Snarky Puppy at the Montreal Jazz Festival

It’s hard to believe June 30th, 2015 was Snarky Puppy’s first time performing at the Montreal Jazz Festival; they filled the 2300-capacity Métropolis Theatre like a veteran act. That’s not to say that Snarky Puppy hasn’t been around for a while (they formed in 2004) or that they haven’t performed in Montreal before (they have, several times), but after winning a Grammy in 2014, the collective seems to be just hitting their stride. Their Montreal show was their 20th concert in 21 days, and the final stop of their North American tour.

Their performance was characteristically tight and engaging, with an 8-person group out of the sprawling collective doing justice to the compositions and arrangements of the group’s de facto leader, Michael League. The atmosphere inside Métropolis was electric, with the crowd alternatively dancing, clapping, or wordlessly singing along with the performance.

Snarky Puppy essentially performed “greatest hits” set from their past releases, including “Thing of Gold” (featuring an jaw-dropping synth solo by keyboardist Cory Henry, one of the band’s most consistently stand-out members) and “What About Me” (over which guitarist Bob Lanzetti played a very impressive solo).

One of the most high-energy moments of the set came during “Tio Macaco”, when the band featured drummer Larnell Lewis, a Torontonian, and percussionist Nate Werth. A highlight for the crowd was when Montreal-based vocalist Malika Tirolien (who performs in the Montreal-based collective Kalmunity) took the stage to perform “Sew”, which she recorded with Snarky Puppy on Family Dinner Volume One.

The sound in the house was generally quite good, although the overly heavy low-end betrayed the band’s rhythm section-oriented approach. The horn solos never reached quite the same level as the rhythm section’s, and I found myself wishing for less conservative horn parts overall.

A particularly touching part of the show was during the encore, “Lingus”, when League told the crowd that it had been a “tough day” for the band: earlier that day, they had learned that Eric Hartman, who recorded and mixed the band’s recordings since 2008, had died unexpectedly.

League asked the audience to take a moment to thank “people who aren’t on stage getting applause every night”, and the band coaxed the stage crew onstage to massive applause. Percussionist Nate Werth handed one of the stage crew a beer, and once the crew left the stage, League told the crowd he would let keyboardist Cory Henry “put them to sleep”.

Of course, what happened was quite the opposite, and the crowd visibly deflated once the encore was over and music came on in the house, shutting down the possibility of a second encore. As the audience filed out into a rainy Montreal night, they were at least reassured by the fact that although it was Snarky Puppy’s first Montreal Jazz Fest show, it was almost certainly not their last.

Snarky Puppy’s latest album, Sylva, is available online