Galactic celebrates ‘Paddy Gras’ with the ultimate party disc

:: Galactic ::
:: Ogden Theatre :: March 16 and 17 ::
:: Belly Up (Aspen) :: March 18 ::

By Timothy Dwenger

Carnivale! It’s the celebration of all of life’s excesses that leads up to, and culminates on, Mardi Gras Day. While the mere mention of these words conjures up images of bare breasts, flying beads, and outrageous crowds on Bourbon Street, the Carnivale tradition is rooted in solemn religious beliefs and carries with it a rich musical tradition that fuels the now epic event. While there are cities around the country that celebrate Mardi Gras, the king of them all that comes to mind most frequently is New Orleans.

As most music fans know, New Orleans, as the birthplace of jazz, has an incredible musical history that is just as rich today as it’s ever been. While the Neville Brothers, the Marsalis family and others hold up the traditions of New Orleans music, relative “newcomers” Galactic, which formed in the early 1990s, are turning heads around the music industry with their innovative new album Carnivale Electricos. The record is a wild ride that explores the musical history of Mardi Gras from New Orleans to Brazil.

While it may seem strange to some that a band so perfectly suited for this kind of tribute waited as long as they did to make an album celebrating their city’s lifelong love affair with Mardi Gras and Carnivale, Galactic co-founder and bassist Robert Mercurio shared some background that clears things up a bit.

“It was something that we always had in the back of our minds but at the beginning we really didn’t make ‘concept albums.’ We were more like a typical band and we would just make albums that were a collection of songs that we had written,” he said in a recent interview with The Marquee. “When we started working with concepts, and a lyrical element to tie it all together, it was really exciting for us and it gave us a jumping off point for writing. It has really worked well for us as a band. This is our third album doing the concept thing.”

The previous two guest-laden albums, From The Corner To The Block and Ya-Ka-May, which celebrate hip-hop and the many musical styles of New Orleans respectively, were completed on the band’s own timetable. This time around, given the nature of Carnivale Electricos, the band was forced to work on a tight schedule to ensure the record was released at the height of the season that it celebrates. “When we initially came up with the concept for the album, the idea of releasing it on Mardi Gras was definitely a very important aspect to the whole project. It would have been such a missed opportunity not to do it,” Mercurio said. “We figured out when the due date would be in order to make it happen and stuck to it. We usually just get to finish our albums when we finish our albums so having to work against a hard deadline was tough, but we knew we had to do it because if we missed it and it came out two weeks late it just wouldn’t be the same.”

Fortunately for Galactic, the recording industry typically releases new albums on Tuesdays and, as luck would have it, Mardi Gras’ biggest party obviously falls on a (Fat) Tuesday. It seems like a perfect pairing, Galactic and their recent penchant for filling their albums with numerous guest musicians, and the idea of an album of Carnivale music. The end result is potentially a career defining album for the band, as it works better than anyone could have imagined.

Joining the core quintet of Galactic on Carnivale Electricos is everyone from Neville brothers Cyril and Ivan, to rappers Mannie Fresh and Mystikal, and from Mardi Gras Indians’ Big Chief Juan Pardo, to the KIPP Renaissance High School Marching Band. While the diverse lineup makes for an extremely memorable and varied collection of songs, there are a few specific moments from the recording process that stand out to Mercurio. “Recording and putting together that high school marching band tune was probably the most difficult and rewarding part,” he said. “It’s not easy to record 45 kids who haven’t played music for that long and aren’t used to recording. For most of them it was probably their first recording ever. It was definitely a tough one to accomplish but it was a great payoff.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Mercurio also has very fond memories of an all-night recording session with a rapper who has a sordid past. “Recording with Mystikal was a dream come true. Since I heard his first album I’ve thought he was one of the best rappers out there,” Mercurio admitted. “He came in around 7 p.m. one night and sat and just wrote and wrote and wrote until about 2 a.m., while Ben [Ellman] and I were just giddy that Mystikal was in our studio. Then, around 2 a.m., he said, ‘Okay, I’m ready.’ We recorded for about four hours and got out of there as the sun was coming up with a track featuring Mystikal. It was a great feeling.”

Mercurio and his bandmates are no strangers to working all night and, in fact, they have been doing it at least once a year for the last 15 years. Every Lundi Gras, the day before Mardi Gras, Galactic stages a now legendary all-night concert at the storied New Orleans club Tipitina’s. “It’s an all night experience. We play three sets,” said Mercurio. “The first year we did it, it just kinda happened. We were playing at The Maple Leaf and it was just one of those nights where we looked up and the sun was rising. The next year we moved it over to Tipitina’s and for the first few years the crowd would thin toward the end, but now people just stay the whole night through. They plan as much as we do for it; it’s a marathon. It’s a night where we stretch out a little more than we normally do and everybody feels very festive. We just really enjoy it every year. It’s become one of our personal big holidays.”

While it isn’t the same as one of their epic Lundi Gras shows, when Galactic hits the road in support of this new record they will bring a little taste of Mardi Gras to cities all over the country. Here in Denver they’ll stop at the Ogden Theatre for one of the only two-night stands of the tour, which they are calling Paddy Gras, as it happens to fall on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. While they won’t be playing ’til the sun comes up, just down the street at Pete’s Monkey Bar, Fox Street All Stars will be hosting their annual Galactic after-parties  which regularly feature sit-ins from Stanton Moore and others and have been known to go into the wee hours.


:: Galactic ::

:: Ogden Theatre :: March 16 and 17 ::

:: Belly Up (Aspen) :: March 18 ::


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