Last night, fans in Central Park were given a night of true funk and soul, as Vulfpeck made their SummerStage debut, with Eric Krasno Band and Lawrence taking the opening slots. It was an incredible triple-bill that inspired tons of great playing, guest appearances, unexpected covers, and an epic throw-down from the Vulf as they kicked off their four-night NYC run.
Funky upstarts Lawrence kicked off the night, and their soulful brand of music was the perfect way to start the evening. Featuring material from their debut album, Breakfast (produced by Eric Krasno), the band played through songs like “Do You Wanna Do Nothing With Me?” and “Oh No”, working the early arriving audience to full affect. The band included their awesome covers of “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child and “Get Busy” by Sean Paul, and they invited Kraz out to jam with them towards the end of the set. Lawrence are on the up-and-up, so keep an eye out for them as they continue to grow as a band.
Krasno returned to the stage shortly after Lawrence ended, bringing his new solo band to SummerStage for a set of music from his new album Blood from a Stone. He performed the album’s lead single, “Jezebel”, as well as several other tracks from the new record, showcasing Krasno’s songwriting and lyrical guitar playing greatly. The band was tight as they worked through their limited catalog, with Kraz often taking a back seat to feature the other members of his tight band. Guitarist Danny Mayer in particular stood out, connecting with Kraz early and often to help push the band’s improvisational sections. Clyde and Gracie Lawrence came out towards the end of the set for a guest spot, and they each took turns belting it out as the band brought its set to an impressive conclusion.
It was around 8:30pm when Vulfpeck graced the stage. Fans of the band immediately noticed some extra musicians stepping forward as well. The band was augmented by Cory Wong on guitar and Richie Rodriguez on percussion, and the two musicians would join the band for the duration of the show. Vulf kicked things off with “Welcome To Vulf Records”, and three more guests would come on stage to add to the band’s sound: frequent Vulf collaborator Joey Dosik on saxophone, Mark Dover on clarinet, and a special appearance by Eddie Barbash, saxophonist from Jon Batiste and Stay Human. It was a great way to start off the set, getting the crowd extremely hyped as the makeshift horn section blew their way through the song’s sultry outro.
The band then kept Dosik on stage for a few songs, and he led the band with gusto as he sat at the keyboards and sang passionately on his brief feature. Wong was then featured on a track that Jack revealed as “the final track on our new album”. The track is called “Cory Wong”, and heavily showcases the guitar player’s funky chicken picking. The song actually dates back to 2013, but will be released as a studio recording for the first time on Vulfpeck’s new album, The Beautiful Game.
Then, Vulfpeck invited their idol, Bernard Purdie, to join them for a moment on the drums. Jack Stratton seemed truly in awe of Purdie, delivering a hilarious bit of banter about listening to Purdie’s records in his parents basement as a child. Stratton begged Purdie to play his famous “Purdie Shuffle” for the crowd, before calling out “OK, now you’re gonna start up Kid Charlemagne, 1, 2, 3, uggghhhhhh”. The band performed the song in note-perfect fashion, with Theo Katzman doing an admirable job imitating Donald Fagen. Katzman and Wong harmonized perfectly to re-create Larry Carlton’s famous guitar solo, and the band were all smiles playing the music that inspired them with one of the musicians who created it.
The band then counted off “Beastly”, a true launchpad for bassist Joe Dart to show off his Fender Jazz Bass skills, as he and Purdie locked in for a truly memorable version. Purdie brought his section of the show to a close as the band performed an absolutely beautiful cover of “Something” by The Beatles, which also saw Eric Krasno return to the stage to perform a duel guitar solo with a giddy Katzman. Katzman has not hidden his admiration for Krasno since first playing with him back at Fool’s Paradise in April, and watching the Vulfpeck man smile excitedly as he locked horns with Krasno was a true sight to behold. Purdie also sat in with the band on their hit single “Back Pocket”, which Katzman used as an opportunity to create some crowd participation.
As Purdie walked off stage, Stratton excitedly took the mic again to introduce Antwuan Stanley. Stanley has seen himself turn into a sort of superstar in his own right this summer, and he walked on stage with his pressed white shirt and sunglasses on in full rock star mode. The band started “1612”, while Stanley had the audience in the palm of his hands. The crowd seemed to know every lyric and every ad-lib, essentially every nook and cranny of the song, as Stanley owned the audience with his impressive and energetic performance.
Jack Stratton then introduced his mother, who taught the crowd the dance to go alone with “Funky Duck” that won the band’s Internet-based competition some months ago. After teaching the dance to the crowd, Mama Stratton then put on a pair of sunglasses and said “I think I see a Funky Duck…”, after which Vulfpeck launched into the fun lead track from their last album, Thrill Of The Arts. She stayed on stage, performing the official “Funky Duck” dance all the while.
The band followed that up with a delicate tune, as Stanley led the band through “Wait for the Moment”, which once again showcased the audience’s vocal prowess, singing every single note back to Stanley as he passionately performed the ballad that is quickly becoming his calling card. Before Stanley ended his set, Katzman introduced the crowd to Steve Watkins, a keyboardist in the Allen Stone Band who had been guesting with the band at various points of the evening. Watkins is a master of the vocoder, and he, Katzman, and Stanley then led the band through Rufus‘ classic “Tell Me Something Good”.
Vulfpeck crushed SummerStage last night, and they continue their ascension in today’s funk and soul scene. They are a unique band, and their live show seems to only be getting better. Seeing them perform with so many of their idols alongside many of the artists they have hand-picked to feature in their videos, on their albums, and in their live shows, one could say that last night’s Vulfpeck show was the most complete show of their career. With material spanning five albums, covers of The Beatles and Steely Dan, and standout guest spots throughout the night, this was the Vulfpeck variety show.
See below for a few videos from the night in Central Park. Vulfpeck returns to Brooklyn Bowl tonight to kick off a three-night stand at the beloved venue.
Watch “Welcome to Vulf Records”, courtesy of YouTube user vulfscape
Watch “Beastly”, courtesy of YouTube user linusj
Watch “Back Pocket”, courtesy of YouTube user linusj
Watch “Something”, courtesy of YouTube user vulfscape
Watch “Tell Me Something Good”, courtesy of YouTube user linusj