Snarky Puppy Are a Waste of Your Time
On tape there's something eloquent, even graceful about how Denton-formed Snarky Puppy blend various streams of sound. A great deal of these recordings capture the group in a live environment, reflecting the searing energy and fluid ease with which these artists navigate the modern (jazz) fusion frontier. It's what has made them so exciting, on both a regional and national scale. It's also why there was a line wrapped around the block last night at the Prophet Bar. Everyone wanted a glimpse of the shiny beast live. To see and hear its majestic movements in the flesh.
Snarky Puppy doing considerably less screwing around during the live recording of "Slow Demon."
The night started off magnificently. Opener Banda Magda was endlessly charming and refreshingly diverse. Wearing an apple red dress, with an accordion draped upon her shoulders, the wildly charismatic Magda (her sensual, knotted English could charm a stuck bull) began the set with a slithering ethno-gypsy number that sounded like Beirut doing tango. The performance danced about various world music touchstones: Greek, Brazilian, Argentinean and French, while never settling for pastiche. It was thoroughly tasteful and masterfully executed from start to finish. From space odyssey guitar to a flurry of Rhodes piano play, Magda and her Banda put on a rhythmically illustrious show that was nothing short of inspirational.
See also: Snarky Puppy are a Delight
Then there was an intermission, and soon the Prophet Bar was full. The audience was one of the most diverse I've seen at a Dallas show. You were as likely to see suits as street-wear. There were even a few suspender-clad fellas in the mix. There was a sense that half the crowd were music theory and ethnomusicology majors. As expected, the UNT students were out in full force. The tension was palpable -- a rumbling, small-talk groan --- and when the lights dimmed, whispers were exchanged for fevered chatter. A collection of horns with drizzles of hazy-edged string tones started things off for Snarky Puppy. There were an unusual number of band members standing around on stage, bantering. This would persist for the entire two hours. It was a worrisome omen.
I thought this assignment would be a breeze. After all, a colleague in London relayed that "wherever they go, they dependably blow off the roof." Experiences like that tend to write themselves. Unfortunately, the roof stayed fully intact.
Showy, cheesy and routined, Snarky Puppy were unconvincing from start to finish. There was no creativity on stage: Notes were carried like anchors and originality was nowhere in sight. There was no heat, no pulse, no sex, no life, just sounds that you've heard before (maybe in a commercial or elevator), and a stage presence that was plastic and overtly theatrical. You didn't have to be a connoisseur or a jazz purist to see it either. Technical know-how will tell you nothing about a performance's quality, but your nerves and gut will. My nerves said they were both wrecked and under-stimulated. My gut told me to drink 15 more beers, anything to distract me from the scarecrow circus that played out on stage.