I FIRST discovered Snarky Puppy when a friend showed me a clip on YouTube three years ago and was instantly hooked.

The video of the group performing their song Lingus included a solo from one of the two keyboard players so insane that the other keyboard playing seems to go mad halfway through, laughing, burying his head in his hands then finally taking off his headphones, standing up and apparently walking away.

Part of the reason I love this band is because I’ve always wanted to like jazz, and Snarky Puppy are a sort-of jazz-lite; My First Jazz Band - all brightly-coloured blocks covered in a sticky layer of bubblegum synth.

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Saying you like jazz because you like Snarky Puppy is a bit like saying you like prog rock because you’ve got a Pink Floyd album, or you do drugs because you smoked weed a couple of times.

The band’s show in Oxford on Saturday night was a perfect example.

Astonishingly, after their 15 years of touring the world since they formed in Denton, Texas, in 2004, this was Snarky Puppy’s first ever show in the spiritual home of pretentious intellectuals and self-indulgent popular music.

And you can tell: the downstairs room at the O2 is jam-packed tonight with all kinds of people – grey-haired dads trying to be groovy, musical mums in leopard print, and half the audience is under 40, with plenty of teenagers and 20-somethings showing how this group is introducing the genre to a whole new generation.


Over the years the line-up of Snarky Puppy has changed hugely and they still have plenty of members who tag in and out on various tours and albums, so I am delighted that among the crew of nine tonight is that keyboard player – not the one who did the insane solo but the one who was driven mad and had to walk away: he came back.

And, after a slow start, the band kicks into Outlier from their beloved 2014 album We Like It Here, with a new, insane solo from Shaun Martin: attached to his keyboards he has a bizarre device which is a kind of tube next to the microphone that he shapes his mouth around to give the sounds a vocal tone like a synthesiser kazoo.

The sounds that he gets out of this thing drive the crowd wild, whooping and hollering in delight.

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They also crack out a couple of tunes from their latest album Immigrance, including daringly trying to get the audience to clap the syncopated Moroccan polyrhythm to Xavi, dividing the room in two so the right half claps three beats while the left hand claps four.

While I found this ambitious breaking of the fourth wall excruciating, it did demonstrate just how clever this band are: despite the fact you can tap your foot along to (almost) every song, there is some damn clever stuff going on beneath the surface.

Despite the audience participation, the gig was a stonker. Whether you think you like jazz or not, do yourself a favour and go and watch Lingus on YouTube, and then, if we’re lucky, Snarky Puppy might even come back to Oxford one day.