Snarky Puppy Concert Review: Aarhus, Denmark, October 25, 2019

After listening to several recordings of international Snarky Puppy concerts, I’ve noticed that European fans give Snarky Puppy an equal mix of focus and enthusiasm.  They’re not rowdy, nor are they tuned out.  They give the entire band their undivided attention and applaud at the right times, which helps feed the band’s performance.  The Danish crowd at Train is a prime example.  If you want to hear a solid set with mostly new material from Immigrance, check this show out! Here, the dynamic duo of Mark Lettieri and Chris McQueen takes center stage with several blistering guitar solos.   Michael League also re-introduces a very rare (and very old) Snarky Puppy tune which hasn’t seen the light of day since 2015! 


Coven – The horns open the evening with tight harmonies.  A low G-sharp drone emerges from the guitars and synthesizers.  Jason “JT” Thomas sets up a laid-back groove in 7/4 meter and Michael League plucks the bass line.  Mike “Maz” Maher (on muted trumpet) handles the melody with the guitars, while Justin Stanton and Shaun Martin lay down the chords with some resonant electric piano and synth patches.  Maz begins a trumpet solo with a mellow, restrained feel.  Later on he throws in a rapid descending chromatic lick at the 4:16-4:22 mark that breathes new life into the tune.  During the bridge, the guitars handle the melody in octaves, while the rhythm section keeps things afloat.  Next, Mark Lettieri takes the final solo.  As expected, there’s a good deal of technical blues riffage.  It’s a concise and well-articulated solo…it gets the point across nicely.  While “Coven” is a really great tune, to me it doesn’t quite work as well as a show opener like “Kite,” “Beep Box,” or “Embossed.” But that’s just my own opinion.  Speaking of which… 

Embossed – JT and Marcelo Woloski deliver their tandem drum set & hand drum groove! McQueen or Lettieri plays the guitar melody with tremolo, and the second guitarist comes in with a D drone pitched an octave below.  The horn section emerges with some finely tuned voicings in the first verse.  There’s a lot of double-lead guitar action here…and I enjoy it! Shaun milks it on the Moog just before JT and Marcelo’s brief percussive transition.  Once again, the horn section shines in the second verse.  Chris McQueen takes a fiery solo over the A minor vamp.  It’s so fiery that I could just picture his guitar igniting like Jimi Hendrix’s axe at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.  McQueen uses the whammy bar and overdrive effects to the max, and he just puts his entire heart into this solo.  It’s a total shredfest! To paraphrase David Attenborough: “Here we see a funk guitarist in his natural habitat…” The outro proceeds as normal, with the horn section’s intricate final melody and some heavy pitch bending from Shaun’s Moog. 

Gemini – JT Thomas sets it up with a syncopated kick drum pattern, and Michael League cooks up a brooding bass figure.  Either Lettieri or McQueen plays slide guitar, and Justin comps on the Fender Rhodes.  Maz and Michael sing together in harmony with the guitars.  Chris Bullock subtly adds some bass flute as well.  Then the band arrives at the free-form section, and Justin takes a few bars for himself on the Fender Rhodes.  He adds some fantastic reharmonization in sync with some truly brilliant melodic phrases.  Once the band returns to the verse, Mark handles the slide guitar melody while McQueen does some funky “chopped” comping.  (Or was it the other way around?) Marcelo’s tambourine is high in the mix.  Then Michael takes a rare bass solo! And it does NOT disappoint.  There are TONS of funky licks, descending runs, and lyrical phrases in this segment…so this just goes to show that no one should ever diss a bass solo! JT, Marcelo, and McQueen keep playing behind him.  Finally, the Pups smoothly deliver the final verse and outro and the Danish audience cheers loudly.   

Bigly Strictness – This one starts off with some heavy guitar and drum action…and the Moog sub-bass and Mellotron make their presence known, too! I don’t know if Shaun or Justin is playing Mellotron, but it adds a unique touch.  Maz, Bullock, and Bob Reynolds hold it down with some grade A melodic lines.  For the first solo, Chris Bullock whips out the octave-pedal sax.  His distinct style shines brightly here – there’s tons of jagged rhythmic figures, textbook bop licks, and shrill altissimo.  He puts a bow on it with some insanely funky rhythms all played on one note.  Classic Boomtown! In the second solo section, Maz brandishes his wah-trumpet and channels his inner guitar hero.  The final lick over the last four bars really sent me – it’s paced extremely well and the notes dart about restlessly.  Finally, the band arrives at the final vamp and Shaun Martin talks business with his Moog synthesizer.  He programs an echo/delay so that each melodic phrase repeats itself a fraction of a beat later.  Shaun gets really into the pitch-bending, and he delivers some downright nasty Moog riffs.  After the horns play the outro and Shaun wraps it up, Michael greets the Aarhus crowd and welcomes them to “hot, sweaty Train.” Michael thanks Forq for opening the concert, and talks about the Immigrance tour before teasing a big surprise coming up in mere moments… 

Intelligent Design – WHAT? Yes, that’s right! This rare tune from the 2007 album The World is Getting Smaller makes its return to the live repertoire for the first time since 2015.  This is why Snarky Puppy fans should always expect the unexpected.  The song begins with some offbeat synth chords before JT and Marcelo bring in a propulsive stuttering backbeat.  The horn section delivers a soaring melody, and then they add some lower voicings the second time.  The guitars handle the bridge before passing the melody back to the horns.  And then Bob Reynolds takes the first solo, breaking his lengthy silence.  Once again, he hits a home run with a lyrical and tuneful saxophone solo.  The eight bars from 4:35-4:46 showcase a mind-blowing run where Bob keeps his fingers moving and his breath going nonstop.  And he hits EVERY SINGLE NOTE PERFECTLY! 10 out of 10, Bob.  No, I take it back…11 out of 10! Things die down after the repeated verse, and Mark follows with a clean-tone guitar solo.  Eventually he dials up a slightly grittier and edgier sound, and the band follows with some more adventurous comping.  Next, the vamp changes and only the synth chords remain.  Jason “JT” Thomas goes off on his drum set.  Props to the keyboards for staying the course and not losing the beat during a freakish polyrhythmic explosion.  Finally, the band hits the outro and the Danish audience gives Snarky Puppy a huge ovation.  Magnificent! Which rare/old tune will the Pups bring back next? Maybe “Slow Demon?” “Binky?” “Strawman?” Maybe even… “Native Sons?” (Don’t hold your breath, folks.) 

Bad Kids to the Back – JT and the guitars kick this off at a slightly quicker tempo.  The horns nail the swung melodic lines, while McQueen and Lettieri funk things up with some wah-effects.  I have to admit that I really miss the Hammond organ touches that Bobby Sparks usually provides, and he wouldn’t join the European tour until mid-November.  Nonetheless, Shaun and Justin do an excellent job with their respective keyboard parts.  After the chorus ends, Chris Bullock stretches on tenor sax.  He starts with some sparse tones in a relatively narrow range before playing some constant rhythmic figures at a considerably lower volume.  Soon he breaks out into an entirely different tonality and bellows out some classic Boomtown licks.  During the bridge, the guitars tackle the dual lead before the entire horn section jumps back in.  Finally, JT Thomas seals the deal with a great drum solo.  He keeps a steady pulse on the kick drum and hi-hats while playing accented press rolls on the snare drum.  That’s it…just three elements of the kit! Then JT branches out by adding the cymbals and toms for some truly beefy fills.  Michael cues the outro and the Pups execute with ease and precision.  JT even goes double time at the end, boosting the band with some maddening momentum!    

Chonks – JT teases the intro before Shaun, Michael, and the guitars lay down the filthy bass line.  Shaun sings the melody on his Moog talkboxw hile the horns back him up; then Maz, Bob, and Bullock take a turn with it.  Once again to be honest, the tune feels a little bit empty with Bobby’s organ and clavinet.  But soon, Justin wails on the Prophet synthesizer and gives the tune a shot in the arm.  He puts out some groovy melodic phrases and goes crazy with the pitch bending and modulation.  It gives me ‘80s fusion/post-disco vibes…like something Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, or Bernard Wright would have put out in their heyday.  After the final chorus and the transition to the C-sharp minor section, the band rocks out and Mark ends with a bang.  He plays a short but powerful solo full of blistering runs, screeching highs, and booming lows…definitely reminiscent of the great Jeff Beck.  After the final notes fade out, Justin segues into the next tune with a really lovely Fender Rhodes solo.  

Sleeper – After Justin plays the opening chords, the Danish crowd sings along with Shaun’s talkbox melody, note for note…WOW! This fuels an excellent performance from the whole band.  JT and Marcelo concoct a tight-as-balls groove while Michael works the Moog bass.  Justin doubles Michael’s bass line on the Prophet, and Lettieri & McQueen add some twangy arpeggiated patterns.   Shaun and the horns handle the melody in unison a couple of times before everything stops.  Michael introduces the band during Justin’s Rhodes interlude.  He also gives a birthday shout-out to Rosanna Freedman (the production manager) and gets the audience to sing the Danish version of “Happy Birthday” to her.  Shaun cracks everybody up with his own birthday song for Rosanna on the talkbox: “Happy birthday, Rose…you are so special to us! We love you, girl…sometimes.” For the final section, Justin dials up an ‘80s synth patch while the horns trade their lines with Shaun’s improvised talkbox ideas.  As Shaun holds out the last note, the crowd goes wild and Michael thanks the fans for coming.  A minute later, Michael expresses his gratitude to them for being so passionate about the music as evidenced by their singing on “Sleeper.”  

Xavi – Before the start of the encore, Michael teaches the 4:3 polyrhythm clapping lesson.  Some of the band members offer ridiculous and hilarious alternatives to “pass the goddamn butter,” including “Dance like Michael Jackson.” After that moment of levity, Michael counts off and the Pups launch into “Xavi.” Chris Bullock plays the flute melody over the rhythm section’s funky Moroccan backbeat.  Michael’s fluid bass line pushes everything along comfortably.  The horn section plays the melody all together, and their sound is just wonderful: Maz on trumpet, Chris Bullock on flute, and Bob Reynolds on tenor sax – it’s really unbeatable! Speaking of which, Bob takes the first solo and clobbers it.  Once again, his phrasing and technique are on point.  He uses his extensive jazz knowledge to play some wild licks in different keys before returning to the A minor vamp.  Next, Chris McQueen raises the funk levels with a brief solo over the second vamp.  He stays mostly in the lower register of the guitar except towards the end when the horns enter with their pre-chorus figure.  After the percussion/flute/audience clapping portion, Justin raises the roof with a manic Rhodes solo.  It gets really out there quickly – there’s plenty of reharmonization and incredible right-hand melodic lines to satisfy all the Justin Stanton fans out there.  (I am proud to say that I am one of them!) Finally, Snarky Puppy arrives at the outro and sticks the landing, with help from the crowd’s polyrhythmic clapping.  Michael thanks the Aarhus audience and reintroduces the band before saying goodnight. 

This show is important for two reasons.  First, it is the first time that “Intelligent Design” was performed live since 2015.  It would make severalmore  appearances throughout the remainder of the 2019 tour, including the Live at Royal Albert Hall concert which won the 2021 Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album.  Second, this show highlights an audience in fine form – they’re attentive, passionate, and VERY musical! No one can carry a melody quite like a Snarky Puppy audience.  In fact, I once heard a show (maybe two or three) where the fans sang the entire melody of “Lingus” with the horn section! Whenever bands play for great audiences, the music always elevates.  This is a prime example.  My selected standout tracks would be “Embossed,” “Gemini,” “Bigly Strictness,” “Intelligent Design,” “Bad Kids to the Back,” and “Sleeper.”


Bob Reynolds – saxophone
Chris Bullock – tenor sax, flute, and alto flute
Mike “Maz” Maher – trumpet and flugelhorn
Justin Stanton – trumpet and keyboards
Mark Lettieri – guitar
Chris McQueen – guitar
Michael League – bass
Jason “JT” Thomas – drums
Marcelo Woloski – percussion
Shaun Martin -Keyboards

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