In celebration of their bandleader’s 62nd birthday, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe strutted into San Francisco in late December for their customary engagement at The Fillmore, a historic room Karl D has been packing for many years. For their final California shows of 2018, KDTU started their BDay/NYE run in San Diego, calling on old friend (and local SD favorite) Z-Trip to join them onstage for a funky-live-hip-hop segment, before traveling north to the Bay for a boisterous two-fer with the venerable DJ in tow. The boys arrived to a blustery Bay Area primed for a proper celebration, and rest assured they did not disappoint.
On the first night, Friday December 28th, NOLA stalwarts Dumpstaphunk came out for direct support. In one of the bigger surprises in recent memory, Dumpsta welcomed Bay Area icon Carlos Santana to the stage for a soaring sit-in on a white Fender Stratocaster. Unfortunately, there were too many incredible musical options in the area, so on the 28th this writer found himself at the Erykah Badu show at The Warfield (read my review here.) Therefore, for the purposes of this story, we will skip to the following night at The Fillmore, where Jurassic 5 alumni Chali 2na and Cut Chemist dropped a proper duo set to open the festivities; two turntables and a microphone warmed up a capacity crowd before KDTU took over The Fillmore with a positively mammoth performance.
Opening with a couple uptempo pop numbers in “My Baby Likes to Boogaloo” and “Shake it Out”, Karl Denson grabbed the mic and fronted the band, singing and offering some choreographed dancing with veteran trumpet sideman Chris Littlefield. Denson made sure both his band and the audience was properly limbered up and loose, prepared to get the show underway from the stage and the dancefloor alike. Reaching back over fifteen years, KDTU uncorked a massive take on “The Bridge”, including a groovy reworked outro-jam, chased by a mouthwatering re-entry into the classic. Guitarist DJ Williams really shined on the new “The Bridge”, offering a series of lusty, Isaiah Sharkey-like licks. Karl, on the other hand, unveiled something of a beloved rarity these days, in the form of a lengthy, scintillating, downright sexy flute solo.
Denson then led the boys into a trifecta of tracks off their forthcoming album Gnomes and Badgers, due in the Spring. “I’m Your Biggest Fan” was probably the best of the bunch, more of the old-school soul-dream funky-jazz vibe that was KDTU’s bread and butter for a very long time. The newer material is spiced with a blues-rock edge that is enhanced by Seth Freeman’s Stratocaster style and
Denson invited longtime pal Z-Trip to the stage and the renowned DJ assumed his position behind an enormous station, with turntables, a mixer, samplers and more. Williams started up the beefy riff to Lenny Kravitz’s deep cut “Straight Cold Player” and Z-Trip took the reigns, leading the band in and out of the funk, scratching and mixing breaks while Denson and his squad burrowed through the burly jam. Chali 2na reappeared, he stepped up and showed out with a hot verse in his inimitable magnanimous baritone. As the Tiny Universe caught wreck, Z-Trip veered in and out of Public Enemy (“Rebel Without a Pause”) and LL Cool J (“Going Back to Cali”) for a thrilling segment.
Z-Trip sliced up a passionate benediction from poet Saul Williams, and KDTU took that handoff and (appropriately) ran all the way to “Freedom”, unveiling a rollicking Afrobeat style for the first time in a while. Seth Freeman shined bright on guitar and vocals, fronting drummer Zak Najor‘s cut “Nowhere to Run.” The KDTU
Before we knew it, DJ Williams had started sneaking in the chicken-scratch riff that announces KDTU’s much-beloved swag anthem “Groove On”, a song that encapsulates this band’s glorious halcyon era maybe more than any other. This joint had been on the shelf for many years, after being an integral part of KDTU’s repertoire for a decade. It had also been a long time since we’d heard Karl lecture the “fellas” on gettin’ themselves
From there, Karl and company entered the home
KDTU is steamrolling into 2019, “twice as nice, twice as strong.” At 62 years young, it’s crystal clear that Karl Denson still has got his groove on, and he’s showing zero signs of stopping. After one hundred minutes of steamy, sexy, birthday funk, on this San Francisco night, the Diesel was the best in town.
KDTU Setlist 12/29/18 The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA.-
My Baby Likes to Boogaloo, Shake It On, The Bridge, What if You Knew, Biggest Fan, -Z-Trip segment- Straight Cold Player* > Rebel Without a Pause> Going Back to Cali, Freedom, Nowhere to Run, The Answer, Groove On, Mighty Rebel. Encore- Sure Shot**, New Ammo
*featuring Chali 2na on vocals
**featuring Z-Trip, Cut Chemist on turntables and samplers, Wil Blades on Hammond B3