Summer may have bid us goodbye, but the Crown Room at Crystal Bay Casino Lake Tahoe was positively sizzling on Saturday night, when Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe played for a packed house.
“We are very happy to be back up in the mountains,” frontman and saxophone guru Karl Denson said to roaring cheers and applause. “It’s good to see y’all.”
The crowd was more than ready to roll by the time Denson and company took the stage after sound check. The band kicked off the festivities with an up-tempo instrumental of “Catching Sparks” replete with tons of rousing leads and solos, every member of the band getting in on the action. It was a preview of the enjoyable evening to come, with excellent and raucous lead guitar, and Denson taking turns on tambourine in between wailing away on his sax.
The band looked both sharp and understated, with each member donning a black blazer over otherwise disparate outfits. They played through a wide variety of tunes, both original tracks and covers, with plenty of instrumentals interspersed between tracks with bluesy, spirited vocals.
KDTU aired out “What If You Knew,” a sassy number off the group’s upcoming album, its lyrics chastising lovers getting themselves into difficult relationship over and over again.
“And you know what?” Denson chuckled to the crowd. “You’re dumb ass gonna do it again. That’s what this song is about.”
Denson took up the cowbell for that tune, and roused the crowd repeatedly with shouts of “everybody scream!” The folks filling the floor of the Crown Room were only too happy to oblige.
The band also performed one of my favorite tunes, “Tumbling Dice,” in a clear nod to Denson’s time with the Rolling Stones. The smooth groove, plucky guitar and well-crooned lyrics were a fun treat in a night full of top-shelf R&B, funk and beyond.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe was almost as much fun to watch as it was to hear, with various members taking virtuosic leads, trading instruments, and just generally having a good time. Denson strutted about in the midst of it all, clearly in his element, like a bearded, bespectacled Yoda of soul, exhorting the audience to move, move and move some more.
Wrapping up with brass-filled, fast-moving “New Ammo,” the band ended Saturday night specially. Concertgoers reluctantly stopped swaying and gyrating to cheer KDTU offstage, before slowly filing out to check out the Diggin Dirt after-party in the Red Room.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe is most certainly a regular feature on the Lake Tahoe circuit — and this was a regular old party at Crystal Bay Casino. Many thanks to the band and CBC for a blast of an evening.
— Josh Sweigert