Photos And Review | Karl Denson's Tiny Universe | Brooklyn

Images by: Adam McCullough
Words by: Chad Berndtson

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe :: 1.24.14 - 1.25.14 :: Brooklyn Bowl :: Brooklyn, NY

Read Chad's full review below gallery!

Karl Denson rebooted the Tiny Universe more or less in 2009, and while the lineup has changed a bit, you get the sense Karl is happy with where things are. The furious groove of “old school” KDTU is once again present in the band’s performances, with heavy soul, pummeling funk and R&B and no shortage of instrumental fireworks.

It’s reason enough to describe the band as can’t-miss. It’s also why reviewing a show like Saturday’s – the third night of an impressively drawn-up Brooklyn Bowl residency – is a frustrating experience. Exciting as the guest appearances by Zach Deputy and John Oates were, the one thing the show didn’t have enough of was, well, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe.

The band used the beginning of each set to flex on bedrock KDTU material like “Steamed Water” and “Satisfied,” the latter featuring one of Karl’s signature flute breakdowns, and the night’s high mark in jamming thanks to contributions from each member of the band and a tighter-than-tight pocket from bassist Chris Stillwell and drummer Max McVeety. It was potent stuff – vital-sounding in a way few of KDTU’s jazz-funk peers are. Guitarist DJ Williams, in particular, now has confidence and aggression that weren’t as evident there when he joined the KDTU in 2011, but now project him as a heady mix of Steve Cropper precision and Eddie Hazel abandon.

They were blazing. But then came the guests and also came the setbacks, as KDTU settled a little too comfortably into a backing band role.

Not that it wasn’t fun. The Ray Charles material is an excellent fit for Zach Deputy’s voice and generally jolly exuberance, and he and the band ripped through a bunch of the nuggets they’ve had in rotation since starting their regular Ray tributes a year and a half ago.

Oates was more of a wild card. Five Hall & Oates selections was a bit much, especially since the band didn’t do anything particularly interesting with staples like “You Make My Dreams” and “Alone Too Long” where a sizzling jam might have really elevated the lukewarm vocal performances. But Oates was a game player throughout; he brought swagger to “Get Out Of My Life Woman,” “Road Runner” and the superb Don Gardner R&B classic “My Baby Likes to Boogaloo.” When the combo finally did nail a well-fitting H&O choice – inevitably, “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” - - it made you wish they’d spent less time worrying about how much Hall & Oates the crowd would “need.”

The pacing kept things interesting; what was thought to be a first set that would focus on the Deputy-led Ray material and a second that would yield to Oates instead featured each guest taking over for mini-runs of three to five songs per set. Toward the end of the second stanza, Oates stuck around to play backing guitar on the last of the Ray selections, and the band even let Deputy hang out to help on “Millvale, PA” and the show- closing stomp through the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” Deputy is one of those people you just can’t help but smile at – what a fun aura he projects – and when Williams gave him the nod to take the showpiece solo in “Millvale,” he nailed a Guitar Hero- worthy shredfest with a shiteating grin to match.

But there was something missing here, and had the band not spent the first 20 minutes of each set in prime-time, kill-zone KDTU territory, it would have been missed less. How to write about a show like this without sounding like a churl is a challenge – the night was anything but boring. But a band like KDTU doing silly stunts like bending “I Got a Woman” into Kanye West to get a reaction? Really?

The takeaway is that the KDTU is as vital and necessary as ever. So as fun as all these years of tribute and theme shows have been – and I’m still partial to the Sticky Fingers adventures with Anders Osborne – it’s time for it to really get back to business.

JamBase | KDTUBK
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[Published on: 1/28/14]

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