hours club called Benny's. Theryl de Clouet, whose streetwise vocals show up on three tracks, signed on after some hesitation (a middle-aged black man, he wasn't sure he wanted to spend large chunks of his time with a bunch of fresh-scrubbed white boys).
Later, constant touring--including gigs at New York's Knitting Factory and the Fillmore in San Fran--helped them crystallize their sound. Opening slots for Widespread Panic and Medeski, Martin & Wood, plus smatterings of fans along both coasts, have them crisscrossing the country. "Someone the other night said, 'I want to see you all doing this when you're all thirty,'" recalls Mercurio. "I'm not gonna lie--some nights it definitely is hard."
Galactic performs Saturday, January 30 at 9 p.m. at Peabody's DownUnder,1059 Old River Road. Tickets are $10; call 216-241-5555.