Snarky Puppy Concert Review: Utrecht, Netherlands, November 1, 2019

Here we go, friends…the last month of the Immigrance tour! Diehard Snarky Puppy fans know that the band’s album We Like It Here was recorded in Utrecht, so the Netherlands hold a special place in our hearts.  The Dutch fans came out in droves to the venue Tivoli Vredenburg for another great show loaded with new tunes – five, to be exact! This is Jamison Ross’s first night with the Pups since October 5, and he kills it with some sensational drumming.  He stays on for a week before Jason “JT” Thomas arrives for the remaining three weeks of touring in the UK, France, and Germany.   

Track-By-Track

Even Us – Mark Lettieri delivers the opening guitar chords while Shaun Martin plays the melody on piano.  Then Bob Reynolds steps forth to play the verses on his tenor sax.  Shaun switches to organ and plays some nice fills.  Marcelo Woloski and Jamison Ross lock into a groove with more emphasis on the low-tuned drums than usual.  As Bob soldiers on, Chris Bullock and Mike “Maz” Maher support him with some tight horn section harmonies.  Chris’s sound really penetrates the mix, not because of volume but because of its bright tone.  The beat drops, propelled by a sparse but funky bass line from Michael League, Shaun, and Mark.  Marcelo adds some jingle effects to help keep time.  Next, Justin Stanton adds his Prophet synthesizer to double Shaun’s right-hand piano stylings.  Chris Bullock takes the first solo of the night.  It’s a haunting showcase, with an echoey sound and some bold note choices that clash against the A minor vamp.  He also covers a wide range, going from rich lows to shrill highs in mere seconds.  After the horns deliver the last chorus, Shaun wraps it up with the pensive outro.    

Bigly Strictness – It’s an interesting choice to have this tune in the second spot! It is the polar opposite of “Even Us,” and it certainly increases the crowd’s (and band’s) energy.  Mark’s overdriven guitar probably helps amp everyone up, too! Chris uses his octave-pedal sax for the horn melody.  Justin comps on the Fender Rhodes and Shaun handles the Mellotron.  In the A solo section, Justin goes off on the Moog.  It’s full of crazy pitch bending, modulation, and insane chromatic runs.  Then the B solo section arrives and Maz takes charge with a gritty wah-trumpet solo.  As usual it’s full of stunning ascending and descending runs, sustained tones, and flawlessly executed licks.  In the C solo section, the band turns it down a notch and the horns take center stage.  The rhythm section keeps it on track.  Bob stretches out with an incredibly smart solo.  I mean that it’s well-planned and communicated effortlessly.  I sound like a broken record, but Bob’s solos are so lyrical and moving.  He has the ability to convey real emotions and ideas through his instrument by using a diverse range of notes and rhythms.  He also knows just the right time to breathe and leave space in his solo.  Well played, Bob!

Semente – Shaun plays a killing piano intro.  His knowledge of jazz piano technique and chord progressions is second to none.  At 0:50 he quotes his own composition, “The Yellow Jacket” from his album 7 Summers, drawing a cheer from the audience.  Then he takes things in a very different direction with some gospel lines.  The full band intro goes smoothly until Chris flubs the opening flute melody.  He quickly recovers and is joined by the other horn players.  The following verses and chorus proceed normally, with Shaun’s piano prowess stealing the spotlight from the horns.  Chris nails his second flute solo, and then…Michael takes a bass solo! A nice surprise for the fans.  Here, Michael takes a lyrical groove-based approach.  He gets a sharp sound from his bass strings, so he was probably using a pick.  Jamison and Marcelo lay down a driving Brazilian baião pattern which gets more adventurous as Michael’s solo progresses.  Justin adds some Rhodes chords for flavor.  Once again, the horn section returns for the final verse and chorus, with Mark adding some cool, clean melodic fills on his guitar.  When the Pups reach the outro, Shaun, Mark, and Marcelo all take turns adding fills before the fade-out.  

Bad Kids to the Back – The rhythm section kicks this off at a brisk pace before the horns deliver the opening melody.  I’m not hearing too much keyboard action besides one particular synth sound (from Shaun, I assume), so perhaps Justin was on trumpet here.  As the solo section begins, Maz takes his time.  Eventually he creates several lengthy lines that don’t meander, but continue with conviction and purpose.  He explores the whole range of the trumpet, taking the listeners on a sonic rollercoaster.  That’s the sign of good soloists: they figure out how to tell a story with their instrument.  There’s never a dull moment with Maz! Jamison lays down an even-keeled backbeat as Justin comps on Rhodes.  Michael and Mark play the offbeat guitar stabs too.  Once Maz finishes his solo, Justin and Mark handle the dual synth-guitar lead.  When the funky outro vamp begins, Jamison trashes his kit with some unbelievably dexterous drumming including, but not limited to syncopated fills and earth-shaking drum rolls.  For a while, it’s only Jamison, Michael, and Mark – then the keys and horns reappear.  Finally, all the guys play the outro together (with some EXTRA “wah” guitar from Mark) and the audience gives them a huge ovation.  Michael greets the fans and discusses the band’s history in the Netherlands, including a special moment before a clinic in Rotterdam years ago.  

Chonks – Jamison and Shaun throw it down.  This goes HARD.  Shaun’s talkbox acrobatics really sell it.  Mark, Michael, and Justin handle the bass line while the horns provide backing harmonies for Shaun.  After the horns take the melody through the bridge (and Shaun adds some cool melodic fills), Chris bellows on his tenor sax.  It’s another classic solo full of jagged rhythmic figures, death-defying altissimo, and blazing runs.  Next, the horns sing and Shaun milks it on the talkbox.  For the hard rock outro, Justin performs a rare Moog solo! And boy, does it kick ass! He plays some sick pentatonic and chromatic melodic ideas, and he goes hog-wild with the pitch-bend and modulation.  It’s always a treat to hear Justin playing any type of keyboard, but there’s something about the Moog that makes for a truly remarkable experience in ANY great keyboard player’s hands – whether it’s Justin Stanton, Shaun Martin, Bobby Sparks, Bill Laurance, Cory Henry, or Moog pioneers like Herbie Hancock, George Duke, Chick Corea, Bernie Worrell, and Keith Emerson.  

Thing of Gold – Justin intros on Fender Rhodes.  He shifts from C-sharp minor to G minor with ease, showing his knowledge of jazz theory.  Michael sets up a soft bass line and Chris’s tenor sax melody emerges from the mist.  Jamison and Marcelo add some subtle rim clicks and cymbal rolls for taste.  Then Shaun says, “Utrecht, if you know this song…sing it right here!” He plays choir director, getting the whole crowd to sing the iconic Moog melody before ramping things up.  After a standard verse and chorus with the horns and Moog tackling the melodies, we get an E-flat minor solo vamp.  Different from the original, sure…but reinvention is a necessity with this band! Michael and Mark raise the funk levels with their synchronized groove, and Marcelo adds a closed-open rhythmic pattern on the triangle.  Next, Bob Reynolds struts his stuff over the vamp.  Once again, it’s a brilliant showcase of masterful technique and dynamic musicianship.  Halfway through the solo, Chris and Maz join in so that all three horns are playing at the same time! Then the G-major bridge proceeds.  Shaun takes it home with another amazing Moog solo loaded with wacky modulation, filter/frequency effects, and pitch-bending.  Well, to be fair I haven’t heard Shaun take a bad Moog solo before…    

Xavi – Michael teaches the infamous 4:3 polyrhythm clapping lesson and brings on Ross Pederson to play drums.  After the opening percussion & bass intro, Chris plays the first verse on his C flute.  Mark plays the guitar “spy theme,” and the Pups are off to the races! Bob, Maz, and Chris crush the intricate melody to smithereens.  Next, Mark takes his FIRST SOLO of the night! Come on, what took him so long? All jokes aside, he immediately captivates the listeners by alternating between funky Texas blues and ‘80s-hair-metal shredding.  Afterwards, the band transitions to the B section where Maz whips out the wah-trumpet.  He uses a heavy delay effect that gives a spacey atmospheric vibe to the solo.  Justin plays a muted trumpet with Chris and Bob’s melodic snippets.  Then Marcelo and Ross jam to the crowd’s polyrhythmic clapping, and Chris plays the flute interlude.  During the C solo section, Justin puts a bow on it with a lightning-in-a-bottle Fender Rhodes solo.  One moment it’s manic and dissonant, and the next it’s subdued and lilting.  Mason Davis joins Michael on krakebs for the outro.  After the tune ends, the fans let out a huge round of applause.  Michael thanks the opener Sirintip, plugs the GroundUp Music Festival, introduces the band, and gives a special shout-out to Jamison Ross, who joined the Snarky Puppy tour less than 24 hours after the end of his own solo tour.  “He didn’t sleep a wink, but I was told [he] did his laundry!” 

Sleeper (Encore) – For the encore, Shaun wows the crowd with some stellar Moog playing.  This rendition plows along quickly, propelled by Jamison’s kicks and Marcelo’s cutting bongo fills.  Justin’s synth adds extra depth, and the horns are the icing on top! As Justin plays some pillowy chords, Shaun tucks the Dutch audience in with some talkbox hyping: “Utrecht, can you SCREEEEEAAAAAAM?!” The outro proceeds normally with Shaun’s Moog extravaganza.  After the final chord dies away, Michael says goodnight to Utrecht.  

This is another great show, with a good balance of humor and music.  Maz and Shaun get plenty of time in the spotlight, and Jamison & Marcelo light the venue up with some powerful drumming.  Above all, the audience brings a ton of energy, which the Pups certainly appreciate.  My selected standout tracks would be “Bigly Strictness,” “Semente,” “Thing of Gold,” and “Xavi.”

Personnel

  • 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
  • Michael League – bass
  • Jamison Ross – drums
  • Marcelo Woloski – percussion
  • Shaun Martin – keyboards

Ross Pederson on drums for Xavi

Sound Crew:

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

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