Snarky Puppy Concert Review: Birmingham, AL, September 21, 2019

Earth to Bobby Sparks…earth to Bill Laurance…earth to Shaun Martin! Where are these dudes? Well, this is going to be a very different Snarky Puppy show.  I watched the video of the full concert (thanks again to Jake!) and was amazed by how well the eight-man ensemble handled the absence of their keyboardists.  The horns take on more responsibilities in this show, and so does Justin Stanton, who is the lone keyboardist tonight.  And if anybody needs proof of Justin’s badassery, watch him switch between five different keyboards for ninety minutes without breaking a sweat.  You’ll thank me later.  The audience at the Avondale Brewing Company is very enthusiastic, and House of Waters opens for the Pups.  


Embossed – JT and Keita open the show with a syncopated tandem groove.  After Bob Lanzetti comes in on slide guitar, the horns make their statement.  There’s no Hammond organ or clavinet tonight, so Justin plays the chords on the Fender Rhodes.  In the chorus, the horns play the melodic line that Bobby and Shaun would usually play.  Then Lanzetti solos and really goes to town.  He relies heavily on reverb, feedback, and long drawn-out drones of varying pitches.  Justin and Michael keep the bass line going while JT and Keita establish a rock-solid foundation.  Chris switches the flute for the outro.  Justin flips the mod wheel on the last note. 

Chrysalis – JT kicks it off with a very tight groove.  Justin provides the opening chords on the Rhodes, while Lanzetti supplies the melody.  Keita adds some tasteful metallic percussion.  Bob Reynolds doubles the melody up an octave on tenor sax before Chris and Maz enter for the chorus.  The band shifts to a funky house beat.  Reynolds takes the main solo on his own composition.  It’s only a minute and thirteen seconds, but boy is it cool! Reynolds uses a delay pedal to offset his notes by a quarter note.  He also uses plenty of bebop licks and lengthy chromatic runs to spice it up.  The band hits the final chorus and outro before the rhythm section takes it out.   

Tarova – To be completely honest, I think this one lacks steam without Bobby or Shaun, but the boat stays afloat thanks to Chris Bullock.  Justin plays the opening chords on the Prophet synthesizer —and maybe the Mellotron as well? JT plays in the pocket before Chris delivers the melody on his octave-effected sax.  Before the second verse, Lanzetti adds some wailing harmonics.  The horn section nails each verse with precision and confidence. Then Chris Bullock stretches! His pointed, technical style is on display for all to hear and see.  Once again there’s loads of syncopation, altissimo, and rapid pentatonic & chromatic runs.  Soon he and Michael are alone, and they have a two-man jam session! It’s quite interesting to hear the nuances in Michael League’s bass playing without being covered up by extra layers of sound.  Then the rest of the rhythm section jumps back into the pool, and Chris wraps it up.  Maz uses the wah pedal for his trumpet on the last melodic line.  Justin adds a very fun, light-hearted chordal riff at the end.    

Xavi – Michael greets the crowd and teaches his 4:3 polyrhythm clapping lesson, complete with the phrase “pass the effing butter.” Michael is impressed by the fans’ ability to clap the polyrhythm in time: “Quite frankly, it is kicking ass!” Then the horn section kicks the tune off. JT’s relaxed but precise drumming and Keita’s bongo playing help move it along at a nice clip.  After Chris’s flute intro, Lanzetti does the spy theme transition and the band is in full “Xavi” mode! After the first chorus, Justin takes a Prophet synth solo, dialing up a slightly gritty sound.  He sends out some great melodic ideas and leaves plenty of space in between his riffs.  But as we all know, Justin likes to shred…and he really goes all-out after two minutes.  By this point, the Prophet starts enduring quite a bit of pitch and mod wheel abuse.  The horns add their backing figures while the rhythm section holds the line.  For the second solo, Maz steps up with a brilliant effort.  Right away, he’s slinging hard bop licks and lots of upper register notes.  During the percussion interlude, the audience claps the 4:3 polyrhythm PERFECTLY.  It’s incredibly tight.  Michael tosses in an outstanding quarter-note bass fill during Chris’s flute melody.  Justin returns to the spotlight with a Fender Rhodes solo.  It starts out with some very unusual – dare I say, atonal – note choices, and it soon evolves into a whirlwind of restless notes.  JT plays more sensitively on the ride cymbal, snare, and kick drum.  During the final chorus, JT shifts to a feel in 4.  Then the band hits the outro and Michael uses the krakebs to help the fans with the 4:3 clapping.  The audience cheers wildly at the end, and Michael introduces Maz and Justin.   

Semente – Keita does a quick djembe warmup.  Once the rhythm section hits the opening chords, Chris trills on the flute.  Justin lays down the chordal stabs on the Rhodes while the horns play the melody.  Next, the horns do some harmonic preaching before the second verse.  Once the tune simmers, Lanzetti contributes some resonant whole notes and Chris sings the melody with his flute.  Then JT shifts to a half-time feel while Keita slaps the congas.  Bob Reynolds emotes over the solo changes.  He starts off with sparse but effective melodic ideas before getting more experimental.  The rest of the tune proceeds mostly normally, including the fade-out.  Maz adds some MAJOR upper register action (high A, B, and C) during the final melodic line.   

Chonks – JT and Justin kick the doors down with a thick groove.  Justin uses the Moog bass to replace Bobby’s clavinet and Shaun’s talkbox.  Chris Bullock screams the opening melody on his tenor sax.  Maz takes it on the wah-effected trumpet, but sadly it doesn’t get picked up on the mic until the last four bars of the phrase.  Lanzetti’s vibrant, percussive comping enhances the funky feel of this tune.  Chris takes a sax solo and hits it out of the park.  He masterfully explores the lower and middle registers until the other horns come in, and he starts climbing higher into the altissimo range.  Keita switches effortlessly between the metals and his congas.  Justin gets wacky with the Moog in the bass-and-drums interlude, and then does double duty with the Moog and Mellotron.  In the C-sharp minor “rock” section, Bob Lanzetti takes the last solo.  And boy, it’s a real shredfest! The horns make their final remarks before Justin closes it out on the synths.  

Tio Macaco – Keita and Chris (on the bass flute) set it up quickly.  Michael gets the audience to clap the two-beat baião pattern.  Bob Reynolds, Chris, and Maz deliver the melody twice in this bassless arrangement.  Michael grooves on the krakebs again, and Lanzetti adds some muted, clean strumming.  Next, the horns get some breathing room over the changes.  Bob goes first, then Chris on flute, and finally Maz on trumpet.  Maz sneaks in “The Lick” in E-flat minor, to my amusement.  Then Keita and JT have a chat from their setups.  It starts off strong, with JT laying down a firm foundation and Keita going off on his Brazilian repinique – which is similar to a timbale – and two Japanese uchiwa-daikos (“fan drums”) tuned a minor third apart.  But the ending is a bit sloppy.  I’ll give it a pass since it was Keita’s first night playing “Tio Macaco” in quite some time.  The audience gives a huge ovation, and Michael introduces Keita and JT.  

Flood – At the impromptu request of some fans, Michael seems to change the setlist on the spot.  He sets up “Flood” with a short melodic bass solo.  JT lightly rolls on the cymbals and toms in the background.  Lanzetti plays the famous riff, and the crowd goes nuts.  The horns sing the melody with clarity and feeling.  Justin adds some arpeggios on his synth.  The bridge continues with Lanzetti taking on the arpeggios, and the horns still singing loud and proud.  Justin starts his Moog solo with some quick snippets before darting all over the keys and using the pitch & mod wheels to great effect.  Then he switches to the Rhodes for a couple of bars before everything slows down.  It’s an extremely well-crafted solo.  Lanzetti keeps the arpeggios going, and the horns’ unison line seeps into the cracks.  JT goes nuts over the 5/4 meter vamp (or 10/8 depending on how one counts the beats).  His solo is manic and brash – contrasting the ethereal mood of the accompaniment.  The ending is played straight through – no percussion outro here.  After the slowed ending, the audience emits a huge roar of applause.  This rendition of “Flood” is actually pretty solid overall.  After Snarky Puppy leaves the stage, Michael returns to speak about the GroundUp Music Festival and to introduce the band.  

What About Me? (Encore) – Like most other renditions of WAM in 2019, this one rushes out quickly for the first few bars before slowing down.  Then it speeds up just before the second verse.  Lanzetti lights it up with a melodic solo that starts out bluesy but then heads in a classic-rock direction.  Finally, JT trashes the outro with a face-melting drum solo! He begins with some jazzy ride and snare patterns before it becomes a frenzy of triplet rolls, stuttering hi-hat and kick rhythms, and powerful cymbal crashes.  Seriously, Jason “JT” Thomas could outlast the Energizer Bunny.  On the last sustained chord, Justin milks it on the Moog.  Michael introduces the band one last time to the cheering crowd before saying goodnight.   

I didn’t have very high hopes for this show.  I was quite worried by the absence of Zach Brock, Shaun Martin, Bill Laurance, and Bobby Sparks! Despite the diminished roster, Snarky Puppy delivers a fine performance, and Michael establishes a good rapport with the Birmingham audience.  Justin Stanton and the horns get extra points for the additional/altered duties for their instruments.  If you’re interested in hearing a smaller SP roster doing selected Immigrance material, check this show out.  My selected standout tracks would be “Xavi,” “Semente,” “Chonks,” and “Flood.”  

BONUS LINK: The full concert video, courtesy of the channel on YouTube! “This video is dedicated in memory of Gloria Son, a friend and fan of Snarky Puppy who passed just 3 weeks before this show.” – Jake F.


  • Bob Reynolds – saxophone
  • Chris Bullock – tenor sax, flute, and alto flute
  • Mike “Maz” Maher – trumpet and flugelhorn
  • Justin Stanton – trumpet and keyboards
  • Bob Lanzetti – guitar
  • Michael League – bass
  • Jason ‘JT’ Thomas – drums
  • Keita Ogawa – percussion

Sound Crew:

  • 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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