Snarky Puppy Concert Review: Belgrade, Serbia, June 23, 2019

Holy. Smokes. I knew that Snarky Puppy has a large fan base outside of America, but nothing prepared me for the rabid energy of this show. The Pups played their first-ever Serbian concert at an outdoor tennis court (Kalemegdan Teniski Tereni) that doubles as a concert venue. Even before the band plays a single note, the fans are roaring for them. And once the music starts, it’s an absolute thrill from start to finish. This audience is 100 percent ready to party – they barely stop cheering or clapping for the whole two-hour show. One notable aspect of Snarky Puppy’s summer 2019 tour is that Louis Cato plays the drums for most of it – Larnell Lewis joined in mid-July. It’s really nice to hear how well Louis fits into the ensemble and drives the band with his unique drumming. While everybody kills it here, the undeniable star of this show is Shaun Martin who plunders his keyboards with manic glee, masterfully hypes up the audience, and assists Michael with the 4:3 clapping lesson. And then in typical “Shunwun” fashion, he pulls the rug out from under Michael’s feet by making him solo for extra time on “Shofukan.” This concert also stands out because it has three encores. Yes, three encores. Are you ready for a wild ride? Buckle up and brace yourselves for one of the most entertaining Snarky Puppy shows you’ve ever heard.

Track-By-Track

Coven – The show opens with a lovely horn section passage by Chris Bullock, Justin Stanton, and Mike “Maz” Maher. Louis Cato and Michael League begin their groove in 7/4 meter, while Marcelo Woloski adds some subtle touches on the metallic percussion. Justin switches to the Fender Rhodes and adds some nice chordal stabs. Shaun Martin dials up a string pad on his keyboard, and Bobby Sparks throws in some nice Hammond organ swells throughout the whole tune. For the melody, Maz mutes his trumpet and Bob Lanzetti doubles the horns’ parts down an octave on his guitar. During the solo section, Bob lays down pentatonic arpeggios and Shaun solos on the Moog. Shaun lingers in the upper register and uses a LOT of modulation, pitch bend, and wild glissandos. The solo almost sounds cartoonish at times, and it’s hilarious but extremely musical at the same time. Then we get to the bridge, where Justin gets a keyboard spotlight. He starts out on the Rhodes and lays down another fine solo with plenty of frantic melodic ideas. Then he moves to the synthesizer and really tickles the ivories. Bob adds some beautiful counterlines. The tune gradually slows down, and the band creates a cloud of washy synths, billowing organ, resonant guitar chords, and cymbal rolls for a lulling, atmospheric vibe.

GØ – Louis sets up this track with an astonishing solo. He begins with lots of hi-hat and snare drum action. Then the solo becomes more linear as Louis alternates between crackling snare rimshots, short cymbal stack hits, and thunderous tom rolls. Louis is not a guy to mess with – this cat knows how to play! After three minutes, Louis starts the afoxê groove and Bob plays the opening melody to set up the lush horn harmonies. When the rearranged bassline drops, Bobby’s clavinet enters off-key by a half-step but a few seconds later the tuning gets corrected. Chris, Maz, and Bob play the melody together while Justin plays the Rhodes chordal stabs from the original version. Michael, Bobby, and Shaun bring the funk with the heavy bassline while Louis and Marcelo rock out. Once the solos begin, Maz takes a few minutes to blow. Using his famous wah effect, Maz delivers a lyrical solo with tons of chromatic & pentatonic motifs, and ascending & descending sixteenth-note runs. He ends with a very deep, guttural note – exactly the opposite of how the solo began. Then things cool off in the B section. Chris goes to the flute, and both trumpeters use mutes for a dry, pinched sound. Either Shaun or Bob doubles the melody here. Marcelo adds some great textures with heavy brushes on the timbau. Then we get a real treat: an episode of the Bobby Sparks Show! After a minute of syncopated pentatonic riffs on the clavinet, Bobby proceeds to hammer his organ. He starts out VERY softly, playing with great restraint and feeling. But of course, it gets funky fast. Soon his fingers are racing all over the keys and nobody’s sure how the hell he’s doing it. Louis, Michael, and Marcelo follow Bobby’s buildup and they start playing more adventurously with the groove. During the solo, the band modulates from C minor to G minor a few times. In my opinion, this transition adds more spice to the tune. Just before the A section recap, Shaun adds some sweet melodic fills on the keyboard. For the outro solo, Bob Lanzetti steps up and shreds! This solo is super-clean and full of brilliant licks. One particular lick that stood out to me was a syncopated rhythm between a low note and the same note up an octave higher. The horns deliver the majestic closing melody as Bob keeps wailing. During the final chord, Justin adds some groovy melodic trills and Bob makes his guitar growl. Marcelo and Louis add some metallic colors as the song fades away completely.

While We’re Young – Michael sets up the funky bassline and lets Bobby preach on the clavinet. The horns come on strong and nail the melody – one of the horns sounds mellower than the others, so perhaps Maz or Justin was playing flugelhorn instead of trumpet. Bob plays the slide guitar, and the three keyboardists create an ambience with Rhodes, organ, and synthesizer. Then we get a synth solo from…someone. My bet is that it’s Justin. The solo builds quickly, and there’s quite a bit of space between the notes. But a good soloist always leaves space to let him/herself and the listeners breathe and to gear up for more music. Afterwards, the band plays a straight-forward closing with some simple but tasteful riffs from Bob.

Tarova – Justin introduces the Metropole arrangement on the Rhodes and synthesizer while Michael dials up the sub-octave bass. Louis adds a heavy backbeat, and Marcelo riffs on the tambourine, bells, and crashers. Bobby and Shaun chat and it’s just as hip as one would expect. For the dual lead, Bobby takes the lower octave on the clavinet while Shaun takes the upper octave on the Moog talkbox. Then the horns enter and play the melody along with Shaun and Bobby. Bob plays some vibrant harmonic chords on each downbeat. During the bridge, Michael adds some wicked descending fills and Shaun adds some on-the-fly talkbox harmony. Bob takes a red-hot guitar solo..it’s full of mind-blowing pentatonic fretwork. He makes good use of the whammy bar, overdrive, and wah pedals. After a minute and change, Bob is left alone to jam with Louis and Marcelo. Bobby adds some subtle organ stabs underneath. After the rest of the Pups hit the recap, we get an abrupt pause and then Marcelo goes to town on his timbales, bombo legüero, cymbals, and cowbells. Bobby plunks his clavinet to maintain high levels of funk while Louis lays down a solid backbeat. The tempo slows down quite a bit by the end, but overall this version really swings! The audience cheers LOUDLY and Michael greets them in Serbian tongue, drawing an exuberant reaction.

Bad Kids to the Back – Louis sets a brisk tempo that Michael and Bob latch onto. Shaun says, “You can clap,” and the audience claps in perfect time as the horns deliver the melody. Louis adds some stuttering fills to match the guitar and bass, but he returns to the groove effortlessly. Bob uses a cleaner guitar sound for both his melodic and rhythmic playing. Just before the solo, Shaun adds a low-pitched talkbox lick. Chris Bullock gets his first solo of the night and really bellows. He starts in the lower register of the tenor saxophone and holds a long tone on its lowest pitch (concert A-flat, which transposes to B-flat for the tenor sax). Soon he trills and works his way up to some death-defying altissimo. Then Chris switches to using syncopated rhythms and some insane chromatic runs. The rest of the band layers in. After we get a synth-guitar duet and the horn section recap, Louis Cato solos and totally crushes it. He starts with a simple shuffle groove with lots of tom-tom usage, and then he changes course with some linear chops between his kick drum, snare drum, and cymbals. Throughout the solo, you can hear Louis deftly playing some ghost-notes on the snare to fill in the beats. Michael, Bob, and Bobby keep the vamp afloat. Then the band plays the outro to a thunderous reception.

Thing of Gold – Shaun hypes up the crowd up right from the word go: “Oh, they know it! If they don’t know it, we’re gonna teach them.” Chris delivers the sax melody and Bob adds some beautiful descending lines. Justin holds the fort down with the Rhodes chords. Shaun plays the iconic Moog melody and gets the crowd to sing it, which they do perfectly. Shaun is impressed and hyped: “We’re gonna have a party, y’all!” As the horn section picks up the melody, Bob and Shaun continue to play tasty fills on their axes. In tonight’s version, we get a slightly different solo vamp…it’s not the original vamp or “Don’t Stop the Music.” Rather, it’s a static two-note ostinato. Suddenly the guys stop playing for two beats and the drop happens. Next we get a short horn solo…I’m honestly not sure if it’s played by Justin or Maz, or if it’s a flugelhorn or trumpet. It’s another great solo full of nifty chromatic runs and the instrument sounds darker and mellower, so I’m guessing that it’s Maz on flugelhorn. Bob provides some steady rhythmic chopping and Bobby adds his wah clavinet. Then Shaun leads the crowd in another sing-along, and he displays his Moog mastery over the ascending chord modulations. Marcelo chugs along with some funky timbau and conga patterns, and Louis pushes the beat. As the final chorus ends, Shaun milks the outro to the crowd’s delight. Soon he accompanies himself on his keyboard with one hand while controlling the Moog with his other hand. He loops the final G-major pattern as the band fades out.

What About Me? – After the standard opening, Louis and Michael slow it WAY down. As Bob lays down the melody, the horns add some crisp harmonies. Bobby and Justin hold strong with some reliably funky clavinet and Rhodes business. The tempo gradually accelerates, and the band is off to the races! Michael introduces the next soloist…yes, it’s another episode of the Bobby Sparks Show! And people, he absolutely unloads. He stretches the solo out for almost eight minutes, moving between wah-clavinet, Minimoog and organ. Bobby starts with some trippy pitch bending on the clavinet before hunkering down and playing some straight-ahead funk with a bit of chromaticism and distortion thrown in. At one point, the band drops out and Bobby keeps going as the crowd cheers and claps along. It’s a bona fide master class in funk. The accompaniment changes to a disco-type groove, with Louis and Michael firmly planted. Bob strums a pattern that could easily have been lifted from Tower of Power or the Average White Band. Then Bobby fires up the Moog and goes HAM. He builds on a simple melodic motif and utilizes all the Moog tricks up his sleeve – pitch bend, modulation, filters, etc. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought I’d been sucked into a Pac-Man arcade game. But that’s not all folks. Bobby sits at the organ and unleashes some blazing runs. What a beast! After Michael introduces the band and crew over the synth vamp (keen listeners will hear the “GØ” bassline transposed in a different key), Louis wraps it up with a concise but powerful solo – his third of the evening! After Louis bombards the listeners with some amazing drum fills, the final chord gets held for a lifetime. All in all, this rendition of “What About Me” lasts for a staggering 16 minutes and 22 seconds. The ecstatic crowd chants for more, and sure enough Snarky Puppy comes back onstage.

Xavi (Encore 1) – Michael thanks the people at Bitef Art Cafe for inviting Snarky Puppy to Serbia. He also thanks Aleksandra Denda for playing the first set. Then he begins teaching the 4:3 polyrhythm lesson, but the audience isn’t responding. Shaun takes charge and gets half of the crowd to clap in three (“Three side is the WE side!”) before Michael shows the other half how to clap in four. When the song begins, Chris plays the flute opening in front of Louis & Marcelo’s groove. Bob’s guitar is high in the mix, and Bobby’s clavinet percolates under the horns’ melody. Chris blows on tenor sax and dazzles the audience with his unbelievable woodwind magic. Justin (I think) follows suit with a trumpet solo, and he goes out on a limb with some wild-and-wooly note choices and rhythms. I think Shaun handles the keyboard chords using a Rhodes-esque sound with a slightly brighter attack. After the crowd claps the 4:3 polyrhythm and Chris plays the flute bridge, we get yet another episode of the Bobby Sparks show where he goes nuts on the organ! Personally, I prefer hearing Bobby’s accompaniment beneath Justin’s Rhodes solos, but this is a welcome change. Besides, there’s no such thing as too much Bobby Sparks. The fans clap the 4:3 polyrhythm for a few extra bars as Bob plays the “spy theme” part and Marcelo keeps time on the stacks. Louis plays a mammoth sixteenth-note drum fill around the kit to set up Chris’s flute ostinato. After the outro and a very long final chord, Michael introduces the band again and thanks the crowd. Either Bobby or Shaun adds some wacky Moog sound effects. The audience keeps cheering for more.

Shofukan (Encore 2) – Before the second encore, Shaun hypes the crowd up again! “Belgrade, if you want to party make some mother******* NOISE!” Then he leads the fans in singing the horns’ melody and chanting to Bob’s Middle-Eastern guitar riff. In a rare turn of events, Michael takes a bass solo! It’s mellow, funky, angular, straight, high, and low…all in one incredible showcase. Bobby makes the organ drone and Justin adds some chordal stabs with the Rhodes. Just as the groove shifts, Shaun yells “Keep playing Mike” and he gets the crowd to chant Michael’s name during the extended solo. When the chorus drops, the fans don’t sing along with it. They ROAR along with it! Bob focuses on the guitar arpeggios while the horns shout. Then Marcelo and Louis engage in a crazy drums-and-percussion duel with Bobby adding some funky clavinet for good measure. As the song ends, Michael can be heard laughing…I wonder if Shaun was still hyping the crowd or striking a triumphant pose? The crowd sings the chorus again, demanding another song.

Lingus (Encore 3) – A THIRD encore! Shaun is still running on adrenaline and it shows: “I need y’all to LOSE YOUR F****** MINDS! We’re right here in Belgrade, Serbia and it’s GOING DOWN!” We get a standard opening and first verse, led by Justin’s Rhodes ostinato and the horn section’s melody. Then the horns trade the melody to Bob, who gets a few moments to shine. Next, Chris and Maz trade fours on tenor sax and wah-trumpet…it’s interesting to hear their contrasting styles side by side. Once the band hits the rumba clave section, Shaun whips it out on the talkbox and the crowd cheers loudly. Even after nearly two hours, he cranks out a masterful solo dripping with grit, confidence, and TONS of modulation & pitch wheel abuse. The words that come to mind when I think of Shaun Martin are “talented,” “tireless,” “irrepressible,” and “badass.” After the final call-and-response between Shaun and the horn section, the band reaches the final chord and milks it. Michael thanks the audience again amidst a tremendous ovation.

According to Snarky Puppy’s tour & production managers Rosanna Freedman and Felicity Hall, the day had been plagued with “logistical challenges.”  The weather was abysmal (“basically a monsoon happening”), the concert venue had flooded, and “SO much [was] going wrong.”  But thanks to the mighty efforts of the managers and production crew, Snarky Puppy was able to perform.  Rosanna recalls, “The crowd entered with a crazy energy and the guys gave it right back” with a two-hour extravaganza for the ages.  Felicity says, “The audience were so into the show that the band had an absolutely wonderful time and went back for 3 encores, simply because they were enjoying it so much – sums up the whole essence of SP for me.” It’s important to remember that behind every good band is a greater crew who can overcome any obstacles in their path.  If anyone from the Snarky Puppy crew is reading this – Rosanna, Felicity, Mike, Matt, Clare, Francis, Mason, Zak, and TJ – thank you for all that you’ve done to help Snarky Puppy and their fans have incredible concert experiences over the years.  We look forward to seeing you and Snarky Puppy back on the road very soon.  As of this writing, the Pups are returning to Texas in September, and hopefully more dates will follow! 

Now about this band – everybody shines brightly tonight! The horns sound tight and punchy, Michael and Bob bring their A-game, Marcelo and Louis kick ass, and Bobby throws fireballs of funk all over the place.  That being said, Shaun Martin is the clear MVP of the show.  Case closed.  Now please repeat these words: “I, [insert name here], hereby promise to buy this Snarky Puppy concert off of livesnarky.com; and I promise to enjoy it for the rest of my days.”  My selected standout tracks from this show would be “GØ,” “Bad Kids to the Back,” “Thing of Gold,” “What About Me,” “Shofukan,” and “Lingus.” But to be honest, the WHOLE show is phenomenal and all ten tracks are marvelous.  Please don’t miss this one! 

BONUS LINK: Please continue to support the Snarky Puppy crew, and buy the Snarky Puppy Crew Favorites compilation here! Available in FLAC or mp3 format. 

Personnel

  • Chris Bullock – tenor sax, flute, and alto flute
  • Mike “Maz” Maher – trumpet and flugelhorn
  • Justin Stanton – trumpet and keyboards
  • Bobby Sparks – keyboards
  • Shaun Martin – keyboards
  • Bob Lanzetti – guitar
  • Michael League – bass
  • Louis Cato – drums
  • Marcelo Woloski – percussion

Sound Crew:

  • Matt Recchia – monitors
  • Michael Harrison – engineering and sound (front of house)
  • 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.

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