Thursday, November 27, 2003
The Central Park Concert
After the Dave Matthew Band's first live release Live at Red Rocks, the group's subsequent releases have been somewhat mixed. Up and down not only with their redundant content and ostensibly identical setlists, but also with their energy.
Just when it seemed the band would continue to beat the proverbial dead horse with their inexorable live releases, The Central Park Concert represents a new benchmark for the band; arguably revealing the group at their definitive best. The setlist, a mixture of the band's more respected and less radio friendly hits, flows with a scintillating sonic crispness.
Aiding the agglomeration of new and old material, the improvisations are beyond their normal repetitious standards. The inclusion of Butch Taylor on keyboards (and later Warren Haynes' guitar for "Cortez, the Killer" and "Jimi Thing") throughout the album obviously helps, especially on the jazz infused 19-minute version of "Two Step." But as a whole, the band sounds enthralled with the exploratory content hidden within each measure of music. Stefan Lessard's bass enters areas he usually backs from examining, at times reminiscent of Victor Wooten's low-end combustibles. While Boyd Tinsley's violin and Leroi Moore's saxophone regularly intertwine in convoluted improvisational tapestries, leading the songs to stirring crescendos.
Couple these rambunctious extemporizations with some of Matthews' best vocals and comparisons to other famous Central Park concerts will be on the tip of most critics' tongues. That the band can perform at such a high level in the haze of their banal pop disaster Everyday appears worthier of critical discussion, and no doubt redemptive for longtime fans.
Things just got a lot more interesting with Galactic. Largely ditching the sound of their earlier albums, they've forged a modern funk platter, informed in no small part by producer Dan the Automator (Gorillaz, Handsome Boy Modeling School, Dr. Octagon) and arrangers the Rondo Brothers. Their albums have often felt like place markers for fans of their shows, solid but really just a jumping off point for the punishing energy and improvisation they muster live.
Ruckus is modern, freaky-deaky keyboards and snippets of God-knows-what floating into the jet stream. There's still a touch of New Orleans shuffle but it's got a fresh coat of chrome and wide rims to roll on. The salty Asian flavor of some cuts is reminiscent of R. Kelly's "Thoia Thoing" and signals a strong chance for their work to reach new ears. Stanton Moore, a drummer for the ages, does live-in-the-studio what few machines could muster. The rest of the instrumentalists stretch themselves, dipping into new sounds, folding their signature licks into the beat batter with an ego-free hand. It's a subtle flavor that'll bring you back to Ruckus for another chance to pick up new elements.
Singer Theryl "Houseman" de Clouet may be the single greatest beneficiary of this lust for change. He's always been a world-class frontman and just what soul music needs to remind us it's more than screeching divas and slurry, skinny brothers. There's a texture to his singing here that wasn't present before.
The only misstep is a heinous cover of General Public's "Tenderness," a tune better left to the graveyard of K-Tel compilations. Save for that one stumble, this is bumpin' good news and far and away Galactic's best studio work to date.