This wasn’t a gig so much as a musical event. A shared ‘happening’ as Snarky Puppy and its legion fans celebrated the band’s rise to jazz juggernaut status. And what joyous music these guys make on the way!
The atmosphere was more Wembley Stadium then Ronnie Scott’s at the Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith. 4,500 fans packed in, the band’s largest UK show to-date. It was electric - huge cheers, call-and-response singing, fan requests shouted out, multiple encores. Michael League, Snarky Puppy’s band leader, and his crew embraced the enthusiasm of the audience and played with such gusto and dynamism in putting on an exemplary display of modern jazz/funk/fusion. So prominent has their big sound become, perhaps they now deserve their own genre?
The supports acts were chalk and cheese. DJ Sample - decks and separate horn section - was loud and challenging, satisfying those who’d grabbed their place near the stage, but encouraging many to stay in the bar until it finished. Second support artist Banda Magda - who’s played with the group on their Family Dinner Vol 1 album - was in contrast a fizzing Mediterranean firework, singing in Greek and Brazilian and accompanying herself on the accordion. Backed up by the band, she tore the house down and won many new friends. Magda led the audience sing-along with consummate ease, her silver dress sparkling in the fantastic lighting set used for the show, and she sang with passion and bravura. Definitely someone to see.
The rest of the show was, frankly, pure Snarky Puppy. This review sort of writes itself: It’s difficult to share anything but good things about a Puppy gig, such is the energy and passion for their craft that’s is evident in every song. These guys know how to create a killer tune and squeeze all the musical juice out of it, and audiences drink up all that musical goodness with relish. Their musicianship is second-to-none and it allows them to generate truly epic soundscapes.
Mark Lettieri’s guitar solo on the second track - dedicated to a love-struck fan in the circle - was astonishingly powerful, at times verging on prog-rock territory, so much so that even a mid-solo failure of his amp didn’t halt his flow. He duly received a huge, well-deserved ovation. The band played a mixture of fan-favourite tunes from earlier albums, evidently getting them out of their system in advance of the new tracks on their forthcoming album which will likely form the core of their next touring set. Tracks such as Bent Nails from the Ground Up album and the jaunty Brazilian-tinged Tio Macaco from We Like It Here - with brilliant flute work by sax-player Chris Bullock - fed the audience’s enthusiasm and ensured the energy levels stayed high right throughout the near-two hour set.
So ‘up’ is the vibe at a Snarky Puppy gig that even the obligatory drum solo - often an excuse to go to the bar - becomes an event, as Robert ‘Sput’ Searight on drums and Nate Werth (with support) hit their drums, triangles, congas, cow bells and cymbals to within an inch of their lives and generated some of the loudest cheers of the night in response. Three encore tracks, including an appearance from new band discovery, singer Laura Mvula, maintained the momentum right up to the finish.
Fan favourite Shofukan - opening track from the We Like It Here album - ended the show in barnstorming fashion. It’s not often at a jazz gig that you find an audience singing along with the melody. Credit these Puppy fans - they know their tracks and they’re not afraid to sing along.
Snarky Puppy has become a sort of Rolls-Royce engine of contemporary jazz - functioning effortlessly, each precision part working perfectly to drive along the music, with the capacity to generate boundless energy at the press of a pedal and give you the musical drive of your life. They are a phenomenon.
Everyone had a good time, including the fan in the middle of the standing section who happily smoked a couple of joints during the set and was clearly having his own private show.