Come 9pm, the bar at Concorde2 is completely empty. Everyone is packed into the performance room for the nine musicians who make up the touring core of Snarky Puppy. There are a lot of remarkable things about this band, one being that they are able to play a different set on every night of this tour without falling on their faces. They are one of the most respected experimental fusion bands on the scene now, and their show goes off as soon as the two drummers take their seats, blurring the line between jazz and funk.
The extended band, self-titled ‘The Fam’, numbers almost forty musicians and they’re one of the most experienced touring bands in the business. With twelve hundred past performances under their belts, they’re polished. Almost unsettlingly so. As the set moves into more frantic territory, the yells of the crowd start to start to sound more like shock, concern even. There are cheers of awe and of relief in the many solos as the band take dangerous musical risks and somehow manage not to crash and burn.
They don’t talk much, preferring polite small talk to showmanship, letting the music speak for itself. For one song though, Michael League, composer and frontman, gets the audience involved by asking them to clap along. But the rhythm is in 7/4 time. That pretty much says it all for their style of audience interaction.
As the evening progresses, the erratic time signatures and lengthy solos do become exhausting. There are no vocals at all, and we start to wonder why some of Snarky Puppy’s previous guests, like Snoop Dogg or Marcus Miller, aren’t here to mix it up a bit.
Then, just when some of the audience are starting to flag, the band pulls back, slowing the set right down for an extended classical piano piece. The change of pace is exactly what the crowd needs, and once again the band have their full attention. The set remains very mellow until the band step off the stage, only to burst back on with full intensity for their encore. Their reading of the audience is exact and the room explodes.
With a Grammy and several Billboard chart topping tracks under their belt, the quality of their performance is as impressive as expected. It’s the band’s awareness of the limits of their music and understanding of their audience, though, that keeps the set new and exciting throughout.
Concorde2, Wednesday 7th October 2015
Words by Ben Noble