For the penultimate show of the Immigrance tour, Michael League and his band of merry men delivered a great concert at the Im Wizemann venue in Stuttgart, Germany. This show sees a rare appearance of “Alma,” an unchained “Tio Macaco,” and some guitar wizardry on “What About Me.” Surprisingly, “Chonks,” “Bigly Strictness,” and “Bad Kids from the Back” are all absent from the set list…but nonetheless the show still rocks! A bonus video will be linked at the end of this review.
Chrysalis – Jason “JT” Thomas kicks off the proceedings with the funky, stuttering drum intro. Then Bobby Sparks initiates some wah-clavinet action while Chris McQueen and Justin Stanton double the melody on guitar and Prophet synthesizer. Michael League lays down a sparse but integral bass line as Shaun Martin adds some melodic Moog fills for good measure. Then the violin/horn section – Zach Brock, Chris Bullock, and Mike “Maz” Maher – play along with the melody before the half-time chorus. Zach gets the first solo of the evening and slays it. He delivers some awesome jazz violin licks and navigates some tricky chord progressions without breaking a sweat! The band wraps up the tune with a recap of the melody and the chorus.
Alma – Chris McQueen begins with a resonant, clean guitar intro (with intermittent bass fills) before the band kicks it into high gear. This underrated gem kicks ass when played live, and it really should be played more often! Keita Ogawa shines with some outstanding hand drumming on congas and djembe. Bobby, Shaun, Justin, and Michael handle the chordal stabs just before the first verse. The chorus swings nicely, thanks to JT’s propulsive backbeat. Then the solo vamp begins and Maz takes a beautiful solo over the changes…his trumpet really soars! The crowd whoops immediately after the first notes – they know they’re in for a treat. Maz stretches for a long time and basically plays every single note and rhythm known to man. Hearing Maz play the trumpet is the sonic equivalent of putting on freshly laundered clothing…it’s just so comforting to my ears and my mind. After the bridge to the percussion solo vamp, Keita shreds on his mounted bass pandeiro, bongos, timbale, and an assortment of cowbells & cymbals. Welcome to Polyrhythm City, folks! McQueen maintains a steady guitar ostinato while JT and Michael hold down the fort with their impeccable timekeeping. The keyboard and violin/horn sections layer in before the syncopated outro. McQueen and Bobby milk the last chord.
While We’re Young – Bobby takes charge with the opening clavinet melody. Michael and JT’s groove cooks on the back burner as the violin/horn section sizzles up front with Bobby. McQueen and Zach have a turn with the melody, backed by some ambient chords from Shaun and/or Justin’s keyboards – I’m guessing it’s the Mellotron and/or the Prophet. After the chorus, Bobby rises with a dynamic clavinet solo. I’ve realized that listening to these solos is like waiting for a bell or a buzzer to go off. There’s a certain amount of suspense building up to that final moment when the chaotic sound occurs. Like an alarm or buzzer, many Snarky Puppy solos build up from near-silence to a raging maelstrom of notes. And that’s exactly what happens. Bobby Sparks takes the listeners on a tour of the clavinet and shows off all its capabilities: drawn-out clean tones, fierce blues riffs, blazing chromatic runs, wacky pitch-bends, and overdriven wah-effects. Then the band comes in strong for the shout-chorus (led by the violin/horn section) and the final outro. McQueen goes off with some nice fills on the guitar to close it out.
Tarova – Justin does an extreme glide on the first synth chord before playing the rest of the opening. Bobby and Shaun duke it out on the Hammond organ and Moog talkbox. Together they melt more than a few minds with some gospel-tinged melodies and some rapid rhythmic patterns. JT and Keita lay down a heavy metallic backbeat. After the Bobby/Shaun dual melody, the groove hits and the violin/horn section joins in the fun. After the bridge (with Shaun doubling Michael’s virtuosic bass part), Chris McQueen steps up to bat. This gritty solo heaps on the bent notes and insanely funky chops – but when it comes to funk, McQueen is the king (wait, that sounds a bit paradoxical doesn’t it?). The Pups move on to the outro, where Bobby bends the last note to the max! “Bend it like Beckham?” More like, “Bend it like Bobby!” Finally, Michael greets the cheering German audience and thanks Michelle Willis for opening the show. He briefly talks about the Immigrance album and tour before introducing a “contemplative” number from said album.
Even Us – McQueen sets it up with the pensive guitar chords, and Shaun plays the melody on the piano. Zach gets a turn with the melody before handing the baton to Bobby, who delivers some magical organ fills. Zach and Bullock play the melody on violin & tenor sax while Maz and Justin provide backing harmonies on their trumpets. When the Mid-Eastern hip-hop groove drops, JT and Keita sync up with Michael and Shaun’s heavy bass line. Bobby adds some rapid Minimoog fills as the violin/horn section continues its lead and harmony parts. Next, Chris Bullock takes a very moody tenor sax solo. Right away he makes some bold note choices that clash against the A minor vamp – including a sharp-7th (G-sharp), a tritone (E-flat), and a minor-9th (B-flat). WOW! Then he bellows furiously with some blistering scalar runs and shrill altissimo. JT goes nuts on the drums, adding more energy to the music. Bobby’s organ and Shaun’s Moog wail in the background. And all this time, Michael and McQueen’s bass/guitar pattern remains sturdier than a brick house. Finally, the band arrives at the final chorus and Shaun puts a bow on it with the last piano solo.
Tio Macaco – Keita Ogawa warms up the crowd with a high-speed conga solo. Then Bullock whips out the bass flute for some improvised licks before the iconic melody. The crowd claps along with the two-beat Brazilian baião pattern, with Michael’s krakebs providing assistance. Keita switches to the djembe before the violin/horn section plays the main melody. The keyboards and guitars kick it into high gear with some funky comping over the horn solos’ vamp. First, Bullock trills on the C flute and plays some groovy licks. Then Maz bursts onto the scene with some red-hot trumpet prowess. Finally, Justin gets a moment to shine on his horn and he kills it. The C minor/Cmajor progression follows, and then we get the mother of all “Tio Macaco” percussion/drum duets. This one is UNHINGED. Keita takes a slap-happy conga solo before moving to his mounted percussion rig. JT keeps the flame burning with some punchy, stalwart drumming. There’s a moment from 10:25-10:32 where they synchronize their drum rolls, and it’s glorious. They keep building up the intensity until they’re literally smashing the daylight out of their drums, cymbals, and metallic objects. Things slow down a bit tempo-wise from 11:50-12:05…or it could be a sneaky metric modulation that escaped me. Finally, JT and Keita put the pedal to the metal and they trash the final few bars of the duet. The German fans roar with delight, and Michael introduces the percussionists to the fans. But the fans just won’t let it go and they keep cheering for nearly a minute.
Xavi – After the audience cools off, Michael teaches the 4:3 polyrhythm clapping lesson. The 3-side nails it right away, but it takes a while for the 4-side to fit into the groove. After a quick explanation from Michael (including the infamous phrase “pass the goddamn butter”), the 4-side crushes it. Afterwards, a fan jokingly asks to hear the explanation again, and Michael says, “Okay, from the beginning: so it’s 4 over 3…” This light-hearted and funny moment relaxes everyone before the song begins. Michael, JT, and Keita start their Moroccan groove while Bullock plays the flute melody. After McQueen’s spy-theme riff, the keyboards layer in and the violin/horn section goes to town! Zach dials up a distorted wah-effect and takes the first solo. He makes light work of it with plenty of rapid blues licks and screeching tremolos. Then Maz follows up with a trumpet solo with a VERY bright sound! As usual he throws in lots of ascending & descending runs and crystal-clear high notes. Next, the band drops out except for the percussion section; and the audience claps the 4:3 polyrhythm. Bullock plays the flute interlude before Maz and Zach add their voices. Bobby and Shaun’s keyboards float dreamily in the mix. Then Justin takes his time on the Fender Rhodes. His fingers sprint along the keys with precision, and his melodic ideas are beautiful and catchy. Finally, the Pups play the outro for the LAST TIME on this tour! (They didn’t play “Xavi” the following night in Nuremberg.) Michael leads the crowd’s clapping with his krakebs and the fans let out a huge cheer at the end. Michael says, “Very nicely done!”
Sleeper – As Justin plays the opening chords, it’s obvious that the fans are already hyped: “Come on, Shaun!” They know that this is Shaun Martin’s talkbox spotlight, and he always brings the heat. The intro goes off without a hitch and the band storms in after Shaun’s long C-natural note. Michael supplies some bone-rattling synth bass while JT and Keita tighten their grip on the 6/4 meter groove. JT’s drumming sounds especially powerful! The violin/horn section joins Shaun for the next two verses. Bobby and McQueen provide some rock-solid comping and melodic contributions too. Then all goes silent except for Justin’s Rhodes, and Shaun raises the roof with some crowd hyping: “Stuttgart, Germany: can you SCREEEEAAAAAM??!!” The German audience obliges with a titanic outburst of screaming and applause. Then Shaun leads into the outro and unleashes some Moog mayhem on the entire place. After the last high note, Michael thanks the ecstatic audience. Then the band takes a quick breather as the crowd cheers for an encore. Michael returns to plug the GroundUp Music Festival and to introduce the band & crew.
What About Me? – Chris McQueen and JT lead the intro before slowing things down. Bobby’s clavinet and Shaun’s ‘80s synth patch add some great texture. McQueen plays the first verse before the violin/horn section hops on for the ride. Michael’s superb bass playing binds everything together. The tempo speeds up before the second verse, and then Bullock and Justin have a moment. After the chorus, McQueen delivers a blistering guitar solo. He begins with some quivering pitch-bent tones before exploring some pentatonic territory. Shaun and Michael concoct an impromptu Moog bassline, and JT switches to a half-time groove. McQueen never flinches and keeps cranking out stealthy licks and awesome power chords. The violin/horn section returns for some backup support at the tail-end of the solo. Then the final “prog-rock” solo vamp begins, and Jason “JT” Thomas goes absolutely H-A-M! He starts slowly with a snare roll and some hits on the toms. But as you all know by now, JT is related to the Energizer Bunny…and he just keeps going and going! He builds up the momentum with some well-timed kicks and cymbal crashes until he’s producing a powerful blur of notes. You know how certain machines can simulate a natural disaster with the elements of drenching rain, high winds, and thunder & lightning? Well to me, JT’s drumming is the musical equivalent of such a storm. He is devastatingly talented. Finally, Snarky Puppy plays the outro and the crowd goes NUTS. Bobby and Shaun milk the last chord. Michael introduces the musicians one last time and says goodnight to the cheering audience.
What a remarkable show! The audience is extremely enthusiastic about all of the tunes, and the band is on fire! The undisputed highlight of this show is the ferocious “Tio Macaco” drums/percussion duet with Keita Ogawa and JT Thomas. I haven’t heard anything as powerful AND precise as this duet in a long time. Watch the video below to see and hear it for yourself. And finally, my LAST Snarky Puppy concert review will be coming next week! It’s the tour finale in Nuremberg, so keep your eyes peeled for that. My selected standout tracks would be “Alma,” “While We’re Young,” “Even Us,” “Tio Macaco,” “Sleeper,” and “What About Me?”
VIDEO LINK: The drums/percussion duet on “Tio Macaco,” featuring Keita Ogawa & Jason “JT” Thomas.
- 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