If you’re a fan of the Immigrance album, this is the show for you! In this setlist, seven of the nine tunes are from that album…only two are from earlier records. Even with all of the new music, the audience is loud and the atmosphere is electric. Interestingly, half of the band members onstage at the Tabernacle had just arrived in Atlanta, GA for the final U.S. leg of the Immigrance tour. Jay Jennings, Chris McQueen, Zach Brock, Nate Werth, and Shaun Martin had all departed; and Bob Lanzetti, Bob Reynolds, Keita Ogawa, and Mike “Maz” Maher came on board. As a result, the band is fresh and ready to boogie! A HUGE surprise comes during the final tune, so read on to see what it is! A special video of this “surprise” will be linked at the end of this review.
While We’re Young – Personally it’s a rather interesting choice to begin the show with this tune instead of “Even Us” or “Embossed,” but as I’ve said before, expect the unexpected with Snarky Puppy. Michael League and Jason “JT” Thomas kick it off with their tight-as-balls groove. Bobby Sparks proudly introduces himself on the clavinet. The three-man horn section of Bob Reynolds, Chris Bullock, and Mike “Maz” Maher plays the opening melody. Bob Lanzetti and Justin Stanton tackle the dual lead on slide guitar and Prophet synthesizer, respectively. Once the chorus hits, Bobby switches to the organ with a full-blown Leslie speaker effect. The tune becomes more subdued as the horns and guitar drop out. Justin solos on the Fender Rhodes. It’s a very spacey, reflective, and melodic solo that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Herbie Hancock album. Keita Ogawa adds his unique touch on the hand drums and metallic percussion. Afterwards, the horns play the “shout chorus” and Lanzetti adds the countermelody. A pretty standard version of this tune.
Embossed – JT and Keita start this one off at a brisk tempo. Keita’s conga chops are absolutely unparalleled – this is not an easy rhythm to pull off! In the first verse, Bob Lanzetti slithers in with the slide guitar and Bobby Sparks contributes some sustained Hammond organ notes. The horns enter, and Maz’s trumpet is high in the mix. Lanzetti and Justin handle the dual melody once again (sounds like Justin is on the Rhodes here) before the chorus hits. Then Bobby milks it on the Minimoog Model D synthesizer. After a brief drums & percussion break, the second verse drops. The horns improvise a bit within the melody before the next solo section arrives, and Lanzetti goes off. He really uses the whole instrument for his solo – there’s plenty of whammy bar action and feedback here! Overall, I think his soloing style draws mostly on timbral elements. Justin and Michael hold the bass line down, while Bobby sends the funk levels off the charts with the clavinet. Keita and JT remain unflinching as they keep the groove in place. The horns nail the tricky line after the solo, and the band hits the outro.
Bad Kids to the Back – This is the third tune of the night, and we’re still in Immigrance land! Interestingly, none of the first three tunes were written by Michael League, either! “While We’re Young” is by Maz, “Embossed” is by Bill Laurance, and “Bad Kids” is by Justin Stanton! The rhythm section starts it up at a VERY nice and steady pace. The horns sound extremely rich and polished for their first night together. The harmonies in the chorus blend so well. Next, Bob Reynolds takes a lengthy tenor sax solo that does not disappoint. All of Reynolds’s solos are so appealing…maybe it’s the sound of his instrument, or his bebop-influenced licks, or the dynamic range that he covers. Reynolds explores different tonal territory for a bit – I think he goes into B major clashing with the F minor solo vamp. Yowza! After Justin and Lanzetti harmonize, the horns deliver the final chorus before things simmer down. JT storms the place with a bombastic drum solo. He starts softly with delicate snare drum hits before adding a syncopated pattern on the kick drum. Then JT fills on the toms and starts smacking the life out of his drum set! The horns add their stabs and Bobby fires up the grill—I mean, the organ—with a high-pitched drone. Snarky Puppy closes the tune energetically and the Atlanta audience gives them a roaring reception. Michael League welcomes the fans and thanks House of Waters for playing the opening set. He briefly details the band’s history in Atlanta before introducing the next tune.
Bigly Strictness – Bob Lanzetti conjures up a very gritty sound for the opening and Michael provides some heart-pounding Moog sub-bass. JT’s thunderous backbeat cuts intensely. Justin keeps time with some eighth-note chords on the Mellotron, and Bobby’s organ percolates underneath it all. The horn section makes its statement, with Chris using the octave pedal with his tenor sax. Chris takes the first solo, and really goes batty with the octave effect! It’s an astounding display of chromatic runs, extreme range, and breath control. Next, Maz steps up to the plate with his fuzzed-out “Hendrix trumpet,” as I like to call it. He explores the lower register of the trumpet before taking the elevator to the top floor. Props to the rhythm section for maintaining a solid groove throughout both horn solos. Then the band quiets down as Keita shifts to a Middle Eastern rhythmic pattern on the djembe, with JT matching the pattern on his snare drum. The horns play the final melody while Justin adds some low-pitched drones on his Prophet synthesizer. Bobby closes the tune with a fantastic organ solo. This is a nice change, as Bobby often solos on the clavinet or Minimoog on “Bigly Strictness.” He starts with some mellow jazzy melodies before pulling out the drawbars and building up to an aggressive, full-bodied sound! There’s a lot of glissandos and swells in this solo too. He even crosses over from the key of B-flat minor to B-flat MAJOR! What a baller move from Bobby Sparks!
Grown Folks – JT sets up the groove, and Michael plays the funky-as-hell bass line. Lanzetti and Sparks go totally ‘70s funk with the wah-effects before the horns deliver the melody. Maz mutes his trumpet for the unison horn lick, and then Justin riffs for a few bars on the piano. Bobby cranks the overdrive on his clavinet WAY up and Lanzetti adds some percussive comping on guitar before JT bridges the gap to the solo section in G-sharp minor. The horns make light work of the melody in octaves. And then…Michael takes a rare bass solo! He uses double stops, pentatonic runs, syncopated rhythms, and pitch bend – no shortage of magic tricks in this show! Rumor has it that Michael’s solo was so dirty that he had to use hand sanitizer after the song was done. After the transition to the C minor section, the horn section shouts and Lanzetti wraps it up with a short but supercharged guitar solo. Lanzetti really shreds here, in contrast to his effort on “Embossed.” The audience cheers loudly at the end.
Chonks – JT and Bobby set this one up with gusto! Right off the bat, this rendition has lots of bravado, swagger, chutzpah if you will. Justin plays the opening melody on the Prophet with backing harmonies from the horn section. Then the horns get to swing with the melody before the clavinet-and-drums breakdown. Maz blows on his wah-effected trumpet, and he goes for a simpler approach that works. The melodic ideas are more spread out and less dense than in past solos…but that is a testament to Maz’s versatility as a musician! And in true Maz fashion, he plays “The Lick” in F minor right after the other horns re-enter. In the next clavinet-drums breakdown, Bobby ends a beat behind JT, but the band isn’t fazed. The song proceeds normally until the outro “rock and roll” section in C-sharp minor, where Bobby goes mental on the clavinet. Soon the band drops out and it’s just Bobby and JT jamming like their lives depend on it. And no clavinet solo would be complete without a “Voodoo Child” reference. Bobby’s always large and in charge whenever he plays the clav…no ifs, ands, or buts! The fans cheer even before the solo is finished, and Michael introduces Bobby to them.
Even Us – Lanzetti strums the opening chords to this tune. Justin and Bobby play the melody on Fender Rhodes and organ, which gives the opening a different sound and feel to it. Bobby alters the sound of the organ by moving several drawbars in and out. Next, Chris runs with the melody while Maz and Reynolds accompany him. Keita adds some subtle hand drum touches for good measure. At the start of the solo section, Bobby adds some melodic fills on the Minimoog and organ. Michael and Lanzetti lock into the dual “bassline,” an octave apart from each other. Then Chris takes his time on the tenor sax. Chris starts on the seventh note of the A minor scale (concert G) before emitting a tritone (E-flat) and flat ninth (B-flat)…bold choices, man! He continues with an emotionally gripping solo full of lightning-quick runs and ear-splitting altissimo. After the final chorus with the full band, Lanzetti plays the final bars alone before the audience goes wild again. Michael introduces Chris to the Tabernacle crowd.
Xavi – Michael teaches the 4:3 polyrhythm clapping lesson to the audience. There’s a small cut during the lesson, but it’s minor. JT and Keita lay down the groove at a VERY quick tempo, and Chris plays the melody on the bass flute! The bass flute is not an easy instrument to play…it’s longer than the C flute and so it requires more lung power and breath control. The first verse and chorus go off without a hitch. Then Lanzetti takes his third solo of the night and it’s a VERY cool affair. He starts with low, growling notes before doing some clean upper-register shredding! Next, Bobby takes center stage with a Minimoog solo that is insane and freaky and wonderful. The Moog seems to have a brighter, more percussive attack here, but that just might be me. Bobby also plays a melodic quote from 5:20-5:33 that he’s done MANY times before…but I just can’t place it. Is it lifted from an actual song, or is it just a simple lick that he resorts to time after time? After the audience claps the polyrhythm over the percussion groove, Chris plays the interlude on the C flute and the rest of the band layers in. Then Justin whips it out on the Fender Rhodes. He starts from scratch with a two-note rhythmic motif using various pitches before his fingers dart all over the keys! It’s a remarkable solo with lots of pentatonic and chromatic wizardry. Justin’s solos are so well-crafted and catchy that it’s impossible for me to sit still while listening to them. Finally, Lanzetti plays the spy theme as the audience claps again. The guys nail the complicated outro – even at the faster tempo – and the Tabernacle crowd flips its lid. Snarky Puppy leaves the stage as the fans demand an encore. After a minute, Michael comes back and speaks about the new music and the GroundUP Music Festival before introducing the other eight band members and the sound & lighting crew. Michael gives a shout-out to Atlanta’s own Matt Recchia, the man behind the soundboard.
Lingus (Encore) – Justin starts this iconic tune with the syncopated 5/4 rhythm on the Fender Rhodes. Bobby pumps up the overdrive on his clavinet, and the horns deliver the melody for both choruses. Lanzetti also gets two turns with the melody too. In the bridge, Bob and Chris trade fours on their saxophones. Justin and Bobby go nuts on their keyboards as well. Then the solo section arrives. After being silent all night, Keita takes the coveted solo! SURPRISE! That’s right folks, we’ve got ourselves a percussion solo on “Lingus” for probably the first time ever…and of course, Keita owns it like a champ! He starts off with some sparse rhythms on the cowbells before playing more intricate polyrhythms. Then Keita moves to the mounted drums…from what I’ve seen in the video there’s a Brazilian repinique, a bass pandeiro, and two flat Japanese uchiwa-daikos (which translates to “fan drums” in English). Michael plays the bass vamp down a half step and the other chordal instrumentalists – Justin, Bobby, and Lanzetti – follow his lead. Keita plays some blistering drum rolls and mind-melting polyrhythms on his drums before returning to the metallic percussion. Once the main solo section ends, the horns come back in for the E minor recap. But the fun doesn’t stop there, friends…Keita continues his insane solo on the cowbells, mounted drums, and even the djembe for the remainder of the tune, with everyone except JT dropping out every four bars. After the final notes, the audience ROARS. It’s an earth-shaking ovation. Unbridled enthusiasm. Michael thanks the crowd one last time before shouting Keita’s name into the mic: “Thank you so much…KEITA OGAWA on percussion! You’ve been wonderful A-T-L, have a great night.”
This is a special show. The audience is incredible, the band is on fire, and (near and dear to my heart) the percussionist solos are on a tune other than “Tio Macaco,” “Semente,” or “Tarova.” Dear readers, if you ever had doubts about the impact of a well-crafted and AWESOME percussion solo, watch the video or listen to the audio recording and prepare to have your mind blown. And to be honest, I’ve never heard a more electric and exuberant U.S. audience than this one. The fact that they cheered like maniacs for each and every song – new and old – is incredible. Find someone who loves you the way these Atlanta fans love Snarky Puppy.
The last time I gave out MVP awards for a Snarky Puppy concert was in the Belgrade review from June 23. That one was unbelievable. Tonight, I’m doing it again: the MVPs are Bobby Sparks and Keita Ogawa. All three of Bobby’s solos on organ, clavinet, and Minimoog are spectacular; and Keita’s lone solo is the undisputed highlight of the show. My selected standout tracks from this show would be “Bad Kids to the Back,” “Bigly Strictness,” “Grown Folks,” “Even Us,” “Xavi,” and “Lingus.” BONUS LINK: A YouTube clip of Keita Ogawa’s solo on Lingus, from Keita’s YouTube channel.
Purchase the Live Recording Here
- Bob Reynolds – saxophone
- Chris Bullock – tenor sax, flute, and alto flute
- Mike “Maz” Maher – trumpet and flugelhorn
- Justin Stanton – trumpet and keyboards
- Bobby Sparks – keyboards
- Bob Lanzetti – guitar
- Michael League – bass
- Jason ‘JT’ Thomas – drums
- Keita Ogawa – percussion
- Matt Recchia – engineering and sound (front of house)
- Michael Harrison – monitors
- Neil Macintosh- 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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