By November 22, 2019, Snarky Puppy had been touring in support of their album Immigrance for seven months. Being the masterful bandleader that he is, Michael League reintroduced some older Snarky Puppy tracks into their live repertoire, including “Intelligent Design” which is featured in this show. Over two thousand fans attended the concert at Salle Pleyel in Paris, and the energy in this recording is off the charts! The band is well-rehearsed, relaxed, and firing on all cylinders. I struggled to find any flaws with this performance…and that’s really saying something. It’s also the longest-running show in my Snarky Puppy library – 2 hours and 11 minutes! And trust me: EVERY second is worth it. Michelle Willis was the opening act, and she would stay on through the final week of the tour. A bonus video will be linked at the end of this review.
Kite – This mellow tune begins with Mike “Maz” Maher on trumpet, Justin Stanton on Fender Rhodes, and Chris Bullock on tenor sax. Then Shaun Martin adds the cascading piano line, and Chris McQueen plays some clean guitar arpeggios. Michael League enters with his bass notes while Bobby Sparks delivers some wavering chords on the Hammond B-3 organ. The percussion tag-team of Keita Ogawa and Jason “JT” Thomas provides a colorful, laid-back groove. When the horns play the melody, Zach Brock joins them on the violin. Once the F-minor solo vamp begins, Chris Bullock takes charge and deftly explores the entire range of the tenor saxophone! It’s a masterful solo with plenty of crisp articulations, insane high notes, and rapid rhythms. The electric bass/synth groove is straight fire, and the guys do a wonderful job of supporting Bullock. Afterwards, the tune cools off and Justin plays a relaxing solo on Fender Rhodes. He creates some spacey, atmospheric melodies that stay true to the calm vibe of the tune. Maz’s trumpet carries the final melody as the rest of the band slowly fades out.
Intelligent Design – The opening offbeat synth chords propel a SCORCHING rendition of this tune. Five different members play the melody in unison: Maz, Bullock, Zach, McQueen, and Bobby. Next, Maz burns through the solo section with a red-hot muted trumpet. The notes dart about restlessly, making for a delightful listen. It’s a fusion of smooth-jazz and hard-bop…Miles Davis on caffeine? Maz and JT get a moment to themselves, and Maz fires off some unbelievable chromatic runs (with a slight delay effect). Then things settle down as Chris McQueen flexes. The first part of his guitar solo reminds me of a Pat Metheny solo with the notes and chords simmering like a pot of soup. Then he adds more “flavors” to brighten up the experience. McQueen crafts a magnificent solo with impeccable phrasing and increasingly edgier ideas. After an explosive chord, Keita Ogawa takes the spotlight to wrap things up! Justin plays the offbeat chords as Keita goes nuts on his percussion rig. Finally, the Pups come back for the final melody leading up to the chaotic finish. The audience lets out a huge cheer.
While We’re Young – Another standard version of a newer SP track. JT and Michael produce a sizzling groove. Bobby plays the opening melody on his Hohner clavinet, and the violin/horn section converses with him. Zach and McQueen double the melody until the chorus. Then Zach stretches out his violin solo. He opts to keep it relatively straight-forward, but he still impresses the listeners with his lyrical passages and bluesy licks. Zach patiently waits to unleash some slides and runs in the final minute or so. The outro proceeds as normal…there’s nothing out of the ordinary here.
Bad Kids to the Back – This is perhaps Snarky Puppy’s most “recognizable” Immigrance tune due to a popular music video with nearly 2 million views on YouTube. I always enjoy listening to “Bad Kids” because of the unique intricacies of each instrument. The offbeat chordal stabs, the combined texture of the violin/horn section, the tasteful hand drumming, the dynamic bass line…it’s all there, and it’s all perfect. Plus, it’s just incomprehensibly funky. The violin/horn section and the keyboards play off of each other right up to the bridge. Then it’s time for an episode of the Bobby Sparks Show! Bobby instantly unleashes his magical powers on the organ, and wastes no time in cooking up a smoking solo. He adjusts the drawbars for different sounds, and cleanly executes some syncopated, gospel-influenced melodies. Soon the organ is squealing louder than a stuck pig. After the dual violin/guitar melody goes to the horns, Jason “JT” Thomas puts the cherry on top with a thunderous drum solo over Michael and Bobby’s vamp. JT maintains some heavy kick and snare action for several seconds until he turns it up with the toms and cymbals. After the outro, the audience gives Snarky Puppy a wild ovation and Michael greets them: “Bonsoir, Paris…how are you? Good evening!” He thanks Michelle Willis for opening the concert, and he quickly talks about the Immigrance album and tour before introducing the next song.
Bigly Strictness – I’ll be honest: it took me a while to warm up to “Bigly Strictness.” But now it is one of my favorites in the entire Snarky Puppy catalog. Chris McQueen delivers a wailing guitar melody, Michael revs up the sub-bass, and JT lays down a heavy backbeat. Chris Bullock uses the octave-effect on his sax, and the violin/horn section goes to town! Then Justin takes a trippy Prophet synthesizer solo, followed almost immediately by a crunchy, shrill guitar shredfest from McQueen. Both guys build from simple ideas to more complex phrases, but I appreciate McQueen’s out-on-a-limb approach. He really gets down and dirty in this solo. During the C solo section, led by Keita’s djembe slaps and Michael’s bass drones, Shaun Martin goes HAM on his vocoder keyboard. There’s just something about the vocoder (and its cousin the talkbox) that really hits me in the gut…perhaps it’s the combination of simulated human speech and musical notes without actually singing. (Side note: I confess that singing is not my forte, so I usually gravitate towards instrumental music. However, I do appreciate music with words as well.) Shaun utilizes wild pitch bends, wacky modulation tricks, and ascending & descending runs for a really splendid solo.
Tio Macaco – Keita warms up the crowd with a tight conga groove before Chris Bullock whips out the bass flute and plays the melody. This version of “Tio,” like all other renditions from the Immigrance tour, features Michael League on the Moroccan krakebs. Once the improvised horn solos start, he returns to his bass. Bobby and McQueen assist with some funky comping. Bullock (on C flute), Maz (on trumpet), and Justin Stanton (on trumpet) all get to blow. Maz and Justin even solo at the same time for a few measures! Then the band transitions to the C minor/major section. During the drums/percussion duet, Keita Ogawa and Jason “JT” Thomas bombard the crowd with a flurry of thumping backbeats and polyrhythms. These cats are out for world domination. Keita sounds off on the congas while JT conjures up a Brazilian baiao rhythm that gains more and more momentum like a runaway snowball. Then Keita moves to the mounted drums (bongos, bass pandeiro, & timbale) & percussion (tambourine, cowbells, and cymbals); and he smashes the crap out of them. JT follows with some mad thrashing of his own. The crowd roars at the end, and Michael introduces the percussionists to the amazed fans.
Thing of Gold – Another rearranged tune! The opening keyboard chords are absent. Instead, Michael League plays a bassline in the key of G minor, and the band slowly seeps into the mix. JT clicks on the rims of the drums and Justin tinkers on the Rhodes. Keita and Bobby add some light touches on the congas and organ, respectively. Even Chris Bullock’s tenor sax melody sounds slightly different – it’s rather subdued with more tonal embellishment than usual. Shaun gets the crowd to sing the chorus before launching into the main section in B-flat major. Bobby stays in the background with some subtle organ comping, while McQueen plants some steady arpeggios in the soil. Then the violin/horn section trades their melody with McQueen’s fills. After Shaun repeats the Moog melody, the band arrives at the bridge, quoting Yarbrough & Peoples’s funky hit “Don’t Stop the Music.” Chris takes a brief, bluesy tenor sax solo over the changes, throwing in some wild altissimo towards the end. Finally, Shaun solos on his Moog and smoothly navigates multiple key modulations. The violin/horn section adds some lovely harmonies and Shaun develops some lyrical ideas before going insane with a long tone with heavy modulation. After a free-form transition on Moog & electric piano, Shaun leads into the next tune…
Chonks – This one hits hard. Every single time. Shaun and Bobby’s talkbox-clavinet combo is literally unstoppable. JT lays down a rock-solid beat on the drums, and Shaun wails the melody before handing it off to the violin/horn section. Michael’s gritty bassline holds the song together like super-glue, rubber cement, or any other strong adhesive you can think of. After the chorus, Chris McQueen delivers a very funky guitar solo. It’s got a distinctive, Texas-blues feel to it with loads of swag and brilliant riffs. During the second drums/keys breakdown, Bobby and Shaun play way behind the beat and JT follows them. It sounds like a tape slowing down, and it’s epic as hell. The Pups repeat a verse and linger in the E-flat minor vamp for an extended period. Once the C-sharp minor modulation hits, the violin/horn section makes its statement for all to hear. And now, it’s time once again for the Bobby Sparks Show! This time, Bobby hits a grand slam with a freakish distorted clavinet solo. The tone from this instrument is unbelievable – if I hadn’t seen a video of this myself, I would have thought it was Chris McQueen on guitar! But Bobby shows the astonished listeners that great keyboardists indeed can shred like Jimmy Page or Steve Vai. Bobby milks the outro, and the band plays one long crashing chord to end the tune. The crowd gives the Pups a huge ovation and Michael thanks the Parisian fans for coming.
Xavi (Encore 1) – After Michael League introduces the band & crew members, he teaches the audience how to clap the 4:3 polyrhythm for “Xavi,” the first encore of the night. Michael, JT, and Keita play the Moroccan-flavored opening while Chris Bullock’s flute melody rings through the hall. Then the violin/horn section delivers the next verse in unison. Bobby’s clavinet is high in the mix. I can faintly hear Chris McQueen doubling Michael’s bassline up an octave. Maz and Zach strut their stuff with two equally well-crafted solos. I like how Maz and Zach use wah-effects on their instruments because it adds an edgier, funkier vibe to an otherwise standard SP tune. (Not that a “standard SP tune” is bad, but the wah-effects take the tune above and beyond when done right.) Maz begins with some simple rhythmic & melodic ideas, and then he turns up the heat with a chromatic motif emphasizing the “4” feel of the 4:3 polyrhythm. Next, Zach steamrolls with a badass electric-violin solo that Jimi Hendrix would be proud of. He’s hot right from the start, playing complex rhythms and moving up to some shrill high notes. Then everyone drops out except for the percussionists, and Michael leads the crowd in clapping the 4:3 polyrhythm. And I have to say that the crowd does a pretty decent job. After Bullock’s flute interlude, Justin Stanton ups the ante with a lightning-in-a-bottle Rhodes solo. It’s barely more than a minute in length, but Justin’s fabulous technique and expressive style are on full display. The outro goes very well, and Mason Davis (Snarky’s drum tech) joins Michael on the krakebs. During the last chord, the Moogs blast off into the stratosphere and Michael praises the fans’ clapping: “Beautiful job! Thank you so much.”
Shofukan (Encore 2) – The band plays its second encore. As McQueen plays the opening riff, Shaun says, “You better sing this shit loud, too!” The haunting mood is enhanced by the violin/horn section’s harmonies, Michael’s round bass tone, and Bobby’s swirling organ & wah-clavinet. Shaun leads the crowd in a massive chant during the guitar-drums breakdown just before the solo. And then…we get a BASS SOLO! Yes, you read that right. Michael League takes a rare bass solo, and by golly it’s one of the best I’ve ever heard from him! It’s slick, groovy, melodic, technical, and smooth all at once…there aren’t many bassists who can convey so many emotions and styles like Michael does. After switching on the octave effect pedal and laying down some filthy licks, the tune simmers momentarily…and then it picks up steam again. Shaun goes full hypemaster mode as the fans sing the violin/horn chorus at the top of their lungs. After the audience sings and claps alone, Keita and JT have a short percussive exchange. After one last run through the chorus, the band leaves the stage as the crowd sings loudly, demanding another song.
What About Me? (Encore 3) – A rare third encore for Snarky Puppy! The crowd is still singing the “Shofukan” chorus, so Michael uses it to lead into “What About Me.” The band sustains a very, very, VERY long chord before revving it into high gear. I really like the slower first verse (led by McQueen’s guitar), which picks up speed about a minute in. The violin/horn section gets to play the melody before the pre-solo vamp. Once again, the Bobby Sparks Show airs, and Bobby torches the place with his clavinet. JT thumps out a steady half-time rock groove as Bobby goes absolutely mental on the whammy-bar clavinet. Upon closer inspection in the video linked below, there actually isn’t a whammy-bar attached to the instrument. It looks more like a small toggle-switch, but it still gets the job done. Afterwards, the band transitions to the prog-rock vamp and JT blasts away behind the drums, with Michael’s bassline providing a firm foundation. JT shouts, “KEITA!” and suddenly Keita Ogawa joins in on the mounted drums and metallic percussion. Justin also adds some chordal stabs on the Rhodes, and Bobby throws his hat into the ring too. Finally, the band milks the ending for all it’s worth. As the last notes die away, Michael thanks the French crowd for coming. He is clearly moved by the outpouring of appreciation, and the band takes a few seconds to bask in the moment before stepping offstage for the final time.
This is not just one of my favorite Snarky Puppy concerts from the Immigrance tour. This is one of my favorite Snarky Puppy concerts EVER! The instrumentation clicks, the sound mixing is superb (thanks to Neil MacIntosh and Mike Harrison for amazing work as always), and the energetic yet attentive audience makes for an incredible performance. It’s one of those shows where the banter takes a backseat to some sensational music. To paraphrase Frank Zappa, the guys shut up and played their guitars. This concert is a great example of why Snarky Puppy is on another level when playing to international crowds in Europe, South America, Asia, and Australia. This is undoubtedly an A+ show, and it’s definitely worth listening to. If you’re looking for an exceptional Immigrance show, this one fits the bill!
For this concert, I will give MVP awards to Chris McQueen and Jason “JT” Thomas for their spectacular solos and all-around tight performances. My selected standout tracks from this show would be “Intelligent Design,” “Bad Kids to the Back,” “Bigly Strictness,” “Tio Macaco,” “Chonks,” “Xavi,” and “Shofukan.” But in my honest opinion, the entire show is one enormous highlight reel. I can’t recommend it enough! Go to livesnarky.com and pick up a copy for yourself.
The full performance of “What About Me,” featuring Bobby Sparks on Hohner clavinet and Jason “JT” Thomas on drums.
- Zach Brock – violin
- Chris Bullock – tenor sax, flute, and alto flute
- Mike “Maz” Maher – trumpet and flugelhorn
- Justin Stanton – trumpet and keyboards
- Shaun Martin – keyboards
- Bobby Sparks – keyboards
- Chris McQueen – guitar
- Michael League – bass
- Jason “JT” Thomas – drums
- Keita Ogawa – percussion
Michael Harrison – engineering and sound (front of house)
Matt Recchia – monitors
Neil Macintosh- mixing