This is one of my favorite shows from the Immigrance tour! The whole band is on fire, and the Pisgah Brewery audience is psyched to be at the show. I watched the live video on YouTube (see video from FunkCity.net at end) and it was incredible. Watching the interaction between the band members was simply magical. I really got a sense of how all ten minds work as one and how the whole ends up being greater than the sum of its parts.
Palermo – To be honest, this track is a GREAT show opener…I wish the band opened with it more often, but I guess it depends on Marcelo Woloski’s availability. The keyboards set the tone right off the bat – props to Justin Stanton for playing piano, Fender Rhodes, AND Prophet synthesizer tonight. Bobby Sparks’s swirling organ adds to the mysterious vibe of this track. Marcelo plays the chacarera at a brisk tempo, and Zach Brock adds some squeaky violin tremolo. Mark Lettieri keeps time with some percussive rhythm guitar. Maz’s opening passage is gorgeous – his tone is second to none! For the B section, Michael and Bobby sync up for the bassline and Mark delivers some pentatonic funk. Marcelo’s giant maracas are high in the mix. The horn section kills it – as I’ve said before, expect a punchy and full-bodied sound when Bob Reynolds, Chris Bullock, and Maz are together! Speaking of which, Maz takes the first solo of the night and climbs the walls with his dexterous chops. As the tune concludes with the horns/slide guitar/violin melody and the keyboard fadeout, Marcelo takes the listeners on a polyrhythmic roller coaster ride while the audience claps. Eventually, he shifts from a triplet feel into straight-eighths and he segues smoothly into the next song.
Semente – Chris Bullock plays a crisp flute opening, and the horns nail the melody! Justin and Bobby lock into the syncopated Brazilian baião rhythm and lay down some tasty block chords. The counterlines between the guitar, the flute, and the other horns are well-arranged and brilliantly executed. Zach doubles the horn parts as well. After Chris plays the haunting flute interlude, Zach turns up the heat with a wild violin solo full of arpeggios and sextuplet runs over the C-minor to G-major-7 chord progression. Michael League’s bass playing on this particular tune is exemplary…he keeps the boat anchored, but he also tosses in great flourishes here and there. At the start of Zach’s solo, Michael rests on the first two beats of each measure and only plays on the 3rd and 4th beats for a very funky groove. Then he shifts this rhythm over by one eighth-note so that the rhythm returns to the first beat of each measure! After the solo, we get a tight percussion breakdown and an A section repeat. As the piece ends, Justin adds a nice piano melody, Marcelo tinkers on the metallic percussion, and Bobby adds some guttural organ swells. Overall, this is a very clean rendition of a deceptively difficult tune…each time I listen to it, I always hear something new and exciting!
Grown Folks – One of the funkiest tunes in the Snarky Puppy repertoire. Mark and Michael play the opening riff in tandem, and Bobby brings the funk with some distorted wah-clavinet. The horns deliver a spiffy melody. Justin trills on the Rhodes for a few bars. Maz’s muted trumpet is rather prominent in this mix, and it adds a different color to the horn section’s sound. After JT sets up the B section, things drop down a notch. In a surprise move, Mark tackles BOTH of the solos! He moves from Southern boogie riffs to swift fretwork reminiscent of Jeff Beck. His sound also changes from clean to gritty. It seems like Michael just decided to let Mark go off, and that choice paid off big-time!
Chonks – Michael League welcomes the crowd, thanks Breastfist for opening, and recalls an earlier Snarky Puppy concert at Pisgah Brewery opening for Umphrey’s McGee in “two thousand…something.” Then the band launches into their first Immigrance song of the night. Bobby whips out the wah on his clavinet, and Mark dials up an aggressively funky filter. Zach plays the opening melody on his violin, but the second half gets buried when the horn section enters. The rhythm section establishes such a solid foundation that a skyscraper could be built on top of it. Marcelo uses brushes on his timbau to play a crisp, crunchy shuffle rhythm under JT’s propulsive backbeat. The violin and horns double down on the melody. Then Chris lights it up with a great sax solo. First, he starts with a simple melodic motif and changes the last whole-note of each repetition. Then he strays off and shreds on the E-flat minor pentatonic scale in multiple octaves. The band returns to the A section, led by Bobby and the rhythm section. Once the D-flat minor “heavy rock” section drops, Bobby goes to town! He explores the lower range of the keyboard before racing up to the top and going off…he also uses several effects like wah and distortion. As Justin plays the final spacey Prophet synth chords, Michael introduces Bobby and the fans go berserk.
While We’re Young – Having barely any time to cool off, Bobby plays the opening melody in front of Michael and JT’s groove. The horns and slide guitar sound almost sultry in their delivery. Then Justin takes a rare trumpet solo! And boy, it does not disappoint. Even when playing in the upper register, Justin’s mellow, dark sound is easy on the ears; and he leaves space at just the right moments in his solo. The rhythm section plays some delicate but tasteful accompaniment, and they follow Justin as he builds up his solo. Mark goes full Texas on the slide guitar over the recap.
Embossed – This was a pretty standard performance. As always, I dig the opening percussion groove, and Marcelo and JT lay it down confidently. Mark slides in, then Bobby and Justin on keys, and finally bass, violin, and horns. Mark plays a great solo, but it’s rather low in the mix. But as usual, he kills it with a whole lot of pentatonic and chromatic licks.
Bad Kids to the Back – Although the rhythm section plays this on the slower side, the horns play with a little more fire. Then we get treated to a solo by Bob Reynolds, who really wails! The solo starts off with a smoky quality, and it eventually builds in intensity and speed. Soon, Bob’s notes are jumping all over the place like a caffeinated lemur. After the solo wraps, Zach and Mark play the lead in harmony and the horns shout. As the rhythm section brings it down, JT slays the drum solo. Starting with simple rolls and swung rhythms on the snare drum and cymbals, JT adds more intricate rhythms and elements of his kit until he’s built an impenetrable wall of sound. The crowd gives a huge ovation for both soloists.
Thing of Gold – After four straight Immigrance songs, Michael says, “We have an old one for you.” This is usually Shaun Martin’s spotlight, but Bobby takes the lead with his Minimoog mastery. We get the standard opening with Justin’s Rhodes and Chris’s tenor sax at the helm. Mark adds some clean arpeggios underneath it all. The band dives into a rearranged bridge that directly quotes Yarbrough and People’s “Don’t Stop the Music.” Maz blows over the changes on his flugelhorn for a cooler tone that contrasts the dirty groove behind him. It’s lyrical, lush, and lively – and I expect nothing less from Maz! Also, Michael plays a bass riff at the 5:04 minute mark that kind of fried my brain. Finally, Bobby seals the deal with a freakishly awesome Moog solo with plenty of pitch bend and modulation – and I expect nothing less!
Ready Wednesday – After Bobby’s Moog outro fades out, Justin plays the piano opening and we get an uptempo version! The horns play some short melodic stabs alongside Bobby’s clavinet, Mark chops out on guitar, and Marcelo keeps time with his maracas. Michael’s stellar bass playing holds it all together like glue. Once the B section arrives, the band shifts briefly to a delicate, textural sound before pulling out all the stops and moving in a very funky direction. Zach takes center stage and channels his inner Jimi Hendrix with an overdriven sound. It’s full of brilliant runs and screeching highs – and I expect nothing less from Zach! After the A section recap, the bottom falls out and the song dissolves into a tense soundscape driven by Justin’s piano arpeggios. Most of the band drops out, and Justin closes the show on a soft, reflective note. Playing Bill Laurance’s original piano part is no small feat, and Justin does a bang-up job. Is this Snarky Puppy’s best set closer? In my opinion, it’s pretty high up there.
Xavi – Michael gives a shout-out to the Moog synthesizer company, plugs Blake the merch guy’s one-man band (Shake It Like a Caveman), and introduces the guys in Snarky Puppy. Chris Bullock – a native of Asheville – gets a VERY big cheer. Then Michael teaches the crowd how to clap the 4:3 polyrhythm before the standard opening of “Xavi.” The presence of Bob’s tenor saxophone allows Chris to play the soprano sax and flute, which adds more depth and color to the melody. One interesting observation is the order of soloists: Justin, Chris, and Maz! Justin kicks it off on Fender Rhodes with lots of staccato block chords and syncopated double stops. Then Chris blows on soprano sax and he does a nice job exploring the range of the instrument. After the audience claps the polyrhythm with JT and Marcelo’s groove, Maz cranks out a manic trumpet solo before the 4:3 outro. A rather unique set of solos for a very unique show. The crowd roars as Michael thanks everyone for coming. Bobby fools around with the Moog one last time before leaving the stage.
Despite the absence of tracks from the band’s landmark album We Like It Here, this is still a magnificent show. It just proves that you don’t need to hear “Shofukan,” “Lingus,” “What About Me,” or “Sleeper” to enjoy a Snarky Puppy concert. Good music is good music – and you should expect nothing less from the Pups. Please don’t miss out on this one! My selected standout tracks would be “Semente,” “Grown Folks,” “Chonks,” “While We’re Young,” “Bad Kids to the Back,” and “Ready Wednesday.”
BONUS LINK: Here is a video of the show on YouTube from FunkCity.net
- Michael League (bass & krakebs)
- Bob Reynolds (tenor sax)
- Chris Bullock (tenor sax, soprano sax, & flute)
- Mike “Maz” Maher (trumpet & flugelhorn)
- Justin Stanton (keyboards & trumpet)
- Mark Lettieri (guitar)
- Zach Brock (violin)
- Bobby Sparks (keyboards)
- Marcelo Woloski (percussion)
- Jason “JT” Thomas (drums)
- 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.