Las Vegas…where casinos, fine dining, nightclubs, and amazing live music coexist harmoniously. In other words, an ideal place for a Snarky Puppy show. At the Brooklyn Bowl, Michael League mentions that this is their first-ever show in Las Vegas (and probably not their last). As a result, the setlist draws from their entire catalog with less emphasis on the new Immigrance material. For the June shows, Marcelo Woloski played percussion since Nate Werth left after the Orpheum show on May 31. Thus, “Palermo” and “Bardis” were added to the repertoire. Bob Reynolds and Zach Brock also stayed for the remainder of the U.S. tour. I’ll go out on a limb and say that this new lineup boasts the most unique instrumentation yet – tenor and soprano saxophones, violin, Castlebar clavinet, and Argentinean percussion are all represented. Yay for diversity! A video clip is linked at the end of this review.
Kite – The show opens with this mellow track from We Like It Here. The combination of the horn section and Zach Brock’s violin creates an amazing vibe, as if to say “Sit back and enjoy the show!” Mike “Maz” Maher pours his heart out into a magnificent trumpet solo. He begins with short, simple ideas and he leaves lots of space in between the notes. But soon that changes and Maz blurts out rapid sixteenth-note phrases. During the bridge, Bobby Sparks doubles the lead on the organ. Justin follows with a soothing solo on the Fender Rhodes. As usual, his phrasing and technique are impeccable!
Chrysalis – In an abrupt about-face, the band plays this funky single released as a bonus track with Immigrance. Jason “JT” Thomas sets up a jagged groove that reminds me of “The Funky Drummer” break, and Bobby breaks out the wah-effect on his Castlebar clavinet. Mark Lettieri adds some resonant guitar chords underneath the violin/horns melody. During the chorus, he switches to arpeggios. Bob Reynolds solos on his own composition and says a lot in a very short time! JT and Marcelo lock into the outro groove while Bobby uses the phaser and rocks out with Mark. (Interesting catch: for the first ten seconds of Bob’s solo, it sounds like there’s a fuzzed-out delay after each lick. Or maybe it was just a delay in the venue? Beats me, but I’m leaning towards a delay effect that Bob stopped after a bit.)
Grown Folks – Right before the song begins, Michael League tells the audience, “We’re following the set list tonight, ladies and gentlemen…it never happens!” The drum intro is omitted, and Michael immediately plays the bass riff. The violin/horn melody is so spiffy that even Mr. Clean would be jealous. Justin quickly trills on the Fender Rhodes before the chorus. JT unleashes a monstrous two-bar fill leading into the A-flat minor section. Then Chris Bullock lets it simmer with a string of breathy, sensitive notes. But of course, nothing lasts forever and then Bullock goes beast mode! He explores the altissimo range before sticking to an intensely syncopated style. Sometimes Bullock’s notes feel like musical pinpricks…they really sting, but in a good way! JT nearly steals the spotlight with some spectacular drumming as well. As the horn section does the chorus, Bobby and Justin create a pillowy pad of organ and synth chords. For the last solo, Mark goes haywire with some red-hot licks that wouldn’t be out of place in a Van Halen concert.
Bigly Strictness – After welcoming the crowd (and making a joke about gambling), Michael asks for a guitar pick, and a fan gives him one! After the intro and first verse, Bobby takes a Moog solo. It’s got enough pitch bend, insane droning, and wild effects to attract a UFO. Next, Maz whips out his Hendrix trumpet and sprints right out of the gate. I noticed that whenever Maz inhales, the pickup makes a crunchy, staticky noise due to the pickup and monitor feedback. I actually like it! For the final solo, Zach builds from rich whole notes up to piercing sextuplet-note runs. It almost sounds like the violin is screaming in a horror film…amazing!
Chonks – JT and Bobby establish a groove with loads of swag. Zach plays the melody an octave up, and the horns provide lush harmonies. During the first solo, Mark uses an effect that I can’t identify. It gives his guitar a pinched, almost nasal sound…but it’s still dope. This funky, twangy solo is the complete opposite of the fiery showcase in “Grown Folks,” and that’s a testament to Mark’s talent. Finally for the rock outro, Bobby trashes the clavinet in his inimitable style. Everyone drops out except for him and JT. “Chonks” is the perfect showcase for Bobby – he devours the clavinet…obliterates it…incinerates it. Not a trace remains.
Palermo – This is first of four “older” Snarky Puppy tunes in the set. Michael teaches the crowd how to clap the Argentinean chacarera rhythm over Marcelo’s intricate groove which can be felt in 12/8 or 4/4 meter. As the keyboards and percussion seep in, Michael plays the off-kilter but funky bass line. Maz delivers a crisp melody and the horns join in the second time. For the solo, Bob Reynolds goes out there with some nimble chromatic lines. The spotlight goes to Marcelo who pushes the limits of rhythmic and metric compatibility as the fans clap the chacarera. He tinkers with the metallic percussion before beating a high-pitched Brazilian tamborim and a low-pitched frame drum that sounds similar to the bombo legüero. Sensational!
Ready Wednesday – This is a true classic from the Tell Your Friends album. Bobby’s punchy clavinet kicks it into high gear right away and Justin adds some sweet Rhodes licks on top. The horn section adds some pops before delivering the melody. Then Mark flexes big-time – his fingers are blazing! Plenty of lightning-fast fretwork in the upper-register. After the final chorus, the band pipes down and Justin plays the subdued piano coda.
What About Me? – Roosevelt Collier sits in on the lap steel guitar. He builds a riveting solo, never once going out of tune or losing momentum. If anybody ever needs healing of any sort, just listen to the “Dr.” and they’ll feel better in no time. The horns add a sixteenth-note shout pattern behind him. After Michael introduces the band, JT slaughters his drum set over the outro vamp. Michael and Bobby hold down the fort and Justin adds some sick reharmonization on his keyboards. The fans shout for an encore.
Shofukan (Encore) – Mark strums the legendary opening riff, and the crowd cheers. We get a dark, brooding trumpet solo from Justin who shows off an incredible range of notes. The crowd sings along with the chorus, and Marcelo and JT go HAM. The final chorus arrives and Bobby stretches the ending on his clavinet. Finally, the Pups unleash five sustained “power rock” chords (E-D-C#-F#7-Bm to be exact) and Michael says goodnight to the Las Vegas audience.
This concert showcases the most basic elements of Snarky Puppy: a diverse catalog, unique instrumentation, and astounding talent. Plus, Roosevelt Collier’s guest appearance is a big plus. A decent show with a very receptive audience! My selected standout tracks would be “Bigly Strictness,” “Chonks,” “Palermo,” and “What About Me?”
- Zach Brock: violinBob Reynolds: saxophone
- Chris Bullock – tenor sax, flute, and alto flute
- Mike “Maz” Maher – trumpet and flugelhorn
- Justin Stanton – trumpet and keyboards
- Bobby Sparks – keyboards
- Mark Lettieri – guitar
- Michael League – bass
- Jason “JT” Thomas – drums
- Marcelo Woloski – percussion
- Roosevelt Collier – lap steel guitar on “What About Me?”
- Matt Recchia – engineering and sound (front of house)
- Michael Harrison – monitors
- Nic Hard – mixing
About the Reviewer
Hi! I’m Doug, and I really love Snarky Puppy. I first learned about this supergroup in 2014 when some college friends introduced me to their albums Groundup, Family Dinner Volume 1 and We Like It Here. I was amazed by the caliber of talent and how all the parts (melody, harmony, rhythm, and accompaniment) came together seamlessly.
Then on July 31, 2015 my family and I went to the Newport Jazz Festival. Snarky Puppy was one of the featured artists along with Christian McBride, Chris Botti, Arturo Sandoval, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Jon Faddis, Lucky Peterson, Kneebody, and Jon Batiste & Stay Human. Over the course of ninety minutes, Snarky Puppy played a lot of material from WLIH, including the ultra-popular “Lingus.”
I was absolutely awestruck by the infectious grooves, the wild jazz harmonies, and the mind-blowing solos that each band member took. That performance changed my life. Although it is still the only Snarky Puppy concert I have attended, it certainly won’t be my last. I hope to see them perform in the United States very soon, once things start to open up in greater capacity after COVID-19.