Contemporary luminaries Snarky Puppy delivered a powerhouse performance on April 29 that captivated a packed Lawlor Events Center at the University of Reno.
Snarky Puppy was headlining the second night of Reno Jazz Festival and it felt like the promoters had pulled off a steal in grabbing the band, a nine-piece unit of virtuosos that has seen its profile blow up over the past two years. With its unparalleled mix of funk, jazz, Brazilian, Latin and a host of other influences, the group is in its own stratosphere in terms of composing inventive and exploratory pieces.
It has found a sweet spot in which it can be institutionally technical yet completely relatable in appeal. Albums “We Like It Here” and “Family Dinner Vol. 2” have brought commercial and critical praise from varied music aficionados and the ensemble had attracted an eclectic Friday night crowd of UNR students, jazz heads, gray-haired orchestra junkies and dreadlocked jambanders. Looking out over the Wolf Pack basketball arena there had to have been more than 2,000 strong out for the Pup, quite the turnout for quite a special night.
It’s hard to make a band as large as Snarky Puppy look small but the stage dwarfed the musicians and their instruments as they walked out to thundering applause. It only took about three seconds before the music dwarfed the audience as the jangly rhythm of “Tarova” burst out of the speakers. A tropical amalgamation of keyboards and guitars warmed the stadium air, with punchy horns bringing the funk to the proceedings. The song serves as the opener on the band’s new album, “Culcha Vulcha,” as well, which the band was celebrating the release of that night. They continued the celebration by launching into the next song on the album “Semente,” a Brazilian groove that felt like it would be used in a James Bond film when Bond is picking up his next blonde bombshell along the beach.
The audience was particularly attentive to the sound emanating from the stage. For many concert lovers, a crowd of people in seats is a glaring buzzkill that can ruin the experience. However, the seated fans were anything but a buzzkill as they cheered loudly after a charging solo or inspired musical sequence, their appreciation instantly given back to the band. Bandleader Michael League has said before in interviews that he prefers performing for quieter, seated crowds because they tend to be more focused on the music than the type of environment that exists at a club or festival. The people in attendance certainly gave the band the respect and space it deserved and responded with way more enthusiasm than what you’ll find at a lot of live concerts.
But most concerts are not hour-and-a-half clinics of musical mastery. To not have been moved by what this collection of musicians was doing on stage means you could not have possibly been there. They had a surgeon’s precision in linking together intricately woven sections of music one right after the other without getting the threads crossed. The band members’ passion for their music shone through on both the individual and communal levels, each providing its own source of excitement. On a searing “We Like It Here” the piano and guitar exchanged some entrancing counterpoint melodies in the outro, with the piano taking the song to another level on its closing solo. Snarky Puppy’s strength as unit was pronounced on “Tio Macaco,” a singular and efficient groove of Latin influence that had a few people unabashedly dancing in the aisles.
A satisfied mass streamed onto a buzzing Friday night that still had plenty of adventure left in it. But whether you headed to a house party afterwards or a night of dancing and gambling in the casinos or to a quiet night at home, Snarky Puppy was definitely everyone’s biggest attraction in the world’s biggest little city.