- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2002

Pop music has long relied on image as much as sound to deliver its artistic punch, from David Bowie's experiments with the androgynous Ziggy Stardust persona, to the outer-space theatrics of George Clinton and Parliament, to Madonna's chameleonic makeovers.
Galactic, a frenetic funk ensemble formed in the mid-1990s in New Orleans, has always understood this.
At the 9:30 Club tomorrow and Saturday nights, the sextet will be joined onstage by SKW and Doze Green, two pop artists who will paint an original mural as the band performs.
The muralists' presence won't be especially surprising to Galactic fans, as the peripatetic group frequently fuses its performances with some kind of visual component, whether that means donning elaborate costumes, using projection art or employing other onstage performers.
"We're just trying to spice things up a little bit," Galactic guitarist Jeff Raines says in a phone interview.
This weekend's pair of performances, the last stop for the band's Sight of Sound Tour, is a homecoming of sorts for Mr. Raines, a 1990 graduate of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.
He and bassist Robert Mercurio grew up in suburban Maryland and played in various outfits, including a surf-punk band called the Skitzmatics, in the late '80s.
"The bass player and I had bands around D.C. when we were in high school," Mr. Raines says. "Then we both ended up in college in New Orleans" he at Loyola University, Mr. Mercurio at Tulane University.
Galactic emerged from that city, the muddy birthplace of funk.
The Maryland duo eventually joined up with Stanton Moore, a New Orleans native and stalwart drummer; multiple keyboardist Rich Vogel; and saxophonist Ben Ellman.
When not delving into instrumental sequences, Galactic is fronted by a colorful vocalist, Theryl "Houseman" deClouet, the band's other New Orleans native.
Without major-label support or radio airplay, the band has developed a reputation as one of the most spirited and entertaining live acts in the country.
"We've gotten out there by touring and by word of mouth," Mr. Raines says.
Galactic's latest release, "We Love 'em Tonight," a live collection gleaned from a three-night stand two years ago at Tipitina's in New Orleans, captures the band's instrumental agility as well as its wry playfulness.
No other funk band, for example, would try to tackle "Sweet Leaf," a raucous Black Sabbath song.
"We just try to bring something new every night," Mr. Raines says. To keep things fresh, Galactic varies set lists and treats audiences to offbeat cover versions of songs such as "Sweet Leaf."
"We Love 'em Tonight" also features a rendition of Duke Ellington's "Blue Pepper."
"Once you play with guys for a long period of time, you start to understand how they'll react to the music," Mr. Raines says, explaining the band's facility for improvisation.
Opening for Galactic tomorrow night will be Trouble Funk, one of the District's legendary go-go bands.
"Being from the area, we always wanted to have Chuck Brown play with us," says Mr. Raines, referring to the founder of the Washington-grown go-go sound. "We always loved go-go music."
Kid Koala, a scratch turntablist from Montreal, will warm up the audience Saturday night.
Mr. Raines says Kid Koala is a "heavy hitter."
Even though Galactic was dropped recently by its record label, Volcano Entertainment, Mr. Raines says the band will keep "plugging away." The band members have been recording songs in their own New Orleans studio for an eventual new release.
Meanwhile, there is always the stage, where funk music the guttural earthiness and commotion of James Brown, the convivial atmospherics of Sly and the Family Stone has always belonged, and thrived.
"We've been real lucky," Mr. Raines says. "We've developed quite a loyal fan base."

Galactic with Trouble Funk (tomorrow) and Kid Koala (Saturday)
9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW
9 p.m. both nights
202/265-0930 for information; tickets by phone or online through Ticketmaster and online at www.tickets.com

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