Snarky Puppy Concert Review: Ann Arbor, MI – September 8th, 2019

This show took place at the beautiful Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan. This particular room is very lively and more suited towards hosting acoustic and orchestral performances; however, this mix sounds great, and the band is still as high energy as ever. This show features mostly new music and lots of these versions sound quite different from the album versions. Something I thought was cool and didn’t notice until writing this, was that every song was grouped together alphabetically! I wonder if this was intentional.


Even Us – McQueen starts this one off like usual with a clean, middle-pickup tone. Interestingly, Bobby and Shaun split the melody up between the two of them on organ and keyboard respectivley. Zach brings in the main melody gently and Marcelo adds some ever so subtle cymbal work that builds up to a chord and then fades away immediately afterwards. After the form restarts, Bobby improvises a little bit on the organ. Justin creates some volume swells on the Rhodes thickening the texture a little bit. Zach and Bobby handle the melody role from here on and Bullock and Justin (flugelhorn) add the backing harmonies. The song builds up more and more but is still remarkably patient and gentle, until the solo section. JT takes it through the roof here and Bobby gets funky on the Moog. The texture thickens immensely and Justin takes an eerie flugelhorn solo. He starts by using the very bottom of his range with a more aspirate tone. He incorporates some very fast demisemiquaver lines, but they’re all broken up into tiny chunks to not overwhelm the audience too early. At the 6 minute mark, Bobby joins in on Justin’s monologue and plays some matching rhythmic lines on the organ with a ton of delay. The groove simmers away and Justin stretches and gets more out there. His lines are unbelievably good in this solo and the band backs him up in the best ways possible. Justin harmonizes with the final melody once the main tune returns. Zach gets textural on the violin before the usual Shaun and McQueen outro. 

Embossed – This one starts nice and energetically from JT and Nate and McQueen follows soon after with a gritty but smooth, octave fuzz tone. Justin plays a few repeated notes on the Rhodes with a ton of delay adding to the tune’s ambience. The horns come in with their harmonies underneath the guitar and violin melody. The groove builds under Mike’s syncopated, octaves only bassline. The B section gets lots of nice synth fills from Justin and Shaun as McQueen plays the open string accompaniment figure. McQueen plays around with melody in the final A section by adding in a few approach notes. He takes the solo like usual and turns on basically every pedal! The fuzz is cranked to its max which gives him an almost infinite amount of sustain to play with. He explores a lot with outsides and Justin has some fun outlining some of his note choices on the Rhodes. McQueen ends the solo on a low A which is then bent almost an octave below with the whammy bar. The horn soli is super tight this show and features the Harmon mute from Jay on the trumpet. Zach doubles Shaun’s synth melody and Bullock switches to the flute for the outro. Justin reharmonizes the last few chords on the Rhodes.

Bigly Strictness – After the first 2 middle eastern inspired songs, this tune sounds otherworldly! The electronica style drum and bass groove begins with McQueen soaring over the top with the fuzz cranked slide melody. Shaun and Justin’s synth sounds work so well together. Justin sticks to the Rhodes and Shaun uses a brighter, flanged piano sound. Bullock’s sax sound is super piercing and gritty thanks to the use of his octave-up effect and overdrive/distortion. McQueen uses a woolly, warm and wobbly tone for the arpeggios. The solo section gets super funky and Justin shows off his chops and angular lines on the Prophet 6 synth. He explores rhythmic displacement and syncopation a great deal here with a very aggressive synth sound. McQueen introduces some funky chordal comping to the Mike/JT groove. Zach takes the next solo on violin with a similarly aggressive sound full of overdrive. McQueen lays out for a bit here before coming in with the usual chordal comping with a very powerful, overdriven sound. Zach’s lines are so smooth and feature lots of chromaticism as well as a huge range (low- and high-pitched notes). He plays very motivically towards the end before fading into a sea of squeaky noises. The outro section gets some nice ambient synth and guitar work from Justin and McQueen. Shaun plays one of the most lyrical and motivic solos I’ve ever heard in my life! McQueen gets experimental with the tremolo and Justin keeps everything secure harmonically with the Rhodes. The band builds the dynamics up hugely and Shaun starts playing some more outside phrases. McQueen tweaks the speed of the tremolo with his foot for a more dramatic effect. Jay and Bullock play the final melody and the song ends. The audience goes ballistic which is nice to hear for one of SP’s newer tunes. Mike says hello to the crowd.

Bad Kids to the Back – This version is quite up-tempo. McQueen uses an overdriven and wah heavy sound with lots of emphasis on the long chords by using large, sweeping motions of his foot to expressively control the potentiometer of the pedal. Justin or Shaun play synth throughout this version, however, it’s pretty quiet in this mix so I can’t really tell who is playing it. I’m not hearing any Rhodes so I assume it would be Shaun on the Mellotron or Korg Kronos. JT’s groove is really solid, and the Horns are extremely tight during the chordal stab section where they swap roles with the rhythm section. Things settle down into almost nothing and Zach takes the solo with some wah, phaser and overdrive. He plays more segmented phrases this time and doesn’t stray as far from the tonal center compared to what he might usually play. He gets into some insanely fast sextuplet rhythms with lots of slurred notes highlighting his virtuosity. McQueen switches from doubling the bassline to playing some funky chordal accompaniment figures alongside Justin’s washy Rhodes chords. Zach continues the solo over into the following section for the first few bars. Shaun brings in some sustained synth chords with a very subtle, but resonant sound and Justin gets funky on the Rhodes. McQueen and Zach play the classic harmonized melody with lots of effects. JT begins his drum solo at a much quieter dynamic than usual. Justin gets creative with the Rhodes comping by reharmonizing the chords from the outro. He drops out mid solo and leaves just Mike and McQueen with the bassline. JT really picks things up here and the horns eventually come in with the backing figures. Justin switches over to the trumpet to help the horns out. I can’t hear much and possibly nothing from Shaun on the outro which might be a mixing problem, however, that aside, this was a fabulous version.

Tarova – Justin sets up the synth riff very gently with a softer than usual sound. JT and Mike come in with the simplistic but extremely funky groove and Shaun starts his solo immediately but takes his time. He uses the talkbox and plays lots of rhythmically displaced lines with just 1 or 2 notes. The groove picks up a little and McQueen joins with some single note comping. Shaun keeps the solo going with some more lyrical lines before bringing in the main melody solo with just JT keeping the backbeat going. He plays it more on the beat than if Bobby was there. Shaun continues soloing for a few measures and McQueen gets funkier. The horns double Shaun on the talkbox just before the ‘drop.’ McQueen’s first chord comes in loud and clear with lots of reverb and he also experiments with some choppy tremolo on the long bass notes. McQueen later doubles Justin’s synth chords with some wah and continues this funky wah comping into the B section where the guitar would normally drop out. The unison melody section gets a washy synth sound from Justin with some Rhodes action simultaneously too. Mike, McQueen, and Shaun play the melody as low down as they can with some effects-heavy sounds. Bullock takes the solo on tenor and plays some beautiful lines; one of my favorite solos of his on this tune. McQueen continues being so damn funky here too with some more wah action. For the outro melody, McQueen turns the fuzz up to the max with the octave-down effect as well. The final few bars are super high energy thanks to McQueen’s reverb riddled sound and Shaun brings things to a close with a solo synth lick.

Tio Macaco – Nate sets this SP classic up on the Timbales and explores dynamics and a swung feel. After the main groove starts, Bullock plays some tasty staccato bass flute licks. He brings in the main melody very delicately and very quietly so only the keen listeners would spot it. Jay and Justin harmonize with him and give the melody a completely different flavor. Bullock switches over the regular flute during the 8-bar percussion break. The groove settles into a very funky, slower tempo. The solo section features just Mike and McQueen playing the harmonic roles at the start, but Zach soon follows with some pizzicato complimentary accompaniment. Bullock sets the solo section off on a very ‘outside’ note and explores some of the harsher timbres and more percussive sounds the flute has to offer. Jay comes in next with some bluesy lines and great lyricism with some great outside playing too. Justin starts his solo off right down in the trumpet’s register with some very outside note choices, but he then gets very rhythmic with some incredible pentatonic based lines. Jay harmonizes with the final melody and then Mike comes in with some luscious bass chords. Justin joins him on the Rhodes and things get ridiculously funky. This helps set up the drum duet nicely. I’ve never heard them do this any other time. JT and Nate start with a more relaxed approach to the solo before they show off serious ‘mind-reading’ skills!

Tio Macaco – Marcelo’s solo is more groove-oriented than usual and he refrains from getting too polyrhythmic. Bullock joins in early on with the bass flute with some bluesy licks and an aspirate sound. Marcelo increases the dynamics a good deal just before Bullock comes in with the main melody. JT brings in the hi-hat rhythm and everything settles down. Justin and Zach harmonize with Bullock on occasion and play some improvised lines to fill some space. Everyone except Marcelo and JT drop out and the groove thickens. Bullock switches over to the regular flute to play the melody at its usual register. Justin uses a Harmon mute here which gives the horn section a very different sound. McQueen plays some percussive comping here without any distinct pitch which blends beautifully with the percussion section. Bobby and McQueen bring in the main harmonic riff and Shaun goes old school ragtime minus the ragtime feel. Bullock starts off the solo section with lots of fragmented and rhythmic lines plus mostly staccato articulation. He ends on the minor 2nd interval for some weirdness! Justin uses this to start his solo outside the tonality of the tune. He plays lots of post bop inspired lines and has a super warm and mellow tone. Zach and Bullock bring in some baking figures just before the B section. The crowd chants on the hits. The outro section gets lots of reharmonized bass notes from Mike and some luscious organ playing from Bobby. The tempo speeds up a ton afterwards beginning the drum/percussion duet. Marcelo kills it on the bongos, timbales and congas. JT keeps a steady beat going with the toms and bass drum plus the hi-hat rhythm from the main groove. Things move away from the beat for a moment with some amazing polyrhythms. Marcelo helps pick up the energy immensely here with the use of the dry cymbals. JT brings a simplistic but incredibly funky disco-inspired groove. There is a moment with both of them just using the rims of the drums and the crowd goes wild with anticipation of what might come next. They keep this idea going for quite a while and then JT brings in some rumbling tom rhythms and it gets next level funky. This is when they start playing the final, unison rhythms. This was one of the best Marcelo/JT duets I’ve ever heard! 

Thing of Gold – Justin brings the classic Rhodes riff a little more staccato than usual and JT follows soon after with a similar, more staccato approach. Bullock joins in with the altissimo melody. McQueen likewise plays more staccato and funky guitar lines than the usual more floaty and washy fills. Shaun uses a more mellow synth sound than usual for the famous melody and Justin shows off some terrific arpeggiated accompaniment. The main groove returns and gets funkier. McQueen continues experimenting with a funkier approach to the guitar lines. The chorus section features some super rich and thick horn harmonies and JT opens up a little bit. This solo section is possibly the funkiest I’ve ever heard on this song! Jay takes the solo on Flugelhorn and shines bright with the perfect blend of virtuosity and melodicism. McQueen and Justin play off each so well with their accompaniment. Shaun eventually brings in some sustained chords on the synth just before the transposed original melody. McQueen plays lots of arpeggiated accompaniment here and lets each note ring out fully which really helps to lift the energy of this section and free up Justin a little bit which lets the two of them really define this version as much as possible. Shaun goes off on the solo with some crazy intervallic licks and a ton of repetition an insanely strong sense of rhythm and placement of each phrase. Masterful musicianship! The song fades into a wash of chords from McQueen with some soothing tremolo. Shaun continues the solo for a short while on the Moog before the usual fast, descending lick. McQueen closes with some more tremolo.

Xavi – Mike says he’s never tried this with 3,000 people before and isn’t sure how things will work out, but he says, ‘I think it’s gonna go well ‘cause Michigan is funky, right?’ After the usual horn intro, the groove gets cooking. Bullock brings in the flute melody on top of a funkier than usual groove largely thanks to Nate. After the distorted guitar break, the whole band comes in. Justin gets spacey on the Rhodes for a change with some volume swells and McQueen plays very percussive and funky comping based around the bassline. Jay uses the Harmon mute for the melody and Bullock switches to the Sax. The B section sounds very lush thanks to McQueen and Shaun using very saturated sounds. Jay and Justin nail the high C’s! Justin harmonizes with the final sustained horn note just before the solo section. McQueen takes the first solo and plays what is possibly his finest solo on this tune ever. He sticks pretty closely to a minor pentatonic tonality for the first half of the solo and plays extremely rhythmically with a percussive semiquaver picking pattern during breaks in his phrasing. He gets chordal midway through the solo and references the 4 parts of the polyrhythm very clearly. By the time the horn backing figures come in he starts playing some ridiculously fast right-hand rhythms and explores a little with the harmony. The B section follows seamlessly, and the trumpets once again nail the stupidly high notes. The second solo features a simpler and more disco-inspired drum groove from JT. McQueen plays some wah chords for the first bit before switching over to doubling Mike’s bassline. Shaun or Justin plays some rhythmic chordal stabs with a lofi sound. Zach takes this solo and gets creative with the harmonizer. Compared to McQueen’s solo, Zach gets super weird with the harmony and explores heavily with the pedals. Always nice to hear a contrast! Zach shreds like mad just before the final B section. The breakdown section sees the audience get to try out their newly learnt polyrhythm. It’s a little messy but that’s likely due to the sheer number of people in the hall all hearing each other at slightly different times. Mike and Bullock and Mike bring in the outro section and Justin takes a solo on Rhodes under a very quiet section without any harmonic accompaniment. Justin plays around with rhythmic displacement and finds lots of genius ways to vary simple melodies. Lots of Justin’s motifs are sequenced and transposed and they eventually wander quite far from what they used to be. The melody returns and McQueen brings in some tremolo heavy chordal comping. JT and Mike get into a very cool 2 over 3 or 4 polyrhythm which is essentially just accenting the 1st and 3rd beat of the 4 polyrhythm or dividing the 3 polyrhythms into 2 even parts. The outro is energetic and chaotic like usual!

Lingus (Encore) –  Mike introduces the band and says thanks to Neil MacIntosh for all his great work on the Live Snarky mixing! Justin starts this one off at brisk-ish tempo and the rest of the band follows soon after with a more laidback feel. McQueen doubles the bassline here alongside Shaun and Mike. The horns add some harmonies to the melody at the ends of phrases on the long notes. McQueen plays the guitar melody a little more legato than usual with Justin keeping a nice pad-like accompaniment going. On the return to the A section, Mike gets creative with the bassline and deviates a lot more from it than usual. He dials up a very heavy sub octave tone. The tune continues along like normal but with a much more laidback feel and less saturated synth sounds. The trading gets some super funky percussive comping from McQueen and Bullock and Jay trade with a more classic inspired jazz style of playing. The main groove returns and gets super funky thanks to JT’s offbeat drumming. The song settles down into just Mike, McQueen, and JT’s bass drum. Shaun plays a solo here and first begins experimenting with some subtle ‘duck’ like sounds on the Moog. He starts playing a few simple melodic ideas with a strong focus on syncopation. Justin comps beautifully here with some swelled, pad-like chords on the Rhodes. JT switches to a ride cymbal heavy groove and Mike goes half time. Shaun finds a note he likes (D natural) and sticks with it 2 times through the form whilst getting expressive with the resonance filter for some very percussive and piercing sounds. He opens up after this and plays some continuous semiquaver lines with a more traditional synth sound. The rhythm section picks up the intensity of the accompaniment, but it’s still a lot lighter sounding due to the lack of Organ. McQueen gets chordal around the bassline and Justin throws in some washy, meandering reharmonized Rhodes chords. Shaun throws in a ton of outside lines before ending on a descending E Major 7 arpeggio. The horns come in with the classic virtuosic melody and Shaun plays around it. The texture thins out a lot here compared to usual as Justin’s Rhodes are pretty low in this mix and Shaun is busy soloing on the Moog to do anything else. The outro gets one long bent note from Shaun like usual! A nice end to a great show.


  • Chris Bullock – tenor sax, flute, and alto flute
  • Justin Stanton – trumpet, flugelhorn and keyboards
  • Zach Brock – violin
  • Shaun Martin – keyboards
  • Chris McQueen – guitar
  • Michael League – bass
  • Jason ‘JT’ Thomas – drums
  • Nate Werth – percussion

Sound Crew:

  • Matt Recchia – engineering and sound (front of house)
  • Michael Harrison – monitors
  • Neil Macintosh- mixing

About the Reviewer

Howdy readers. I’m Simon. Since 2016 I’ve slowly become enveloped in the world of Snarky Puppy. My obsession started a few minutes into the first song they played at the Melbourne 2017 show (Flood); my first live Snarky experience. Since then, I’ve spent countless hours listening to their albums, live shows and various interviews/articles with/on the band.

What really stuck with me after seeing them perform live was just how powerful – sonically – a large band can be when everything is orchestrated in such a way, especially with three keyboardists on stage. What also surprised me was just how much fun everyone appeared to be having on stage; I never ever expected so much jamming!

On, I will primarily be writing reviews of my vast and growing Live Snarky and album collection in hopes that my writing will inspire some purchases along the way. All of the money spent on or will go directly to Snarky Puppy’s members, which will in turn support them while they can continue to do what they do best. And… hopefully fund Family Dinner Volume 3.

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