I brave the busy streets of downtown Atlanta to join fellow music enthusiasts for one of the best live shows I’ve seen to date. Powerhouse ensemble Snarky Puppy delivers a performance steeped in flair and mélange. The band played at the Tabernacle as part of their North American tour to a crowd as diverse as the city of Atlanta itself. The old church located beside Centennial Park was renovated in 1996 as a House of Blues and boasts a grandiose appearance both inside and out.
I walk through security on this warm and humid night, taking in the beautiful architecture of the towering building. As I make my way inside, my eyes widen. I had never been to this venue before. I find myself wandering, a lost soul seeking to find the source of the music echoing through the foyer. I suspect this place is just as daunting sober with multiple staircases, 60’ ceilings and a concert hall originally built to hold a congregation of over 4,000 people. I make my way closer to the stage, movement along the edges of the crowd is easy, with earpiece wearing uniformed security constantly patrolling the marked paths to keep them clear. I remain near one of the side bars, not keen to try and push through the tightly packed crowd. The woman behind me hugs me as she introduces herself, she is so excited to be here and talks animatedly throughout the show.
The massive venue is close to bursting. With two balconies in addition to the floor space this is no small feat. Snarky Puppy, however, is no small band. With over 13 musicians listed as members of the collective and 11 albums to date, the Grammy Award-winning band is an incredible musical force with more soul than a Baptist congregation. Their performance flowed with experienced grace, setting soundscapes that ranged from a nightclub jazz performance of the 1950’s to a modern day ambient style. With such a large stage presence, one would think that instruments would get lost. This is far from the case. Different performers are highlighted throughout the evening. Complex jazz brass, fast fingered keyboard funk and rollicking percussion amaze the crowd as the night progresses.
Their musical taste spans decades with influences from rock, soul and world music as well as the overarching jazz and funk grooves. They play with the crowd, teasing, slowly and patiently building layers of sound until they are a roaring chorus that has the audience calling out in delight. They play old numbers and sprinkle new ones throughout the set from their latest album, Culcha Vulcha, which was released the night before the show and has already claimed the #1 spot on iTunes. The crowd loves it all, cheering when they play “GØ” from the new album, stomping on the floor and clapping in encouragement.
Snarky Puppy also shared the stage with collaborator Lucy Woodward, a jazz singer born in London who has toured and produced with the band and was featured on their Family Dinner album. Lucy’s performances have been described as “sultry” and a “a jaw-dropping listening experience.” Together, they created an evening of musical genius that left audience members raving.
People pour down the stairs behind me and spill out onto the sidewalk. They mill around, discussing plans for the rest of the night or waiting for their friends to emerge from the big wooden doors. Bit and pieces of conversation float on the air, all centered around how amazing the show was. “They never disappoint.”
I smile to myself, the crowd found on these steps tonight is much different than the people who used to grace this beautiful building with their presence. They are younger, a lot more diverse and I’d be willing to bet they have better taste. Still, some things change and some stay the same. Nothing touches lives like music and that will always be true, no matter how many years pass.
Purchase Snarky Puppy's new album here.
Photos by Lacey Smith.