This is it. After seven months, 123 shows, and countless hours of traveling and performing to packed houses across the world…Snarky Puppy arrived in Nuremberg, Germany for THE TOUR FINALE!! As it turned out, the last show of the Immigrance tour – at the Lowensaal venue – was the Pups’ first time in Nuremberg. However, it was also the last show for TJ Abbonizio, the band’s longtime tour manager. He gets a rousing ovation amidst hilarious circumstances which you’ll read about soon. This set is well-balanced and includes tunes from the band’s vast catalog. Michelle Willis opened for Snarky Puppy.
Beep Box – Michael League starts this track from Culcha Vulcha with some eerie Moog bass. After some bell-like keyboard patches from Justin Stanton, Jason “JT” Thomas clicks on the drum rims to keep time. The melody comes in, courtesy of Chris Bullock on bass flute and Chris McQueen on guitar. Shaun Martin brings in the piano, and Bobby Sparks adds some delayed melodic Minimoog fills. Mike “Maz” Maher adds some harmonies on the muted trumpet, and Zach Brock doubles the melody on his violin. Everything simmers on low heat through the bridge. Keita Ogawa contributes some soft fluttering brush rolls on his hand drums. Then JT slams the drums and the tune takes off! Justin uses tons of echo and reverb on the Prophet synth chords. Michael and McQueen keep the bass line going on their guitars. Next, Bobby takes a rare Minimoog solo. It’s just as freaky and spacey as you’d expect it to be…there’s tons of modulation, glide, pitch bend, filter adjustments, and good old fashioned FUNK! The guys play the outro smoothly, to a huge roar from the audience.
Intelligent Design – Justin delivers the opening chords as JT and Keita lay down the syncopated, stuttering backbeat. Bobby (on Hammond organ) and Chris McQueen join the violin/horn section for the main melody, and Shaun joins in on the Moog the second time through. Michael’s bassline keeps everything glued in place. Zach takes the first solo and raises the intensity with some wah-pedal action. He builds from short melodic bursts to lengthy runs with a seemingly infinite number of notes. Suddenly everyone drops out except for JT on drums, and Zach keeps shredding! In the second solo vamp, Justin gives the Fender Rhodes a workout. He conjures up some brilliant melodies and reharmonized chords. This solo section is a more laid-back sound than what I’m used to hearing – usually a Snarky guitarist solos over this vamp and it can get pretty fiery. Plus the Rhodes is a lighter-sounding instrument than most of the other things onstage! After Justin ends, JT and Keita produce a musical inferno on their drums & percussion setups. They trade a few bars before jamming together. The ending gets a bit hairy (where did beat one go?), but somehow everyone survives with only a few light scratches and bruises. Nonetheless, the crowd goes bonkers.
While We’re Young – Bobby revs up the Hohner clavinet while Michael and JT groove behind him. The violin/horn section makes its entrance, and Zach & Chris McQueen get a turn with the melody. The horns sing the chorus as Bobby’s organ swirls and Keita slaps the congas in the background. Next, Chris McQueen wails over the solo vamp. He goes for a twangy, Southern blues approach and makes the guitar sing! Eventually he kicks it into overdrive and the guitar sounds fuzzier and grittier. McQueen keeps churning out some stellar licks right up to the violin/horn section’s shout-chorus. The outro proceeds normally, and the fans cheer.
Bad Kids to the Back – JT, Michael, and Bobby turn the heat up with the powerful drums-bass-organ intro. McQueen quickly adds some wah-guitar comping. The violin/horn section plays the first verse and chorus with calmness and precision. In the past, I’ve praised the four-man Snarky horn section – Chris, Maz, Bob, and Justin – for their tight performances in the early June, late September, and late October-early November shows…but this violin/horn section has grown on me a lot. Then Maz lights it up with a sensational trumpet solo. He wastes no time in getting down with his bad self…he immediately echoes the descending bassline and then runs off to Bebop City! He smartly alternates between leaving space and unleashing long streams of notes at JUST the right moments. Maz plays a rapid-tongued lick from 4:55-5:09 that nearly made me fall out of my chair! I am always amazed by Maz’s outstanding technique and phrasing…this solo is a great example. After the dual guitar/violin melody, the final vamp pulls up and JT takes it for a spin! He starts out with some light snare triplets and kick drum hits before incorporating the toms. Then he hits fever pitch with a total whirlwind of a drum solo! Finally, Michael cues the outro and the band NAILS it! The German crowd lets out a wild round of applause and Michael welcomes everyone. He thanks Michelle Willis for opening the set, and talks about this show being the final night of the Immigrance tour: “It’s like the last day of school!” On a whim, Michael changes the set list: “We were gonna play another new song, but I think we’re gonna play a very old song if that’s cool with everybody here…it’s called ‘Young Stuff.’”
Young Stuff – I’ve written dozens of 2019 show reviews and have NEVER reviewed “Young Stuff.” WOW! There’s a first time for everything. Michael’s bass playing sets the tone right off the bat, and McQueen’s choppy guitar chords echo through the hall. Keita grooves on the shakers while JT plants a delicate but firm drum groove in the ground. The violin/horn section handles the melody & harmony with care, and Bobby serves up some magical organ riffs. Next, Chris Bullock whips it out on tenor sax. He starts with some pentatonic blues riffs before getting more experimental with the note choices. Soon Bullock’s flying high and shrieking like a bird of prey. Things calm down with some light music from the rhythm section. The violin/horn section plays the slightly melancholy lead before Michael introduces Shaun Martin! And people…Mr. Martin goes completely HAM on his vocoder synthesizer. He dials up a sawtooth-wave lead and gives a five-minute synthesizer master class to the awestruck German audience! He plays several swung and straight rhythmic figures, jazzy embellishments, and extremely low & high tones. Shaun tops it off with some insane chordal voicings as the rest of the Pups play the outro. Afterwards, the fans let out the biggest cheer of the evening so far!
Tio Macaco – Keita Ogawa warms up the crowd with a succinct but groovy conga solo. Chris Bullock enters on the bass flute and improvises some variations on the melody before playing it for real. Then Keita switches to the djembe and Michael breaks out the Moroccan krakebs for the final time! Next, the full violin/horn section plays the second verse. The keyboards and guitars dive into the pool just before the horn solos proceed. Bullock briefly trills on the C flute, and Maz & Justin take charge with some darting, serpentine trumpet showcases. Maz opts to use a straight mute for his solo. Once the C minor-C major outro concludes, Keita and JT put the pedal to the metal! They take the tempo MUCH faster than in previous renditions of “Tio Macaco.” The fans clap along almost instantly and they do a pretty good job of staying in time. Keita hammers the congas with equal amounts of force and taste while JT chugs along with a solid groove. Seriously, JT keeps better time than most of the watches I’ve used. The groove becomes more sparse around 8:21 as Keita pounds the djembe skin. Slowly but surely, the music builds back up by the 9:15 mark. At this point, Keita is beating the crap out of his mounted percussion instruments: the bongos, bass pandeiro, timbale, tambourines, cowbells, and cymbal stacks. JT matches Keita’s energy with some raucous drumming of his own. Both percussionists gradually slow the tempo together from 11:11-11:26, and suddenly they resume their high-octane duet, full speed ahead! After the unison rhythmic figures and a tremendous crash, the music stops…and the audience loses it. Total madness. Michael returns and introduces Keita and JT to the ecstatic crowd.
Chonks – Shaun sings on the Moog talkbox as Bobby (on clavinet), Michael, JT, Keita, and McQueen lay down a heavy groove. The violin/horn section (with Justin on trumpet) adds some backing harmonies before receiving the melody. Next, Justin slays it on Prophet synth with a square-wave lead patch. It’s a very short solo (just over ninety seconds), but regardless it’s still pretty dang funky. After the drums/keyboards interlude (with another great slowdown), the band plays the recap and hits the C-sharp minor outro. The violin/horn section soars on the melody. And then, we get the series finale of the Bobby Sparks Show! In this unforgettable episode, Bobby demolishes his Hohner clavinet. He starts off with some great rock-and-roll licks before going beast mode and shredding like Jimi Hendrix! The Pups drop out as Bobby schools everyone in the art of whammy-clavinet. I think it’s safe to say that Bobby Sparks does more than play music…he BECOMES the music. After the final melody, Bobby stretches the outro with some pitch-bent notes and wild pentatonic & chromatic runs. Finally, Snarky Puppy hits the final chord and milks it for all it’s worth. If you listen closely, you can hear some quick pops at 11:32 through 11:38…as it turns out, the crew fired off some streamers, confetti, and balloons! When the last note fades, Michael thanks the roaring German crowd as Chris Bullock and Bobby Sparks tease “Auld Lang Syne” to the band’s amusement. After a quick break, Michael comes back to thank the fans for their support. He promotes the GroundUp Music Festival, introduces the entire band and crew, and gives a special shout-out to his lifelong friend and the band’s tour manager TJ Abbonizio. To everyone’s surprise, TJ walks onstage without his pants, and Michael reveals that TJ was backstage getting a tattoo on his thigh. The band members can’t contain themselves and they play some strip-tease music as TJ leaves.
Sleeper (Encore 1) – Justin delivers the opening Rhodes chords and Shaun steps up with the Moog talkbox melody. The rhythm section hops on the bus and the violin/horn section doubles Shaun’s part for the next two verses. JT and Keita’s groove cooks, and Justin & Bobby do their thing on the keyboards. During the middle solo spot, Shaun doesn’t play a single note. Instead, he takes time to thank Michael League for his leadership and hard work to make the Immigrance tour possible. The crowd gives Michael a tremendous ovation lasting nearly a full minute! Shaun says, “We love you and we appreciate you, homie.” Then he quickly jumps back into the outro and leads the guys to the end with some unbelievable synthesizer sorcery. The German audience won’t let it go and they cheer loudly for an encore. The Pups return for another tune, and Michael dedicates the next tune to TJ.
Shofukan (Encore 2) – Chris McQueen plays the legendary opening chords and the crowd goes crazy. The bass, keys, and violin/horn sections seep into the mix as the percussionists bring the beat. After listening to “Shofukan” so many times, it never gets old. In fact, I might like it more now than when I started these reviews eight months ago. The haunting B-minor tonality, the eclectic mix of Middle Eastern and jazz styles, and the ingenious compositional structure make this tune really special. Shaun leads the crowd in chanting over McQueen’s riff, and then the band takes it down a notch. Chris Bullock ignites with a magnificent tenor saxophone solo. He crafts a bright, dynamic solo full of articulate melodic ideas. Next, the band moves to the final chorus vamp and the violin/horn section sings the melody loud and proud! Shaun hypes the fans with all the energy he can muster, and brings TJ out to sing along with the chorus a few times. When the tune ends, the fans give Snarky Puppy a huge round of applause and they start doing the “Shofukan” chant at full volume. Eventually, the band comes back for a THIRD encore and Michael sets it up.
Lingus – (Encore 3)Justin plays the iconic Rhodes pattern, and Shaun says, “Well we gotta sing it LOUD!” The fans sing along with the violin/horn section’s intricate melody. They’re hyped for this tune, and the band knows it. Chris McQueen gets a quick round with the melody before the band repeats the verse. In the bridge, Bullock and Maz trade fours on sax and trumpet. At Shaun’s persistent urging, Michael takes a bass solo to close the evening. He begins with some off-beat stabs before diving headfirst into a sea of notes. The keyboardists hold down the syncopated bass figure and JT produces a monstrous rumba-clave backbeat. Michael keeps shredding over the outro and trades with the violin/horn verses. Snarky Puppy forges ahead to the final eight bars and brings them home. And then the crowd goes absolutely ape-shit crazy. Total insanity. Unbridled mayhem. Amidst the cheering, Michael thanks the audience and says goodnight. So ends the 123-show, 7-month Immigrance tour.
Wow. What a journey. From April 11 through November 30, 2019, Snarky Puppy embarked on a massive seven-month tour and brought sheer excellence every single night. They started in Osaka, Japan with one mission: to bring great live music to as many people as possible. And they passed with flying colors…Melbourne, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Brooklyn, Belgrade, Istanbul, Toronto, Copenhagen, London, Paris, and Frankfurt were just some of the places that the Pups trekked through before Nuremberg. This recording really shows how a close-knit brotherhood of funky dudes spreads happiness through their music to an ever-growing fan base. My selected standout tracks would be…ALL OF THEM! Yep, all ten tunes are worth listening to. It’s the final show of the tour and all of the music still sounds as fresh as it did at the start of the Immigrance tour.
Out of all the shows I’ve reviewed, my favorites are Los Angeles (May 31), Salt Lake City (June 4), Morrison/Red Rocks (June 7), Black Mountain (June 13), Brooklyn (June 15), Belgrade (June 23), Charlotte (September 15), Atlanta (September 20), Orlando (September 25), Dallas (October 5), Aarhus (October 25), Manchester (November 15), Paris (November 22), Frankfurt (November 26), and Nuremberg (November 30). Later on, I purchased other live recordings that I enjoyed tremendously: Kawasaki (April 12), Indianapolis (May 17), Jackson Hole (June 5), Memphis (June 12), Istanbul (July 9), Stockholm (October 23), Nantes (November 18), and Zurich (November 28), to name a few.
Little did the Snarky Puppy band & crew know that just four months after the Nuremberg performance, the COVID-19 pandemic would change everything. All of their gigs were canceled, and they could not leave their homes to do what they loved most…make music together. So they channeled their resources. With the help of the GroundUp Music team, Snarky Puppy delivered online master classes about a wide variety of topics: the music business, composition techniques, effects pedals for non-guitarists, hand drumming exercises, Moroccan and Brazilian musical genres, and the influential styles of Prince and Joshua Redman to name a few. Several notable guest musicians joined as well. David Crosby, Chris Potter, Victor Wooten, Cory Henry, Robert “Sput” Searight, Eric Harland, Charlie Hunter, Wayne Krantz, Antonio Sanchez, Jamey Haddad, Laura Mvula, Isaiah Sharkey, Sirintip, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Bernardo Aguiar, Tarriona “Tank” Ball, Harry Shearer, Samir Langus, Nathalie Joachim, and Knower all contributed their knowledge and good humor to their respective classes. Snarky Puppy also held an online discussion with Dr. Kimani Nehusi about racial issues in America after the BLM protests. The GroundUp Music master classes continued through October 2020.
Throughout the pandemic, various band members worked on solo projects. Michael League and Justin Stanton released an LP entitled Mirrors, a collaboration with Grammy-nominated singer Becca Stevens, multi-instrumentalist Louis Cato, and Portuguese singer Gisela João. League also released his debut solo album So Many Me. Mark Lettieri released the album Deep: The Baritone Sessions Vol. 2, which has been nominated for the 2022 Grammy Awards. Chris McQueen released an acoustic duo album with Matthew Read eponymously titled Read/McQueen, and Shaun Martin released Three-O featuring Mike Mitchell on drums and Matt Ramsey on bass. Zach Brock released two albums called Light Shines Through and Polyphony. After postponing the annual GroundUp Music Festival in Miami Beach, Snarky Puppy hosted a virtual mini-festival in Prats from June 18-20, 2021. In July, they finally returned to the road with a trio of shows in the Canary Islands and a string of American concerts in Florida, California, and Arizona. They are expected to record a new album entitled Empire Central in March 2022 for a small studio audience in Dallas, Texas.
Snarky Puppy means so much to me. It’s been almost seven years since I first discovered this band and saw them play at the Newport Jazz Festival, and they have changed my life in so many positive ways. I’ve learned so much from listening to their interviews, watching insightful videos, and endlessly absorbing their music. I think I’m beginning to really feel the joyful potential of music. It’s great to listen to and understand the basic elements of music, but feeling it with the mind, body, and soul is an entirely different experience. Music is cathartic, healing, and unifying. It is the universal language. It knows no bounds. And I hope that someday, ONE day, I will be able to experience a Snarky Puppy concert again. From their humble origins in Denton, Texas to four Grammy awards and international acclaim, Snarky Puppy continues to leave a permanent mark on music, humanity, and the world. Please continue to support great music by purchasing live recordings from livesnarky.com or other GroundUp albums from https://www.groundupmusic.net. Support their friends/labelmates as well: David Crosby, Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis, Cory Henry, Roosevelt Collier, Magda Giannikou, Charlie Hunter, Lucy Woodward, Malika Tirolien, Forq, PRD Mais, House of Waters, Breastfist, Lee Pardini, Alina Engibaryan, Sirintip, the Funky Knuckles, etc.
Thank you to all the readers who have taken time to read these reviews. Thank you to Jake Funkmayor for giving me the opportunity to share my passion with you all. Thank you to the GroundUp Music team and to the Snarky Puppy crew for helping the band flourish for over a decade. Jamie, Eric, TJ, Rosanna, Felicity, Clare, Francis, Mason, Mike, Matt…there might be a few I’ve forgotten but nonetheless your incredible work ethic and love for live music is clear to us all. Thank you for making the live Snarky Puppy experience possible.
And of course, a huge thank you to Snarky Puppy for creating this fabulous music and sharing it with so many fans. To Zach Brock, Chris Bullock, Jay Jennings, Bob Lanzetti, Bill Laurance, Mark Lettieri, Larnell Lewis, Mike “Maz” Maher, Shaun Martin, Chris McQueen, Keita Ogawa, Bob Reynolds, Jamison Ross, Bobby Sparks, Justin Stanton, Jason “JT” Thomas, Nate Werth, Marcelo Woloski, and Michael League…thank you for all that you have done and all that you will continue to do for musicians and music lovers everywhere. I wish everyone good health and good times in the new year! Here’s to great music and to many opportunities for it to thrive in 2022.
- 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
- TJ Abbonizio (tour manager) on vox for Shofukan
- Michael Harrison – engineering and sound (front of house)
- Matt Recchia – monitors
- Neil Macintosh- mixing