St. Paul, Minnesota! This was McQueen’s last show with the pups before Mark joined the crew in Washington. The Palace was quite a challenging room for the pup’s sound crew acoustically speaking. In particular, the bass was pretty boomy and the drums didn’t quite have the definition like usual, but the energy of this show and the songs they played was more than enjoyable. This show had lots of memorable moments and some fresh ideas from the new band; Zach Brock lifted the whole evening. My personal highlights would be ‘Flood,’ ‘Coven,’ ‘Tarova’ and ‘Ready Wednesday.’
Flood – Things start off with the mighty and mysterious classic tune that is Flood. McQueen starts the riff off without any effects (besides reverb) and plays lots of staccato notes. JT creeps in with a very simple drum groove on just the ride cymbal. Mike adds some super sparse, muted bass notes in between the melody. The tune continues at this very quiet dynamic until the B section where Bobby and Justin open up with some super lush chords and JT gets into more of a groove. Maz and Bullock use lots of delay and reverb with their descending melody. The new addition of Zach Brock on violin gives another texture for the horn section. The return to the 7/4 section sees lots of playful interaction from Mike and JT and some very sparse keyboard work from Bobby and Justin. The solo section gets a Rhodes and Prophet solo from Justin. He starts with an idea built off from the horn melody and adds some cool muted and percussive sounds in between the spaces. After a while of exploring the Rhodes, he switches to the Prophet for a more aggressive and cutting sound and he develops some super smooth lines. He brings in the Rhodes with his left for some sustained chords and it completely transforms the solo section with the use of triad pairs leading to a Dorian tonality. Mike vamps on the C# for longer to compensate for Justin’s reharmonization; great listening on his part. Things fade into almost nothing for JT’s solo, with just McQueen, Mike and the horns playing. Justin switches to Trumpet to add some beef to the horns. JT starts with some very loose rhythmic ideas on the toms before incorporating the snare drum, cymbals and a stricter sense of pulse. After the crescendo, McQueen turns on the tremolo and Bobby pulls out the drawbars on his organ. The blend between the horns and Zach is just lovely. The ‘drop’ section as I like to call it features some funky distorted clavinet playing from Bobby, octave fuzz from McQueen and sub-octave stuff from Mike. JT plays a simpler groove than usual but it’s still very funky with some very fancy footwork. The outro is high energy with heaps of cluster chords from McQueen and Bobby. Bobby also adds some Moog bass to really thicken the low. Justin returns to the Prophet. JT and Nate go cymbal smashing! A pretty cool, patient version of Flood to start things off.
Coven – The dynamic and mellow trend continues with McQueen’s gorgeous tune Coven. McQueen adds some more aggressive sounding E-Bow guitar under the horn intro. Justin chooses a softer, more pad-like synth sound for the main motif. Zach uses some chorus or other flanged effect for the melody; this blends so nicely with Harmon mute trumpet playing from Maz. The solo section gets funky with some staccato picking from McQueen and lots of displacement from JT. Zach takes the solo on violin with a wild, overdriven and flanged sound and he lifts the energy drastically. Mike and JT get into a double-time feel for a short while and Bobby adds some delicate little melodies on the organ. Zach really sounds like he’s screaming about something through the violin. He plays lots of beautiful and memorable lines too. The section following sees Zach and McQueen double the melody leaving Justin some room to go ambient with the Rhodes. He takes the final solo on Rhodes too with lots of embellished notes and some jazzy reharmonizations and some brisk runs. The outro is extra lush and features some single note comping from McQueen.
Embossed – The energy lifts a bit further with this groovy tune. As this was McQueen’s last gig for a while he really explores what his instrument can do. The addition of Zach sees the melody been doubled 2 octaves higher up which adds this nice extra touch and detail. The solo section sees McQueen’s descent into madness, or edginess in this case! He destroys it with heaps of fuzz, slide, arpeggios and some rhythmic, one-note lines. Lots of Lydian dominant and Phrygian dominant lines. Bobby goes dark with the comping on clavinet during the horn solo and Bullock breaks out the flute. The bass and synth bass seems to be coming through louder and clearer in this mix which gives so much power to this song. McQueen keeps the overdrive and fuzz on for the open string line and Bobby ends the song with a ton of delay for a long loop. This version sounds very different to the previous version of Embossed and I can attribute that largely to the big difference between JT and Jamison’s drumming. It’s so special hearing the two of them interpret the tune.
Tarova – Justin starts this off on prophet with Bobby’s delay loop still going on and JT plays around with some flammed cross-stick. Check out JT’s first masterclass on Crowdcast if you’d like to learn more about it! I was expecting to hear maybe McQueen or Zach trading with Bobby when I first heard this show as Shaun had left the lineup, but instead, we get to hear Bobby’s super tasty organ playing in more focus. He gets into some awesome chromatic and angular lines before playing the melody solo (and so far behind the beat!). Justin uses both of his hands on both of his keyboards to thicken the soundscape as much as possible. Maz takes a melodic solo on wah trumpet on top of an extremely lush harmonic base. He gets some alone time with JT and Nate and it starts swinging; hard. He throws in the ‘lick’ just for fun before ending on the famous tri-tone. The outro sees some super synth-like playing from McQueen on guitar and some heavy clav playing from Bobby. Mike says hey to St. Paul, and later invites opening act Alina Engibaryan up to the stage for a jam.
Gemini – The jam in question is Justin’s spooky good tune Gemini. Alina joins Mike and Maz on vocals. Things start off with Mike’s slapback, picked bassline like usual but again the bass comes through clearer than usual. Zach Brock doubles the slide guitar melody up an octave and it adds an extra dimension to the sound. Just two changes in their instrumentation and a song they play fairly regularly has a drastically different character. The collective improvisation section sees some 8-bit effect-y things from Zach, super ambient organ playing from Bobby and a much funkier end to the section with Mike, Justin and JT taking the funk to a whole new level. The three voices also sound quite different especially with Alina added, and some of the harmonies were changed slightly too. Bobby takes an amazing solo on organ with a percussive sound for the first bit with a ton of brisk, scaelic lines. He pulls out the draws before getting more motivic. Towards the end, he starts playing two-handed with both organ and the Moog for some fresh harmonies and lines. The tune simmers down gently but the silence is shattered by Mike yelling ‘Chonks’ a little too close to the mic! Very funny!
Chonks – Yes, you guessed it, Chonks was indeed the next tune. It was as funk-ay as usual. This one sounds really different without Shaun on vocoder for the main melody. Zach takes on the melodic role with a synth-like sound with a subtle octave below. Justin lays out for the first bit leaving McQueen to funk it up, but when he joins everyone sits in place. The breakdown bit features an unusual synth sound from Justin (very Mellotron-like). Zach’s sharp and crisp articulation on the violin contrasts with the smoothness of the horns and immediately this feels like a very different version of Chonks to what was heard earlier on the tour. Bullock takes a solo with a high octave effect and quotes a little bit from Quarter Master. He plays some really catchy lines before going ‘outside’ momentarily with some fourths. The linking section gets reharmonized by Justin on synth and Bobby plays around with the rhythm of the main riff before Zach and horns enter with the original melody for the final time. The section before the outro solo is extended slightly as the groove just keeps on giving! McQueen turns on the fuzz for the doubled bassline with Mike. Bobby creeps in earlier with some feedback before tearing the solo apart on his Castlebar clavinet. Towards the end he churns out some perfectly sequenced phrases at incredible speed. Justin closes the tune out on synth. The mix is a bit rough on this one, however, but it’s still very enjoyable.
Tio Macaco – Nate plays a sparse intro to this classic and explores lots of different textures on just a few drums. He gets into some timbale rolls before starting the main cowbell groove. Bullock joins in on flute and he and Nate push the tempo ‘til it’s at the usual speed. Zach Brock joins the horns with their melody and McQueen plays ‘stringed percussion.’ The trading section features a subtler groove from the percussion section; I don’t actually hear much of JT at all until Maz’s solo. Bullock starts the trading off on flute with some staccato lines before ending on some dissonance. Maz picks the dissonance before going bluesy. McQueen and Bobby change their comping midway through his solo. Justin picks up where Maz left off with some more scaelic lines plus some fancy diminished licks. The outro melody gets some nice arpeggios from McQueen before Nate and JT explore. Bobby adds a pretty bizarre couple of low notes here and there during their solo; pretty funny. Nate and JT seem to trade 1 bar with each other for the first little bit before they eventually overlap and raise the roof. There’s lots of dynamic variation in this one.
Thing of Gold – The band returns and Justin starts this one off more staccato than usual on the Rhodes. Bobby adds some Moog melodies in between the saxophone and guitar melodies. McQueen uses more delay than usual for the first bit to fill up some more space. Mike takes over Shaun’s famed role by asking St. Paul to sing along to the Moog melody if they know it. The melody was pretty unclear from the audience but luckily Bobby had it covered! The solo section is more traditional but super funky with some stripped-down drumming from JT and Justin’s straight-ahead Rhodes comping. Maz takes a trumpet solo with lots of lyrical lines and repeated phrases. Zach adds a very tasteful drone midway through the solo and Bobby adds some harmonized melodies on the Moog. McQueen plays some arpeggios that ring out nicely and gives Maz something to play off. Thing of Gold sounds very different without Shaun too as Bobby uses a very different Moog sound. Bobby takes the solo on the outro with a focus on rhythmic lines and articulation and some sweet licks. The reduced keyboard section gives a less intense soundscape, but it also gives more freedom to McQueen to showcase his wonderful comping skills. Bobby fades away his solo into the outro and tries to contact his home planet… (lot’s of weird noises and harmonies coming from his Mini Moog). He goes lo-fi towards the end and turns on a lush analogue delay which gently colors his subtle arpeggios.
Ready Wednesday – Justin starts this one off on Rhodes at a nice, funky medium tempo. The intro is extended and features some chordal playing from Mike on bass and disco-inspired drumming from JT. The second time through the head sees Mike turn on the wah and octaver for a simpler bassline. McQueen opts for a very clean tone for his funky, semiquaver comping patterns. JT adds a cross-stick drum groove just before the solo section. The rearranged solo section starts with less intensity than usual but builds up just before McQueen turns up for his solo. He goes chromatic and melodic minor-y with an octave pedal and lots of the whammy bar. Mike plays a different bassline and plays it up an octave than usual. JT tightens the groove just as McQueen starts shredding out some insanely fast demisemiquavers. Despite all his shredding, he keeps it very lyrical! Mike adds some double-stop fifths to the bassline in efforts to support McQueen as much as possible harmonically. The solo section fades away momentarily before JT comes in full steam ahead for one last time. The outro section features Justin on the keyboard Shaun left behind for the rest of the tour. The outro also showcases McQueen’s exquisite textural work. Zach and Bullock add that ominous major 3rd drone above the chromatic harmony (very Radiohead inspired). Mike thanks everyone for coming out and introduces the band. He says the band is going through a ‘hockey shift tag team action’ when saying goodbye to McQueen for this part of the tour.
Xavi (Encore) – Mike gets the audience involved in the 4:3 polyrhythm and then counts this one off at a brisk pace. JT plays super quietly at the start giving the tune heaps of room to breathe. Zach on violin helps fill in for Bullock’s flute playing after the intro as Bullock switches back to tenor sax. Zach takes the first solo with some velcro-like, gated fuzz and he shreds. He goes super dissonant and melodic with lots of extremes of register. The second solo section plays to host Maz on wah trumpet. JT lays out for a bit except for some snare drum hits at the end of the 4 bar phrase. JT’s use of dynamics is so very masterful and he really helps shape the solo just as much as the soloists. McQueen gets super funky with the comping with some wah as well. Maz plays lots of flowing lines plus some more dissonant, angular stuff. He finds a favorite note and keeps it going ‘til the end! After a tiny percussion and clapping break, Bullock brings the melody back in on soprano sax rather than flute. Justin plays the chords on synth rather than Rhodes for some ambience. McQueen adds some delay to his chords to create a nice wash. Justin takes a very musical Rhodes solo building on the melody of the song with some skillful use of call and response. JT’s drumming gives him lots of room to breathe. The outro is funky with some awesome synth bass playing from Bobby, and Mike and Drum tech Mason Davis join in with the krakebs. A great ending to this very fun show. Despite having such major changes to the band lineup, the pups were still as tight as ever!
- Chris Bullock – Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Flute
- Mike ‘Maz’ Maher – Trumpet, Flugelhorn and Voice
- Justin Stanton – Rhodes, Keyboard, Synth
- Michael League – Bass, Vocals, Krakebs
- Chris McQueen – Guitar
- Zach Brock – Violin
- Bobby Sparks – Organ, Clavinet, Moog, Mellotron
- Nate Werth – Percussion
- Jason ‘JT’ Thomas – Drums
- 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.