Snarky Puppy Brings the Heat to Florida
It might have been the coldest night of the season on Monday, but if you were getting down at The Ritz you were definitely not feeling it. Whenever I hear someone say anything to the effect of “well, they just don’t make music like they used to” or “there’s no one making real music anymore,” my soul dies a little for all of the supremely talented musicians making beautiful and innovative music with little to no widespread acclaim. Sure, when you’re listening to “WFLZ HOT HITS” or whatever filth MTV is spewing out these days you might get the idea that real music is dead, but all you have to do is take a small step off of the beaten path to run into goldmines of jazz, jam, folk and funk that won’t quit. Make no mistake, good music is alive and well, and it was partying hard on Monday night at The Ritz in Ybor City with Snarky Puppy, Banda Magda, and Serotonic.
Thankfully, for every flippant remark about music’s sad state of affairs, there are countless more music lovers who are not afraid to do a little digging to find the good stuff, as evidenced by the droves that showed up and packed the house at Monday night’s Snarky Puppy concert at The Ritz Ybor in Tampa, FL. This was the band’s fourth trip back to the Tampa Bay area in four years, and each year their shows reach max capacity, so in order to ease the pain of the long waits at the door promoters organized pre-show entertainment in a side room of the venue and invited local jazz/funk five-piece Serotonic to amp the crowd up before openers Banda Magda.
There is something special about a community that can get excited about their own local music and arts scene, and this part of Florida has one of the most thriving musical networks around for that very reason. Over an hour beforeBanda Magda was scheduled to hit the stage, the room was already packed, getting the party started with Serotonic. The band kept the grooves building throughout their set, and just when we thought they might have hit the ceiling, a surprise guest showed up to blast the room through the roof. When Snarky Puppy guitarist Mark Lettieri emerged through the crowd, guitar in hand, the place went nuts. He graciously sat in, playing two off the charts funky tunes with the band, giving everyone a small taste of what they might be in for the rest of the evening. It was a priceless moment to kick off the night.
After Serotonic’s exceptional set, it was time to migrate into the main theater for Banda Magda. Much like the rest of the audience, I assume, this was my first Banda Magda experience. I was familiar with her performance on Snarky Puppy’s live CD/DVD, Family Dinner, and was excited to see the sweet little Greek-born singer/accordionist sing her cute French songs, but then Magda Giannikou came out center stage in front of the Snarky Puppy crew and rocked my face off. She is not sweet or cute. Magda is bad ass. With the voice of fallen angel, she took us on a journey through world rhythms and cinema-worthy compositions. It is undoubtedly a daunting task to stand out in front of a wall of sound like the Pups and command the stage, but Magda was in control from the start. Magda and the Snarky Puppy boys obviously have a special musical connection on stage and their hour long set kept the entire room engaged and enchanted until the very end.
At this point, it was Snarky time. With such an intense touring schedule, Snarky Puppy has a revolving cast of musicians ready to tag each other in and out as needed. This evening’s line-up consisted of band leader Mike League, guitarist Mark Lettieri, Justin Stanton and Cory Henry on keys, drums/percussion section Nate Werth and Larnell Lewis, and Jay Jennings, Chris Bullock and Mike Maher holding it down on horns. It really does not matter what configuration of this group shows up to play. They will play, and they will play incredibly every single time. The band blasted through stellar renditions of crowd favorites, including “Lingus,” “Thing of Gold,” and “What About Me” featuring a serious drum solo from Larnell Lewis. Towards the middle of their set, Mr. League asked if we wanted to hear a couple of new tunes from their upcoming studio album. After a resounding “hell yes!” from the crowd, the band tore into some new material that I am not even going to attempt to describe, except to say that if you thought Michael League and Snarky Puppy peaked or might be tempted to hit cruise control after a second Grammy nomination, you would be sorely mistaken. They are not letting up any time soon, and this album is going to be one to look out for.
Snarky Puppy took the stage for about an hour and a half, but that is all you need when every single second is filled with complex compositions performed with a perfect combination of expert musicianship and playfulness. The love that they have for what they do is palpable and infectious. The night ended with the entire building dancing to “Tio Macaco” and then singing along with “Shofukan” (they couldn’t not do it). You know you are doing something right when, as an instrumental ensemble, you can stop playing and hear thousands of people joyously singing every note.
Snarky Puppy will be releasing Family Dinner Vol. 2 album in February, followed by another studio record sometime later in the year. If you missed them in Tampa, you can still catch them in Florida on January 11 at Boca Raton’s Funky Biscuit. This is a show that you do not want to miss.