Snarky Puppy took the stage a few minutes after 10:00. Whether they decided it based on the crowd or had planned it in advance, the first 20 minutes of their set were the perfect contrast to the straightforward energy of openers The High & Mighty Brass Band. The one-two punch of “White Cap” and “Skate U”, both from their 2010 release Tell Your Friends, built up at an even pace, allowing the band and the audience to lay the foundations for the connection they would nurture throughout the show.

Guitarist Mark Lettieri took a solo, starting by interweaving melodic chord patterns and building to rapidfire trills, all with a sublime presence of mind, calm and astoundingly good.

Of course, the band’s musical virtuosity alone isn’t what their live show is all about – it’s about the magical energy of improvisation. Theirs seems like a serious case of groupmind – they pull in and out of solos between and during any points they can, somehow morphing from full-on swing to echoing spotlights on each musician. It’s hard to pick which is more impressive: the sheer skill of each instrumentalist, or the speed and grace with which they incorporate their solos into the bodies of precomposed songs. They make the most intricate runs seem effortless, laughing the whole time like it’s all one big inside joke.

Often, the secret levity spills over to the audience, like when the already-righteous “Binky” slid into Parliament’s “We Got The Funk”, leaving everyone giddy. “We were trying not to start singing the words,” League laughed afterwards, “but we couldn’t help it.”

“What About Me?” lived up to its potential as a super-percussive jam, calling up references to the sound of jazz drummers like Dave Weckl. It’s got Zeppelin-sized riffs, giving it incredible force. The real MVP, though, and that of the show, is drummer Larnell Lewis. The man is a powerhouse, and a wonder to see live.

After “Thing of Gold” took the crowd on a gently-blossoming journey of textures, complete with singalong refrain, they kicked the energy up to fourth gear with “Tio Macaco”, a highly danceable piece written for League’s daughter. Its Brazilian influences shone through funky polyrhythms and a delicious horn hooks, getting the crowd moving as one.

Snarky Puppy brought their set to its peak with crowd favorite “Shofukan”, the leading single off of We Like It Here. Its release and accompanying video generated an excited buzz over the song’s sinewy, dramatic current.

Live, however, the song took on a whole new power. The regal horns over tumultuous drums made it a groundshaking experience. Even above the masterful musicianship and the improvisational delight, they were having so much fun up there that it was impossible not to feel like you were at the center of something more alive than usual. When it comes to organic wizardry and pure musical joy, no one does it quite like Snarky Puppy.

The encore was so tight and mind-meltingly strong that it could’ve served as the whole set. They started with “Ego Trippin”, a hip-hop jam by world-renowned composer and multi-instrumentalist Phil Lassiter, who stepped out from behind the curtain to join in on vocals, both rapped and sung. The night ended with the closing track from We Like It Here, “Sleeper”, perhaps the most intense performance of the night. Some forms of music aren’t meant for us to try to capture them with words; listening to the audio of the show is the only way to do it justice. It’s bewildering.

You can stream below and download that night’s set here.

Asher Meerovich (@Bummertime)