Snarky Puppy @ The Plaza Live 1/5/16

As Tuesday morning rolled around, I hadn’t made up my mind whether or not I was going to attend this show.  I’d heard of Snarky Puppy, but had barely even listened to a note of their music.  The one thing I did know, however, was that nearly every single one of my favorite musicians showered this band with praise when they won their Grammy in 2014 for “Best R&B Performance.”  This alone made me think twice about even entertaining the idea of missing this band’s first ever Orlando appearance.  So I paid the $43 for a day-of ticket, watched a few of their videos online and joined up with my group of music-obsessed friends to see a band I really knew nothing about.

I will say, there’s something very liberating about going into a show with zero expectations and a certain level of ignorance.  I know within the jam band community we can all get hung up on chasing certain songs and critiquing a set list far past the realm of normalcy.  So just being there for the sole reason to experience the superhuman level of musicianship this band possesses felt a touch foreign…but very freeing.  Oh, and when I say superhuman…this is not hyperbole.  Holy hell, this band can play!

The 1st set (which admittedly, I missed most of), Banda Magda took the stage with Snarky Puppy for what I can only describe as a set of highly hypnotic acid jazz grooves, mixed with Latin American rhythms, set to the otherworldly French vocal stylings (and accordion playing) of Magda Giannikou.  Ya.  A mind bending musical excursion that was only about to get turned up a notch.

The 2nd set saw Snarky Puppy put on a display of pure instrumental insanity.  With the genius-level talent of bassist and band leader, Michael League, Snarky Puppy played a set that defied and refused to conform to any single musical convention.  At certain moments, it kinda broke my brain.

The seamless melding of so many different styles of music, all while keeping a cohesive distinct “sound”, is just miraculous.  The way I hear it, the main foundation of Snarky Puppy’s music sits solidly within smoky, back room, acid jazz stylings, twinged with Spanish, Middle Eastern and other “world” rhythms.  Within this framework, they manage to somehow find their way into moments of slow, slinky, soul, pure pocket funk, super catchy pop melodies and the occasional Moog induced giddiness courtesy of the mad scientist of keyboard rhythms and atmospheres, Cory Henry.

For a group of musicians to have such complete control over music this complicated, the rhythm section comprised of the aforementioned League, along with Nate Werth (Percussion) and Larnell Lewis (Drums), is crucial to making Snarky Puppy the ultimate groove machine that they are.  Playing in time signatures I can only aspire to understand, all 9 musicians on stage (constantly taking direction from League) will stop on a dime, change tempo, switch the groove, and go from nothing but a whisper to a joyous scream without 1 musician missing a cue.  I swear there were moments where even the band couldn’t believe what they just played.  This is music from the future, yet somehow rooted in grooves and styles that have been around for hundreds of years.

In an evening full of highlights, there was none better than the set closing “Shofukan” (thank you for the song title, setlist.fm).  What starts in a very eerie, almost Arabic space of jazz-fusion, devolves into what feels like an almost spaghetti-western style standoff soundtrack, where a lone trumpet (Justin Stanton) muses away as a very minimal soundscape rhythm holds everything in place.  As the intensity and urgency of the atmosphere builds, they throw the whole thing upside down and launch into an all-out, get down, hands-in-the-air rager with the entire crowd singing along to the instantly memorable horn section melody.  The crowd/band interaction during this moment may have even caught the band by surprise as they stopped playing just to hear (and take video on their phones) of the “singalong” before slamming into a reprise.

Not too shabby for a Tuesday.

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