Snarky Puppy was a magical show, and, believe me, I don’t go throwing that word around lightly. There are only a handful of concerts out of the 100+ I’ve been to that really stick out as “pure magic.”
Magic’s a hard thing to label; there’s no laundry list for a truly magical show. (Crowd interaction? Check. Inventive cover? Check.) It’s like what US Supreme Court Justice said one time about the difficulty in defining hard-core pornography: “I know it when I see it.”
I know a show is magic when I see crowd members smiling throughout. I know a show is magic when a band plays their last song, walks offstage, and immediately walks back onstage to stop stomping feet from shaking the floorboards. Spontaneous clap alongs, wild cheering for a tenor saxophone solo, the bandleader saying, “This has been the best crowd of the tour,” — magic. I saw all of this and more Wednesday night at the Snarky Puppy concert.
Grammy Award winning jazz-fusion act Snarky Puppy was straight up magic. My goodness, I don’t think even Snarky Puppy was prepared for how electric the crowd would be at their first Columbia gig, put on by the wonderful people at the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series.
Bassist and bandleader Mike League spent the first few minutes onstage gauging the audience, or so it seemed from my second row spot. He saw the cheering, the giddy laughter at the rising tension created by the sax solo, and the smiles. Oh, everyone in The Blue Note was smiling wide and excitedly. And soon, so was League, giving everyone in the venue a run for their money in the “Most Enthused Face” category.
League played the bass with a Jim Carrey face, elastic and shifting with every subtle action. League’s face moved with the groove of each song, widening a smile while slapping his strings, or giving the crowd a sultry, dare-I-say seductive look as his hand crept up the bass neck. He was feeding off the energy the crowd was giving him, and oh, did they give.
The main theme of the night seemed to be, “What a crowd.” They were simply erupting with enjoyment and energy throughout the show. One man at the front row spent much of the concert dancing with his back to the stage, eyes closed, head grooving to the music. A friend in the crowd asked if he could see the stage dancing like that. “I’m watching it up here,” the man said, tapping his forehead.
Show-goers really went above and beyond in their crowd duties; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crowd harmonize so well during a sing-along portion of a show. Go figure I would see the best crowd vocals at an instrumental show.
Snarky Puppy played a marathon of music, some from their new album We Like it Here, some so old only “OG Snarky Puppy fans” would recognize it, according to League. The band was as tight as can be and followed League’s lead as they moved seamlessly from structured song to improvisational detour and then back again. Each band member got at least one big solo throughout the set, with League introducing each snarky pup before or after their jam.
Each member was on fire Wednesday night, but multi-instrumentalist Chris Bullock really shined with his tenor saxophone and flute work. I doubt I’ll ever see a crowd lose it over a flute solo like they did at Snarky Puppy. Ian Anderson would have been quaking in his tunic.
“Jethro Tull ain’t got nothing on Snarky Puppy!” someone yelled from the crowd once the flute had subsided. Ok, I’ll confess: that someone was me.
This post was written by Zachary Van Epps, contributing writer for The Blue Note.