By their very nature, Snarky Puppy can be unpredictable in the wildest ways. The Brooklyn-based band is a constantly rotating lineup of musicians, drawing from all over their catalogue for their setlists, and they're constantly reinventing and reinterpreting their own work during performances. Striking a balance between singable melodies and technical chops, it's not uncommon to hear audiences shouting along to horn melodies in 5/4, and see crowd members groove along to weird beat divisions in 15/8.
The group's set Tuesday night at a sold-out Danforth Music Hall was transfixing right from the start, with opener "Flood" from 2010's Tell Your Children equal parts bewitching and razor-tight. Trumpeter Mike "Maz" Maher took a long, meandering, bombastic, and ultimately thrilling solo, which sure enough would be a sign of things to come throughout the evening. Toronto-based drummer (and huge local favourite judging by the ovation he received) Larnell Lewis took an extended turn on "Lingus" from 2014's We Like It Here, and solos from keyboardists Bobby Sparks and Shaun Martin throughout the evening also were well-received.
Despite the technical intricacy of many of Snarky's compositions, the band looked like they were barely breaking a sweat during the set. They were laughing amongst themselves, egging each other on during solos, and bassist and bandleader Michael League spent a considerable amount of time defending the honour of Lionel Messi after an audience member made a comment about him. Elsewhere, League kept audience members entertained with his bass faces, led the audience in the clapping part on "Palermo," and was probably the one who got most invested in other people's solos.
There were a few more recent selections on the evening's setlist, such as "Palermo" and "Gemini" off 2016's Culcha Vulcha, but the band seemed more interested in digging around their catalogue than just playing the hits. Smart move too: "Flood" is around eight years old, but their riveting, extended take on the track was a highlight of the evening.
Throughout the night, they repeatedly demonstrated themselves as a band with feet planted in both pop and jazz territories, with a penchant for accessible melodies, and a tendency to rarely play the same chart the same way twice. Songs turned into extended jams, with new twists and turns popping up the whole time. But as exploratory as they were, they never lost sight on keeping the audience engaged and involved, and as the crowd sang along to "Big Ugly" to end the evening, there was a real sense that the jam-packed Danforth would not walk away unsatisfied after Snarky Puppy's thrill ride of a set.