They’re the not altogether cool kids from high school band that you can’t help but love. They call themselves Snarky, as if to stick it to the jocks and valley girls who misjudged them in the hallways and gymnasiums of yesteryear. But last night, Snarky Puppy had the last laugh as the collective of jazz-fusion superstars buzzed with cool thanks to a monstrous sound that sent a capacity Nathan Phillips audience into a raging frenzy. It was a powerhouse performance from a group of multi-instrumentalist musicians on one of the first hot Toronto summer nights of 2015.
Snarky Puppy’s music takes classic jazz idioms and splices them together with rocket-fueled electronica. At it's wildest, Puppy's sound is like the pulsing soundtrack to your favourite video game. On level one it's soft, enchanting rhythms that push forward through the pixilated dark castle, but by level 8 you are anxiously awaiting the beat to drop as you enter into battle for Princess Peach!
Witnessing Puppy at full throttle is a communal journey for the audience and band that weaves and bops with tempo and key changes a-go-go. The group gives what it gets, but battle jamband fatigue - Puppy uses everything in its arsenal from cowbells to maracas to chimes, anything to keep ‘em guessing.
The versatile, multi-function team members worked so well together, it was as if the entire set was improvised. Many of the band members were exceptionally fluent and capable with two or more instruments for the entire performance. Band leader and bassist Michael League shred hard and heavy as he flashed his tongue and kissed the sky in ecstasy. Corey Henry’s fingers flew across the keys bringing a dancefloor funk vibration to the stage as an organist and synthesizer extraordinaire. Trumpet player Justin Stanton brought a classical force to the sound that further amplified the intense beat drop that followed his towering solos. Toronto-born Larnell Lewis brought the beat, indulging the crowd with an ever-funky pulsation as a masterful drum, bongo and cow bell player.
It was a night of musical treats from the Brooklyn-based outfit, every lull replaced with rowdy cries for more. At one point, the crowd voiced a rare jazz sing-along of musical aid, to the sheer excitement and surprise of a smiling League. The opener-free set was pure electricity that provided a solid 90 minute musical workout. There was particular love for hometown hero and ferocious kit-man Larnell Lewis. Without too much dawdling, Puppy returned to the stage with an encore that included its closest thing to a hit, "Lingus: We Like it Here."
But one man's encore is another's opening song. After Snarky Puppy signed autographs for their completely smitten jazzy-hipster fans, Michael League and friends proceeded to The Rex Hotel for a much-anticipated reunion at the first international venue the band ever played.
Snarky Puppy will record two new albums by the New Year including a well-anticipated solo album.