Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham UK
This was the first visit of this Texan-born, Brooklyn-based band to Birmingham and yet the place was packed. And packed, I am delighted to report, with an audience where the young and cool far outnumbered the old and square – hey, even the oldies must have become a bit cooler just by being there.
And what a gig! This is a hugely inspiring band – a great big optimistic blast for the concept of having a damn fine time without feeling the need to switch off the synapses in the process.
Rather than try to second-guess the wide ranging influences that come in to play in the band – and they range from jazz to funk to Afro-beat to gospel to hip-hop to Texan blues to European classical to sophisticated pop – it might be better to explore the connections formed in my head and heart as I did my old man dance at the back (I had started out near the front right speaker but the sound was distorting there and the combined efforts of two trebly electric guitars in close proximity has left me with a nostalgically enjoyable hissing in my ears even now – ah yes, it’s the sound of my 20s all over again).
The connected memories run like this:
- The diverse influences and rich timbral mix with electric bass at its centre had me thinking of the Jaco Pastorius Big Band – though Michael League is his own man and imitates neither Jaco’s sound nor his self-indulgence, and the timbral mix is not harmonica against steel-pans but horns against guitars.
- The bended synth notes used fairly sparingly by keyboardist Bill Laurance have the nostalgic ring of classic ’70s Isley Brothers about them.
- The occasional guitar solos from Mark Lettieri give the weird impression that the ghost of Stevie Ray Vaughan is with us and has done some work on his jazz harmonies while up there in Texas blues heaven.
- The drumming of Robert “Sput” Searight and percussion of Nate Werth locked in a deliriously happy place conjured up a whole host of drum nirvanas from Detroit to New Orleans.
- The electric tenor of Chris Bullock had me casting my mind back 40 years to Eddie Harris.
- The general vibe of a band that lives together and plays together suggests the cohesion and general circus family feel of the Hermeto Pascoal band.
- The eclectic nature of the influences and the seamless way they are amalgamated to make something completely new and fresh, had me thinking of Snarky Puppy as an instrumental Grizzly Bear – or maybe it’s just the Brooklyn connection…
- And as for the generosity of the music – well, like the Jaco big band, like Earth, Wind and Fire at their live best, like many all-night funk masters, the great melodies, the surprising changes of direction, the multiple grooves are packed in so tight, that each tune is like a composer’s Russian doll, song reveals song reveals song.
If the band’s calling card – and surely a potential pop hit – is likely to be Thing Of Gold (originally written by League as a vocal song – the hooky synth line from Laurance is close to vocal in its articulation), there were equal pleasures in the Afro-Beat goes somewhere else Binky, the New Orleans goes somewhere else Quarter Master and the Bacharach goes somewhere else Flood. Fabulous music and fabulous playing from everyone (I think the only ones I haven’t yet mentioned are trumpeter Mike Maher and guitarist Bob Lanzetti).
A contender for gig of the year and all thanks to the Brothers Harmonic for bringing Michael League and his Snarky Puppy to town.
For those of you who weren’t there, this studio film is a small consolation. Though it in no way suggests the full visceral experience fo the band live, it’s still damn fine:
The band has a lot more gigs in this country over the next week before they hit the Continent. Find one and go! There’re all here.