This is Galactic’s first official live album in a decade, though countless board tapes and CD-Rs have crossed fans’ hands in the interim. As it turned out, 2001’s We Love ‘Em Tonight: Live at Tipitina’s signaled a change of course: Singer Theryl “Houseman” DeClouet was soon to go, and from then on Galactic was less of a self-contained band, opening the lineup to a wide cast of singers, rappers, DJs and horn players. They also stopped making studio albums that sounded anything like their live shows; by the time of last year’s Ya-Ka-May, looping and sampling were fully integrated into both the performance and the songwriting.
The Other Side of Midnight—like its predecessor, a single CD recorded at Tipitina’s—finds Galactic at its most collaborative. And it makes a strong case for the band as a New Orleans Wrecking Crew, able to play vintage funk with Cyril Neville, funky bounce with Big Freedia, street parade with the Soul Rebels Brass Band, and out-there horn jazz with Trombone Shorty and Corey Henry. What you get here that was missing on the last few studio discs is the sound of Galactic as a flesh-and- blood band. The Big Freedia track “Double It” substitutes Stanton Moore’s supple drums for the studio version’s loops, Rich Vogel’s mighty Hammond for the synth whistle, and frantic live energy for the programmed grooves. And it draws a livelier performance out of Freedia, who seems poised to be the first mainstream success out of the once-underground sissy bounce circuit.
On the other hand, the opening “Gossip” is completely faithful to the studio version, which was cut four decades ago as Cyril Neville’s one and only solo single. Neville matches his furious delivery on the single, getting extra mileage out of the “funky, funky” chant at the end. The other hero here is guitarist Jeff Raines, who not only captures Leo Nocentelli’s original tone on the signature riff (using a six-string rather than Nocentelli’s electric sitar) but devises a solo that would have fit right into the original 45. Neville’s also featured on “Heart of Steel,” which Irma Thomas sang on Ya-Ka-May. He gives the lyric a different feel; Thomas sang it as a bruised survivor, while Neville sounds fired up for revenge, and the band’s heavy funk-noir arrangement adds to the mood.
The horns get plenty of space throughout the disc, so longtime fans may complain that there isn’t much here of Galactic doing straight-up, small-combo funk. But you can always get that on the live tapes, and there’s a taste of it here on “Funky Bird,” where the band plugs in a familiar Meters riff halfway through, proving they can get back to base whenever the mood strikes.