Snarky Puppy Concert Review: Chicago, May 18, 2019

Following on from Indianapolis, Snarky Puppy arrived in Chicago to play a sold-out show at the quaint Riviera theatre. The Riviera was built over 100 years ago and originally started out as a movie theatre, so it has had to be adapted to suit live music. That being said, this recording still sounds really good and definitely showcases how skilled Snarky’s sound crew are. This setlist shares many similarities with the previous shows like ‘Thing of Gold,’ ‘Xavi’ and ‘Ready Wednesday.’ However, like usual things were shaken up.


Even Us – Things ease in with the new favourite opener, Even Us. There seems to be a few seconds missing at the start of this recording but it’s no big deal. McQueen gently strums the open chords keeping things simplistic whilst adding some embellishments a little later on. Everything follows the album version pretty closely. The tempo picks up a bit before the solo section and Bobby adds some melodies on the organ rather than the Moog. The horn harmonies always give me the chills. Justin takes the first solo on trumpet. He keeps it pretty restrained and mellow emphasising his beautiful phrasing and tone. He adds some pretty ‘out’ lines towards the end before taking it home. Nate’s percussion work is much more conga and bongo heavy than usual and gives a new flavour to the groove. Things fade out with the dark piano and guitar riff. Lovely, energetic version of Even Us to start the show. 

Embossed – Nate immediately starts this one off and is quickly joined by McQueen with the slide guitar. McQueen ends the melody with much more noise than normal. Lots of aggressive sounding feedback and crackling noises; very, very cool. The groove builds up towards the solos, and Justin harmonizes the chords for something different. McQueen takes the solo like usual and it starts with more energy and business from the band than usual. McQueen turns on the octave fuzz and overdrive and plays some really interesting A major melodies over the A minor pentatonic bassline. He starts shredding and it gets really noisy and even wilder. One of the best solo’s of his on Embossed I think. McQueen was obviously having the time of his life. The horn soli brings things back in and McQueen adds some synth-like low end with his fuzz pedal. Jamison gets into a nice groove before the ending.

Bad Kids to the Back – Another early in the set Bad Kids. The room sounds really washy with this one. Justin adds some new chords alongside the melody and Shaun uses a very different synth sound with a lot more intensity. Maz takes the solo and things start swinging pretty soon. Jamison’s straight-ahead jazz background comes into focus here. Lot’s of nice flowing lines from Maz here with a nice raspy tone. The bridge melody from Justin and McQueen is always so cool. The harmonies are really awesome. Shaun uses the same synth sound again and it really helps give more mid-range power to the tune. Jamo destroys the solo again, starting off pretty brisk with a ton of polyrhythms. A nice high energy performance of this one. Mike says hello with a ‘Wassup Chicago,’ and begins the 4:3 polyrhythm clapping experiment.

Xavi – Another early Xavi. Pretty standard, but Bobby uses a more aggressive clavinet sound for the bassline. Maz starts off on muted trumpet. Bullock takes the first solo and things get weird real quick. He sticks closely to the polyrhythm and makes the most of his rhythmic ideas. Maz loses the mute for the return of the B section melody. Bobby takes the second solo on clavinet and he goes full power pretty early on. He turns on the phaser instead of the wah for something different. One of the most virtuosic solos of his I’ve heard. The groove continues to simmer away. The audience gets left alone with Nate for a few moments before Bullock and Mike join in. McQueen adds some subtle tremolo to the guitar chords, and Bobby plays some delicate little stabs. Justin takes the outro solo on Rhodes once again and builds upon the flute melody. Lots of nice chromaticism and angular lines from Justin here. Maz returns to muted trumpet for the melody. Mason Davis joins Mike on the krakebs for the ending. In response to the clapping – ‘Very nicely done Chicago!’

Tarova – This one starts gentler than usual with Jamison laying out completely until the trading between Bobby and Shaun. Justin starts it on synth before doubling his chords on Rhodes as well with his spare hand. After the first full melody, McQueen uses a reverb drenched sound for his very sparse guitar chords. The unison section features the whole rhythm section minus Justin who is busy keeping the chords going. Maz takes the solo on wah trumpet and uses lots of diminished 5ths. The groove starts pretty open with a half time kind of feel. Jamison and McQueen inject a good dosage of funk before Maz earns some alone time with Jamison and Bobby. Afterwards, Bobby and Jamison drop out completely, and the audience is left to fully enjoy Maz’s lovely flowing lines and tone. The band returns and McQueen opts for a heavier sound.

Thing of Gold – Justin starts with off on Rhodes a little more staccato than usual. Nate was adding some really cool textural percussion work underneath the call and response between the two Chris’s. Shaun was deeply unimpressed with the audience’s attempt at singing the melody. The following section was nice and funky with some super tight comping from Justin and McQueen. Their comping still retained the staccato nature of the start of the tune. The solo section featured the really heavy bassline doubled by all the keyboard players to really thicken the sound. McQueen adds some overdriven and chorus on his chords. Bullock takes the solo here and takes his time. McQueen adds some really nice chordal accompaniment for the returning melody. Shaun takes the solo on Moog like usual with some really catchy phrases. Mike, McQueen and Justin have some fun with the harmony on the fly. Things dissolve into a wild Shaun keyboard solo with two hands and two separate keyboards. He eventually switches over to just his Korg Kronos for a lesson in jazz harmony. The final chord is extended with help from McQueen using his Delay and Tremolo.

Tio Macaco – Nate leads this one off on percussion with a nice mixture of strict and rubato rhythms. He really takes his time setting up the tune and gets into lots of different grooves before the flute melody. Jamison joins in last minute on the floor tom for some power. The 2019 arrangement of Tio Macaco doesn’t have any harmonic instruments until the solos which highlights the percussion a lot more. The tune settles down into a slower than usual tempo. Shaun does some Herbie Hancock style clav chordal comping and Bobby doubles the bassline on his overdriven clav. The slower tempo seems to highlight the soloists phrasing a lot more. Bullock starts on flute with some nice staccato and percussive sounding lines. Maz follows with a mellow tone to start before he goes extra raspy. Justin picks up where he left off starting off in a lower register with some really amazing fluidity. He builds it up with some cool major pentatonic lines. The outro melody has some really nice arpeggiated comping from McQueen. Nate and Jamo have some fun on the outro. Lots of cowbell and other metallic sounding instruments this time. The groove gets really heavy before the end. Super cool.

Ready Wednesday – Another Ready Wednesday! Bobby plays an improvised solo on clavinet before starting this one. This is completely different from anything Bill and Shaun would do. He gets into a bit of a bluesy, shuffle-ly type groove. Very Jimmy Smith inspired I think, despite the obvious difference in sound! The clavinet adds such a different character to this song. Shaun doubles the riff on Mellotron. Mike takes a bass fill in place of a piano one. Mike and Jamison get into a more simplistic groove before the interlude section. Justin adds some really spacey chords on Rhodes before the Metropole Orkest arrangement begins. Lots of energy! McQueen takes the solo and gets chordal in a stripped down band of just Jamison and Mike for a while. Bobby joins in later on clavinet. Mike reinvents the baseline and Shaun adds some subtle Mellotron stabs. Very groovy. McQueen detunes just before the final melody to ‘Drop D’ for some fuller sounding chords. The outro is as spacey and as beautiful as ever. Really cool version and completely different to the Indianapolis version of the previous night. Shows just how versatile this band really is.

Shofukan (Encore) – Mike introduces the band and thanks everyone for coming out. Mike also said that they wouldn’t play Lingus, but anyone could get a download card from the merch desk and find a recorded show with Lingus on it. He also says happy birthday to a random audience member named Antwon! This is always a great show closer and the audience sure appreciated it! A slightly slower tempo for this one with lots of energy. Bobby and McQueen add some really solid comping. Justin and Shaun add the little sprinkles of chocolate on top of the Shofu-cake. Justin adds some trumpet harmonies and McQueen chooses a very aggressive sound for the guitar riff. I totally wasn’t expecting this, but Shaun does the solo on vocoder. McQueen was also responsible for the majority of the chordal accompaniment with some very ‘western film’ sounding tremolo. Mike turns on the octaver last minute before the end of the solo and everyone gets into a super funky groove; a groove I’ve never heard before. The outro is super high energy and is at a faster tempo than the rest of the song. McQueen turns on the fuzz for the guitar line. Jamison and Nate get a drum solo, and Mike introduces the band and crew on top of McQueens guitar line. Justin adds some acid synth and Bobby adds some dominant clav melodies. The bassline drops out for a few measures giving Jamison some room for a nice drum fill. Overall a very cool version of this tune. The show as a whole was really interesting too with lots of experimentation from everyone.


Chris Bullock – Tenor Saxophone, Flute, Bass Flute
Mike ‘Maz’ Maher – Trumpet and Flugelhorn
Justin Stanton – Trumpet, Rhodes and Synth
Michael League – Bass
Chris McQueen – Guitar
Bobby Sparks – Organ, Moog, Clavinet
Shaun Martin – Moog, Keyboard, Mellotron
Nate Werth – Percussion
Jamison Ross – Drums

Sound crew:
Matt Recchia – engineering and sound (front of house)
Michael Harrison – monitors
Nic Hard – mixing

About the Reviewer

Howdy readers. I’m Simon. Since 2016 I’ve slowly become enveloped in the world of Snarky Puppy. My obsession started a few minutes into the first song they played at the Melbourne 2017 show (Flood); my first live Snarky experience. Since then, I’ve spent countless hours listening to their albums, live shows and various interviews/articles with/on the band.

What really stuck with me after seeing them perform live was just how powerful – sonically – a large band can be when everything is orchestrated in such a way, especially with three keyboardists on stage. What also surprised me was just how much fun everyone appeared to be having on stage; I never ever expected so much jamming!

On, I will primarily be writing reviews of my vast and growing Live Snarky and album collection in hopes that my writing will inspire some purchases along the way. All of the money spent on or will go directly to Snarky Puppy’s members, which will in turn support them while they can continue to do what they do best. And… hopefully fund Family Dinner Volume 3.

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