In this bonus review, Snarky Puppy played to a festival crowd at the renowned Rock Werchter Festival in Belgium. It’s a fairly short set with only eight songs in under ninety minutes, but they still cover a lot of ground in that time. The solos are significantly shorter due to the time limits of the festival but that doesn’t decrease the funk, swag, or grooviness of this performance. This is not an officially recorded release so unfortunately, my recording has some quick cuts omitting some of the music. But it’s still another fine show.
Tarova – Justin Stanton kicks it off with the Prophet synthesizer chords, and Louis Cato adds his steady backbeat on the cymbal stacks. Shaun Martin and Bobby Sparks converse on the Moog talkbox and Hammond organ. Shaun also uses his talkbox to call out, “Belgium, I said Belgium…let’s party!” The keyboards, horns, and drums are high in the mix. Bobby goes crazy with the Moog modulation over the bridge, and Michael League and Bob Lanzetti nail the tandem melody on their guitars. Then Chris Bullock takes a brief saxophone solo with some intense chromatic runs and piercing altissimo. Mike “Maz” Maher turns on the wah effect for the horn melody before the outro.
Bigly Strictness – There are some cuts in the intro and first verse. It’s a pretty standard opening with the horns on full blast and the keyboards laying down a solid chordal foundation. Michael, Louis, and Marcelo Woloski groove together effortlessly. Bobby flips out on the Moog – he really goes insane with the modulation, pitch bend, and microtonal tuning! Then Maz takes a fuzzed-out trumpet solo, most of which is sadly lost in the mix. From what I hear, it’s another great effort with blues-inspired riffage and a wide range of notes. Finally, we get to the third solo section where Shaun crushes it on the talkbox. He builds from straight-ahead pentatonic melodies to rocket-fueled quintuplets in the upper register and crescendos to a high note with tons of vibrato.
Bad Kids to the Back – Louis sets up an impeccable groove – his snare drum really sounds like a firecracker! Michael, Bob, and Bobby add the chordal stabs and the horns slay the melody. After Bob and Shaun have a turn together with the melody, Maz takes another trumpet solo without any effects. As usual, he injects lots of chromatic runs and his crisp, bright sound rings out loud and clear. Maz also tosses in several unique notes that don’t belong in the key but still manage to fit somehow. Bob steps up and kills it with a wah-wah effect on the melody, with Shaun presumably adding some lower-pitched synth harmony. Louis seals the deal with a painfully funky drum solo. It goes into linear territory before Louis does “four on the floor” on his kick drum and unleashes more dynamic fills around the kit. This is a personal opinion, but I think Louis draws heavily on Clyde Stubblefield’s and Dennis Chambers’s styles. Not surprising, since Clyde and Dennis are two of the greatest drummers to ever pick up a pair of sticks.
Xavi – Chris delivers the opening flute melody before Bob kicks it into high gear with the “spy theme” transition. Everyone in the rhythm section is high in the mix, maybe even slightly louder than the horn section. The first soloist is Bob Lanzetti, who knocks it out of the park with an overdriven guitar solo. It’s full of repeated motifs that are all different from each other and combined into one amazing showcase. Next, Chris Bullock blows for a bit with a well-crafted sax solo. Once again, he utilizes syncopated one-note riffs, frantic runs, and masterful altissimo that could make paint peel from the walls. The audience claps the 4:3 polyrhythm over Marcelo and Louis’s groove, and Chris switches to the flute for the melody. Finally, Justin Stanton tickles the ivories on his Fender Rhodes. There’s an awesome moment where he re-harmonizes the chords to an ascending chromatic progression while emphasizing the “4” feel in the polyrhythm – and the percussionists follow the hits! I’m sure Michael gave Justin one of his legendary stank faces in response. Finally, Michael wields the krakebs and leads the audience in the 4:3 polyrhythm over the band’s outro.
Thing of Gold – After Justin’s Rhodes chords, Chris delivers the melody and Bob provides some great pentatonic counterlines. Shaun plays the Moog lead, before the full band jumps on for the ride. Then the Pups transition to a static two-note solo vamp, and we get a trumpet (or flugelhorn) solo from Maz – a more restrained solo perhaps, but still enjoyable. It’s totally different from the manic solo on “Bad Kids,” and it further proves Maz’s versatility. Finally, Shaun takes it home with a fantastic Moog solo.
What About Me? – After the fast opening and slow melody, the groove picks up. The horns tighten their grip on the melody. Michael introduces Bobby Sparks, who solos on the clavinet. He goes out there with some freakish double-stop pitch-bending before whipping out the distortion and wah effects…oh, and the “FUNK IT UP” effect too. Finally, Louis slaughters the kit with his powerful drumming chops and then the rest of the band returns for the outro. They milk the last note for all it’s worth.
Shofukan – We get a standard opening with Bob’s guitar riff and Justin’s trumpet melody at the forefront. Marcelo rocks out on the hand drums. Shaun gets the crowd to chant over the guitar vamp leading into the solo section. Once things quiet down, Justin’s dark, moody trumpet emerges from the mist. This solo is more intricate than previous trumpet solos I’ve heard from Justin – there’s quite a broad range of notes, resonant long tone, and some extremely well-executed double tonguing on the same note! For the final section, everyone is on their A-game: Bobby brings the funk with the clavinet, Bob lays down the rolling arpeggios, the horns wail the sing-along melody, the percussionists lock in with Michael’s bass, and Shaun hypes the crowd again. After a jubilant sing-along, Bobby uses a phaser-like effect that makes it sound like the clavinet is swallowing everything in sight like a B-movie monster.
Lingus – Justin establishes the tempo with his Rhodes ostinato before the rhythm section comes in. The horns play the melody together, and all goes as planned. After Chris and Maz trade fours, Michael introduces the band and crew to a thunderous ovation. Then Michael pulls out all the stops and plans out something that Snarky Puppy’s never done before: “We’ve got two of the baddest keyboard players in the history of Texas on this stage — I wanna hear ‘em BOTH play!” So Bobby and Shaun end the show the same way they began it: – with a wild-and-wooly keyboard exchange! Bobby begins on the clavinet, but quickly switches to the organ. Shaun stays on the talkbox for the entire run. It’s simply staggering to hear them going back and forth. Astounding technique, unparalleled musicianship, and raw emotion…this is easily one of the greatest “Lingus” solos I’ve heard. After the call-and-response outro, Michael introduces the band members at the speed of light before saying goodnight to the roaring Rock Werchter audience.
For what it’s worth, this is a very fun show. I enjoyed listening to it, even with the short edits. Chris, Shaun, and Bobby are all on fire tonight – not to mention, Maz gets a bunch of great solos as well! My selected standout tracks from this show would be “Bad Kids to the Back,” “Xavi,” “Shofukan,” and “Lingus.”
- Michael League (bass & krakebs)
- Chris Bullock (tenor sax & flute)
- Mike “Maz” Maher (trumpet & flugelhorn)
- Justin Stanton (keyboards & trumpet)
- Bob Lanzetti (guitar)
- Bobby Sparks (keyboards)
- Shaun Martin (keyboards)
- Marcelo Woloski (percussion)
- Louis Cato (drums)
- 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.