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Funky Punks

music_DragonsmokeDragon Smoke’s Moore and Mercurio’s punk pasts

As the rhythm section of the powerhouse New Orleans funk-jazz jam band Galactic and its soulful spin-off group Dragon Smoke, bassist Robert Mercurio and drummer Stanton Moore are known for laying down the kind of grooves that could start a dance party in an emergency ward. Who’d have guessed that both musicians grew up not on the friendly sass of funk music, but on the raw hostility of punk rock?

Moore, who surprised some members of the funk community a few years ago by recording with the hardcore band Corrosion of Conformity, admits to having listened to his fair share of GBH and Minor Threat records as a teenager in Metairie, Louisiana. At age 16 or 17, however, he began to explore jazz music as a means of becoming a better rock drummer. From jazz, it was a quick jump to funk. “To me, [funk] was kind of in between the rock thing and the jazz thing,” he explains.

Mercurio, who spent a good portion of his teen years playing in punk bands in Washington, D.C., recalls an evening in the late ’80s that proved to be the turning point in his journey from punk to funk: When he and his friends learned that the punk show they wanted to see was sold out, they decided to check out the R&B bar next door. What they found was a much friendlier scene than the kind to which they’d grown accustomed. “They were playing funk and having such a good time in there,” the bassist says.

From that point, Mercurio started listening to more P-Funk and James Brown and sitting in with local R&B bands. “I think [those bands] were excited to have a bunch of young kids there,” he says. “It was as different for them as it was for us, like, ‘Wow! What are these young white kids playing?’ and we were like, ‘Wow! Look at these guys that can really play their instruments!’”

When Mercurio moved to New Orleans at age 17 to attend Tulane University, the city’s flourishing funk scene made short work of his remaining punk rock leanings. However, he still feels his punk influence shows in his slightly aggressive style of playing.

Mercurio and Moore, who have been playing together for almost 20 years in such ensembles as Galactic, Frequinox and the backup bands for Papa Mali and Leo Nocentelli, make their way to Moe’s Alley on Thursday, December 3, with the New Orleans supergroup Dragon Smoke (also featuring keyboardist/vocalist Ivan Neville of Dumpstaphunk and acclaimed guitarist/vocalist Eric Lindell, the latter of whom also grew up on good old-fashioned punk rock). Though Dragon Smoke is sure to appeal to fans of Galactic, the former band is less rooted in New Orleans funk and more in Memphis soul than the latter. As Mercurio points out, it’s also considerably more vocal-oriented. “Usually these super-jams are not really based around vocalists; it’s more based around instrumentalists, instrumental jams, improvisation and whatnot,” Mercurio observes. “This band is focused around the vocals of Ivan Neville and Eric Lindell, and Stanton and I are more of a rhythm section. There still is a lot of spontaneity and improv, but it’s all streamed together and connected to the vocals.”

Moore says Dragon Smoke’s music is lighter in feel than the muscular funk of Galactic. “My trio [Stanton Moore Trio] is like driving a convertible sports car, and Galactic is like driving a Mac truck,” he ventures. “Dragon Smoke falls somewhere in the middle.”


Dragon Smoke plays at 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. For more information, call 479-1854.

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Heart Me Up

In defense of Valentine’s Day

 

“be(ing) of love (a little) more careful”—e.e. cummings

Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

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