The members of Snarky Puppy, the Brooklyn-based instrumental jazz fusion force of nature, delivered their signature brand of music for both brain and booty at its sold-out visit to the Town Ballroom Saturday night in support of its 11th album, "Culcha Vulcha." Faultless by the standards of the fussiest music student, Snarky Puppy aimed deeper than the intellect. The band wanted the crowd to get hit in the soul.
Singer Lucy Woodward kicked off the night with a short, smoldering set. The sweetness of Woodward's voice paired with the understated, locked-in groove of her band kept the crowd hungry for more. When she finally traded heated whispers for full-on soulful crooning, the crowd sprung into action, meeting her with claps, gasps and yelps of enthusiasm.
That warm welcome did not compare to the roar of approval that Buffalo gave the nine members of Snarky Puppy.
The set started with a dueling drum solo, both of the band's drummers ripping impossibly fast grooves until, out of nowhere, the horns came up, stage left. By the time the full band (two drummers, three horn players, two keyboards, guitar and bass) came in, the members of the crowd were already nearly out of their minds. And that was just the first song.
Snarky Puppy punctuated the middle of the set with the live world premiere of "The Simple Life." Between the chiming, syncopated guitar and the steady, pulsing rhythm, it's one of the more relaxed tracks on "Culcha Vulcha." At the heart of the set, it created a necessary moment of blissed-out unity as the crowd took a breather and every head bobbed in unison.
Impressively, Snarky Puppy built the energy steadily throughout the night without drops or diminishing returns. Somehow, every moment in every song seemed to one up the last.
Like many a band before them, Snarky Puppy has realized that the most reliable way to thrill a crowd like this is changes in dynamics. Every time the rhythm section toned down or the horns dropped out, the whole room turned to the stage, hushed, like they were watching a high-wire act. Invariably, when the band met that attention with a blistering solo or a new groove, the crowd would involuntarily scream in disbelief and delight.
As well-rehearsed a band as Snarky Puppy is, though, the most electrifying moment of the night was almost certainly improvised. Near the end of the final song of the set (pre-encore), one of the band's keyboardists grabbed the microphone:
"We're in Buffalo, so we've got to pay respect."
When he started to sing a few lines from Rick James' "Mary Jane," the crowd lost their minds, roaring so loud I thought the roof might cave in.
Even bassist Michael League couldn't help but remark on Buffalo's enthusiasm when he grabbed the mic to thank the crowd.
"I thought WE were loud," said League, shaking his head. "I don't know why we haven't been here in four years."
Here's hoping Snarky Puppy comes back sooner.
Who: Snarky Puppy
When: Saturday night at Town Ballroom