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REVIEW: Fresh sounds, but sun-weary opener sums up Galactic and KDTU at Red Butte

Jul 11, 2019 03:35PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

Lively as he was throughout KDTU’s opening-band set, Karl Denson even mentioned how difficult the searing July heat (the hottest day of the summer, to that point) was to perform in. (Jennifer J. Johnson/City Journals)

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected] 

It’s always a tug.

How do live bands square the issue of how much new music do they include in their set lists to have fun with onstage (and—let’s be honest—leverage to sell tunes and albums), versus how much they coast on leveraging well known, crowd-pleasing hits.

Headliner band Galactic and opening band Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe — both hailing from New Orleans — provided an admirable mix of both, with both bands delivering uber-fresh 2019 music, along with staple songs, during their July 10 concert at Red Butte Amphitheatre. What else might one expect, after all from two such stellar band names and bands themselves?

The Galactic musical baton

Galactic opened as if setting a world record for musicality-quality relay.

The zest-gospel “Clap Your Hands” lead-out featured epic gospel-yodeling from Miss Charm Taylor. The audience seemed caught off-guard, not fully appreciating how unique her vocals are.

Galactic guitar, harmonica, trumpet and the sax-you-hope-to-hear-in-heaven solos added into the band’s early delivery. On this note, the band is comprised of saxophonist/harmonicist and Grammy-nominated producer Ben Ellman; bassist Robert Mercurio; drummer Stanton Moore; guitarist Jeff Raines; and keyboardist Rich Vogel.

Some of the songs are super fresh, with both “Clap Your Hands” and “Going Straight Crazy” from the new “Already Ready Ready” album, the exuberant title for an even more exuberant press, the group’s first studio recording in 10 years.

The band hypes its new reimagining of its already progressive sound. They paid that off at Red Butte, at times sounding gospel, at times funk, at times 1950’s glam, and even Middle Eastern. Each song so different were rough notes that really tell the story well, if not poetically.

The climax of the show came with the start of the second set. Guest artist “Boyfriend” (a.k.a. Suzannah Powell) a leggy, string bean, Nashville-on-steroids gal donning oversized curlers in her hair and a dressing-robe look, electrified the audience as she joined KDTU with a riveting, high-energy performance of “Dance at My Funeral.”

Also, off the new album, “Funeral” is an apt vehicle for Boyfriend’s pop-rap cabaret style.

Elegant as Miss Charm Taylor is, Boyfriend seemed a tough act to follow. But she did, continuing to perform some songs, leaving others to instrumentality and having the vibrant Boyfriend hanging in the background as a backup singer and dancer.

Tiny Universe feeling the heat—literally

Seeing a band wilting is not a pretty sight, even if it sounds pretty.

Opening for Galactic was the edgy Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe.

While Red Butte’s headline opener for the summer 2019 concert series— Béla Fleck and the Flecktones—and their opener—Billy Strings—had to grapple with a crowd concerned about rain that never came, KDTU faced Salt Lake’s hottest day of the summer, with temperatures slowly inching down from the 99 degree high when the band hit the Red Butte stage.

It showed.

The band, some of whom were wearing all black, heavy material clothing, looked overheated, even before beginning to play. And toward the end of their set, band founder Karl Denson made note of the extreme heat.

All that said, KDTU laid down some sweet sounds, semi-shamelessly plugging their new album – “Gnomes and Badgers” — yet making it seem the investment with some slam performances on “I’m Your Biggest Fan” and “Can We Trade.” Both of those sounding-like-hits are from their new press, their first in five years.

In sum

The Galactic/KTDU event was a nice night. Denson’s flute solos and provocative lyrics/sounds were a worthy, if a bit tired, opener. Galactic showed amazing versatility in musical styles and kept things very interesting with instrumental and vocal volleying, showing off new tunes, and partnering with Charm Taylor, the Honorable South lead singer who was Galactic’s “new’ female vocalist back in 2015 and Boyfriend, the new-new female vocalist. The ladies are in a great lineage, as Galactic has also worked with Macy Gray.