Live Review: Snarky Puppy @ The Royal Albert Hall, 14.11.19

Words & Photograph: PJ Kimber

I am lucky. I get the chance to see Snarky Puppy, the Grammy-winning jazz fusion ensemble, twice in one day. They deliver a masterclass at Under The Bridge in the early afternoon, then rock the shit out of The Royal Albert Hall after dinner. The clinic they host at about noon draw some notable parallels with their live performance, which fills me with great pride and joy. “I might be the only one in this room, this grand hall, who knows why they all look so comfortable up there on that prestigious stage,” I think to myself among the shit-munchers.

No, not really. I am happy to see them twice, but no other emotions get in the way of that happiness. Other than perhaps the same sort of feeling you get when finally opening a particularly stiff jar; ultimate and complete satisfaction.

Stellar support comes from instrumental innovator Charlie Hunter and Lucy Woodward. I’ve seen videos of Hunter grooving on his guitar/bass hybrid, but seeing it in the flesh really blows my socks off – and they were thermals, which is no mean feat! They bubble up the crowd like a Soda Stream, leaving us in biting anticipation for the main event.

On walks Michael League, Snarky Puppy’s band leader, in the very same jumper he was wearing at midday. I fucking love that. No special gig outfit, no pretence, no fuss. We aren’t here to see him in his best threads, we’re here to serve the music and he knows it. At the clinic, he spoke about how we are but a small part of music’s great tradition, and therefore must treat it with the respect it deserves. Write tunes that serve themselves, not their composer. Snarky Puppy are anything other than self-indulgent. While solos are not uncommon, they don’t linger. They are deliberate, yet free. They are built with purpose, while maintaining that spark of unpredictability. This is what makes them one of the most exciting bands currently working.

They skip from new stuff to old, citing tunes from their most recent release, Immigrance, such as ‘Xavi’ and ‘Bigly Strictness’, as well as hitting up some old favourites; ‘Shofukan’ is saved for the encore, brought about by a rapturous standing ovation. The performance is totally captivating. It feels like time isn’t passing. I am immersed. Even when the music stops for anecdotal purposes, it all feels so cohesive and sense-making. League is a great public speaker – he’s calm and funny. He even gets a crowd of 5,500 to clap a tricky quadruplet over three beats surprisingly accurately. Never stressed out. Perhaps that’s down to the advice the band received from mentor Bernard Wright – “limit yourself to 80% effort, max. That way, when you need to go above and beyond, there’s still some head room.” The whole band look so comfortable up on that prestigious stage.

They’re nearing the end of a SEVEN MONTH TOUR (seriously), but there are still tickets going for Manchester tonight and Glasgow tomorrow, as well as some more European dates, linked below.

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