After a nice 3 day break, Snarky Puppy returned to the stage in Maz’s hometown, Milwaukee. The historic Pabst Theater plays host. Apparently it’s the 4th oldest music venue in the United States; a nice bit of history there. This show would probably end up in a top 10 list of my favorite Snarky shows from 2019.
Coven – Things begin gently with McQueen’s beautiful tune Coven. McQueen adds a stronger than usual drone with his fuzz and E-bow alongside the opening horn riff. The main melody features some really tasteful organ and synth comping from Bobby and Justin. Chris Bullock breaks out the flute for the final melody before the solos. The solo section itself is funky in a very subtle and subdued manner. Maz takes a really lovely lyrical solo on flugelhorn with a very subtle wah effect. He gets pretty out there towards the end and Jamison and Bobby pick up the pace! A perfect example of perfect listening. Justin brings in some washed out synths for the bridge. Shaun doubles the bridge melody on Mellotron and Justin takes a solo on Rhodes. McQueen experiments with textures in his comping. The unison keyboard and Guitar melody always gives me the chills. The outro is lush and McQueen doubles the bassline leaving the three piece keyboard section to highlight the amazing chord progression.
Embossed – A nice change of pace from Coven. Pretty standard as far as Embossed goes but Bobby enters on organ a little earlier than usual and McQueen does some cool effect-y things on the last melody note. Jamison picks up the groove. The balance of Bullock and Maz in this mix is perfect; their individual harmonies can be heard with such clarity and it adds another layer of definition to this song. McQueen takes a solo with the lots of the notes from the whole tone scale – lots of #3’s and #4’s over the A minor. Justin doubles the bassline with a more intense sound than usual and it really gains a ton of energy. McQueen’s solo gets really dark and aggressive very quickly and he ends with some rhythmic tremolo things courtesy of ‘Option Knob’ by ‘Wingman FX’ – one of Chris’ many endorsements! Bobby uses lots of the pitch bend and vibrato on the outro melody.
While We’re Young – A very funky version. Bobby has some fun with the melody before the horns come in. He turns on the phaser in the B section rather than the wah. Shaun’s Mellotron makes an appearance in the background of the mix; a nice touch. The chorus has a nice wash of organ and synth. Mike changes up the bassline with some chromatic approach-notes in the solo section and Bobby does his magic. Bobby starts fairly gentle for Bobby’s standard, but it doesn’t take long at all before he starts shredding. A nice mix of wacky lines and some more classic bluesy type stuff. One of my favorite solos from him on this tune. McQueen has little go on slide guitar at the end of the tune over the melody. Shaun adds a really cool chord to the ending on Mellotron.
Grown Folks – This version starts pretty mellow but the big difference between this and other versions is the added synth doubling the rhythmic chords adding some more definition. Justin improvises for a few seconds in the B section playing some nice rhythmic ideas with some block/cluster chords. Things continue as usual. The solo section gets a really nice, melodic bass solo from Mike. He gets chordal before turning on the octaver. Nate elevates the groove immensely by simply adding a tambourine. The following section doesn’t have another soloist, but the bassline is doubled with every kind of synth on stage and it sounds huge! Shaun adds some powerful synth chords on top of Bobby’s organ for a thicker texture. Justin joins in on synth later just before Shaun’s solo to continue the intensity. Shaun uses the Moog and all of its gizmos to his full advantage. Bobby, McQueen and Mike play the bassline in unison at the end. Mike says hey and thanks opening act Alina Engibaryan. Mike also makes some jokes about Maz.
Bad Kids to the Back – Things kick off with lots of synth, wah guitar and organ for the opening chord stabs. Mike changes up the bassline slightly before the unison horn melody section. Nate’s bongos come through loud and clear. Bullock takes the solo on tenor sax and starts right ‘outside.’ He really takes his time and conserves his energy. He builds up into some altissimo lines and some nice, full range flourishes. Lots of swing. McQueen gets expressive with the wah for the synth and guitar harmonized melody. Jamison takes his time on the drum solo and subdivides like mad! He gets into a really awesome groove around 7:04. Check it out, it’s super groovy. What an amazing drum solo. The ending is heavy with lots of cymbals and sub-octave bass stuff.
Gemini – Another Stanton tune back-to-back. McQueen adds some sublime textures with the delay and Slide. Bobby’s organ comping shines again. This mix showcases Maz, Jamison and Mike’s voices really well. Shaun adds lots of embellishments to the slide guitar melody. Jamison keeps the groove simple. Mike gets a bit of a solo in the collective improvisation section. Bobby gets into a really ambient organ motif. Maz and Bullock use their Harmon mute and flute for some 70’s and 80’s Miles Davis type stuff. Lots of tasty melodic fragments with heavy delay and reverb. The keyboard section rules again here. McQueen’s slide guitar tone is so smooth and he gets a few moments of fun before Bobby takes a wonderful solo on organ. He applies more reverb to his sound than usual and it really helps retain the ambient character of this tune. Lot’s of amazing lines from him here. Bobby turns on the Moog for some two keyboard action. Shaun, Justin and McQueen shine with their extremely sensitive comping. Jamison pushes the groove even more than usual as Bobby just keeps giving more and more of his energy! Beautiful version of Gemini.
Tio Macaco – Nate does a nice percussion intro for this one keeping things pretty gentle. He uses lots of the rim from the timbales and snare drum, and some other wooden instruments to keep things mellow. He experiments with the dynamics very well too. This version starts off pretty brisk when the horns join in. Bullock starts off the trading on flute with some Phrygian licks for a change; quite dissonant! His use of reverb and aspirate tone gives a kind of tropical sound if that’s the right word. Maz takes over with some minor pentatonic licks and a very raspy tone. Justin goes major pentatonic for a little bit to contrast. The difference between Maz’s brighter and raspy tone to Justin’s darker and mellow tone is huge. This is the song to listen to if anyone struggles with telling the two of them apart. The drum/percussion duet starts quieter than usual and Jamison essentially gives Nate some private time for the first bit. Nate explores the timbales heavily during this solo whilst Jamison keeps a steady beat. Jamison picks it up towards the end. Lots of dynamic variation in this one. A really terrific solo from the two of them.
Sleeper – Justin starts Sleeper off nice and gently giving it tons of room to go. Shaun breaks out the famous vocoder like always. Mike switches to key bass and the rest of the keyboardists plus McQueen double the bassline which gives it so much punchiness. Justin chooses a washy synth sound that compliments Bobby’s organ really nicely. Shaun goes off like usual on his trusty Moog. Justin plays around with the chords whilst Mike introduces the whole band and crew. Afterwards Shaun starts his vocoder solo off by saying ‘Milwaukee, thank you so much for coming out tonight. Did you enjoy yourself?’ The crowd really loved it! Shaun makes some cool percussive sounds before arcing it up. Justin reharmonizes and adds a bassline of his own just before the rest of the band returns. Shaun continues with so much virtuosity. Eventually Mike decides to pull the band out again leaving only Shaun with Nate and Jamison. He does some really cool percussive sounds again before letting loose. Mike adds a massive key bass sound. The synths rein supreme again and Jamison gets into an energetic groove just before the end.
Lingus (Encore) – Finally a Lingus encore; what everyone was waiting for I suppose! This version is nice and fast. Pretty standard but McQueen adds some nice synth-like parts underneath the Rhodes. Shaun tells the audience they ‘f*cked up’ the clapping, but he gets the audience to sing the melody later on to redeem themselves. Mike plays a really awesome disco style bass fill at about 1:35. The tempo continues to climb. Shaun adds some really cool rhythm synth chords. McQueen goes nuts comping under Bullock and Maz’s trading. Maz and Bullock play off each other so well. Just before the solo section Justin adds some nice arpeggiated chords.
Justin takes the solo here and I don’t think he’s done this very often so it was an amazing surprise for me. He starts off with some very dissonant Eb Phrygian licks over the E Phrygian bassline. The chordal playing transitions into some nice higher up melodies, and then he eventually combines the two giving as much as energy to the solo as he can muster. Bobby adds some sustained organ chords and McQueen doubles the bassline rhythm with some staccato chords. He finishes the first part of his solo with some strong Rhodes chords. He switches over the Prophet 6 for the final section. Justin harmonizes with the horn melodies to set up some sweet lines. Bobby plays both organ and clavinet at the same time during this time acting as the main source of harmonic power. Bobby has a quick solo over the last couple of measures just for fun on the clav.
Overall, what a fantastic show! My favorites from this show would have to be ‘While We’re Young,’ ‘Gemini,’ ‘Sleeper’ and ‘Lingus.
- Chris Bullock – Tenor Saxophone, Flute, Bass Flute
- Mike ‘Maz’ Maher – Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Vocals
- Justin Stanton – Trumpet, Rhodes, Synth
- Michael League – Bass and Vocals
- Chris McQueen – Guitar
- Bobby Sparks – Organ, Moog, Clavinet
- Shaun Martin – Keyboards, Moog
- Nate Werth – Percussion
Jamison Ross – Drums and Vocals
- 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 FunkCity.net, I will primarily be writing reviews of my vast and growing Live Snarky and nugs.net album collection in hopes that my writing will inspire some purchases along the way. All of the money spent on Livesnarky.com or nugs.net 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.