8th November | O2 Academy
Photos: Duncan Cruickshank
Jazz is a genre that’s often labelled as difficult and inaccessible, but at their O2 Academy show, Snarky Puppy work hard to dispel that myth. In fact, they manage to do it over an hour before they take to the stage, through the diversity of the audience; it’s filled with everyone from hip university students to older fans wearing classic rock t-shirts and even the odd family unit.
The music of Snarky Puppy is equally suited to dissection from hardcore jazz fans, as it is to being an accompaniment to your most embarrassing dance moves.
Charlie Hunter and Lucy Woodward do a fantastic job of warming up the crowd, playing a tight set of original songs and reworks of classics, such as Nina Simone’s ‘Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. Giving these older songs a glossy jazz sheen, the group do a fantastic job of making them their own.
Soon after, Snarky Puppy take to the stage, made up of a wide range of musicians, including a pair of drummers and a trio of brass players. Bassist Michael League acts as the ringleader of the group, which has a tendency to morph from tour to tour and sometimes even show to show.
As impressive as Snarky Puppy’s studio albums are, their songs gain a new lease of life on the stage. ‘Bad Kids to the Back’ – a highlight from the collective’s newest album Immigrance – swells up into something larger. While it retains the same scrappy energy that made its recorded counterpart so fun, the live version finds room for some extensive saxophone and keyboard solos.
“We often rework old songs, just to keep things interesting after touring for months on end,” says League partway through the set. Afterwards, the band dive into a hip-shaking rendition of ‘Tarova’ from 2016’s Culcha Vulcha. They find room to draw out its central, irresistible groove, with Justin Stanton – keyboardist and hype man for the night – kicking off the song with an extended vocoder solo.
Despite Snarky Puppy having such a vast number of musicians on stage, including a few guests that pop in for a couple of songs, everyone gets their moment in the spotlight. Though League does most of the talking for the night, all the members feel like equals.
The group conclude the main set with some audience participation and a quick lesson in polyrhythm. League gets the left and right sides of the audience to clap along in different time signatures – 3 and 4 – adding an extra percussive layer to the Gnawa-inspired ‘Xavi’. It’s one of the night’s most impressive moments, again highlighting the versatility of the band’s sound.
Following an obligatory encore break, the group finish things off with fan favourite ‘Shofukan’ from We Like It Here. It acts as a final showcase for the musicians, as well as the audience, with Stanton calling for everyone to sing along to the track’s catchy “nah, nah, nah” vocal refrain.
After the group leave the stage and the house lights come up, Stanton returns one final time to make sure the audience continue to chant the refrain. Despite how intricate Snarky Puppy’s music can feel at times, at its core, there’s a communal simplicity to it. It’s music for everyone.
See the video for ‘Bad Kids To The Back’ here: