Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe
February 17, 2001
Sheraton Ballroom | Steamboat Springs, CO
When asked to describe the perfect day, many themes come to mind. However, this past Saturday, no imagination was necessary to answer this question. Rather, it was for real. Skiing all day in 35 degree all-sunny weather on Steamboat mountain with my brother (nicknamed Dank) and various friends, and then funk it up all night with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe.
First the skiing: Even though it was President’s Day weekend, with crowds of tourists jamming the Gondola line for an hour, we were still able to lift-hop up the mountain and start catching runs at around 11am. This was aided by Dank’s untouchable knowledge Steamboat’s layout. The snow was nice and soft for about two hours before starting to crust up. Everyone had a nice time and even hucked big air.
Knowing that we had a full night of dancing ahead of us, we took a nice rest after skiing, followed by a phat dinner at Mattie Silk’s Restaurant (located in Ski Times Square) where Dank is the chef. After warming up with the appropriate beverages (Dewar’s for me, Crown for Dank), we walked over to the Sheraton Hotel where Karl was holding court in the hotel’s ballroom (capacity: approx. 400). In a mountain town like Steamboat, the kittens are very hard to find. But not tonight. They were dressed to the nines and looking to get down with their bad selves.
For the first set, I lounged around in the back of the room getting a feel for the vibe, which was an 11 on a scale of 10. KDTU is well-liked in this town and so the energy meter was peaking in the red. The first set lasted for an hour and featured the usual songs from the KDTU catalog. Important to note is the addition of E.J. Rodriguez on percussion to the Tiny Universe. WELL DONE KARL!! With E.J.’s smooth percussion playing, the Universe adds another dimension/layer/texture to their funk/jazz/rock stylings. The first set contained an explosive Grunt and closed with an interpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s Spanish Castle Magic.
For the second set, I wanted to feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, so I marched up to the front row where I met Winchester, a really nice dude, who immediately befriended me. We both agreed that we wanted to feel the power for the second set. I have a nasty habit of asking Karl to play Bill Wither’s classic Use Me, so I wrote USE ME in big bold letters on a cocktail napkin and placed it between the base of Karl’s mic stand and that big, round shaped, shaker, percussion thing that Karl likes to make noise with. When the band took the stage for the second set, I noticed Karl noticed the request. He reacted by shaking his head in funky disgust. Oh well, you can’t blame a guy for trying to get a band to launch into one of the grooviest riffs in musical history. I know Rob Johnson (bass master) can play it, so maybe next time (wink wink). What followed was an A+ set of music with a length of 1 hour and 30 minutes. I held my ground the entire time standing directly in front of Brian Jordan (guitar master). Highlights were The B-B-Q Song, Can You Feel It, and some new originals. What was most memorable were the tons of bettys shaking their moneymakers. During a drum/percussion jam, one of these fine bettys jumped on stage with the band and showed them how to shake, rattle, and roll, until security kindly asked her to step off, which she graciously obliged. Karl followed that by saying “Well Done Yawl!”, to which I screamed back “STEAMBOAT!!!”. There was lots of love in the air (mountain girl style).
The only disappointment of the night was being told that KDTU is no longer allowing soundboard patches. Without getting into a debate over this, I would like to offer my opinion (which is only an opinion). Here goes: Soundboards allow the listener greater access to a band’s true sound. I hope KDTU hasn’t lost sight of what got them their popularity in the first place - exceptional musicianship combined with promotion in the form of soundboard recordings. This also applies to many of the other bands on the scene today. Don’t forget what got you your fans, those beautiful sounding boards, which are becoming more and more extinct. Again, this is just my opinion.
I’ll be in Vail on Tuesday, February 20, for the pairing of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe with the String Cheese Incident. Let the music play...
JamBase Colorado Correspondent
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Karl Denson's Tiny Universe
February 11, 2001
The Vogue Theater | Indianapolis, IN
Mick Jagger has taught me that “you can’t always get what you want” and although I try at all times to achieve this goal, sometimes even I fall short. For more than a few weeks, I had been looking forward to the double billing of Robert Walter's 20th Congress & Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe at the House of Blues in Chicago. However, a week of classes filled with sniffling and sneezing students had left me decimated with a cold resembling the weather front moving in on Chicago that weekend! Needless to say, I had to back out of the roadtrip at the last minute, but there shined a glimmer of hope on the horizon... KDTU was slated to play in Indianapolis, IN at
The Vogue Theater on Sunday, February 11th. Hailing from C-bus (Columbus, OH), a trip to Indy was a much simpler undertaking.
I like to begin my reviews with the skinny on the venue, because I feel that this is an integral factor in the overall vibe of a show. The Vogue Theater is located a bit north of downtown Indianapolis, near at least a couple of universities, which certainly seemed to provide a boost to what I had anticipated would be a very small showing. The Vogue is a typical GA-style venue with a “horse-shoe” shaped upper balcony. I felt that the place was maintained very respectably, but anyone who has been to the Murat Theater knows which venue is the crown jewel of Indianapolis. I would estimate the capacity to be around 750 +/- , and the joint was at least 2/3 full. It sounded really muffled on the upper balcony, which likely led to the very crowded floor, but who wants to be up there anyway, especially while Karl Denson is throwing out his brand of energy! The security guards were consistently perched on the side stairwells like vultures, but I saw no trouble to speak of. On to the show...
KDTU hit the stage at around 9:30 and played for about an hour and fifteen
minutes. The last time that I saw KDTU was at the House of Blues in
N’awlins last year during JazzFest, and that show did not start until after 4:00 in the morning. Needless to say, it was weird seeing the king of the late night jam playing so early. KDTU has a new drummer (Eric Bolivar) and trumpeter (Andy Cleaves) in tow since I last saw the act, and both seemed to be quite comfortable with the material. The band actually seemed to be improvising more than the straightforward in-your-face jams I have witnessed (and loved) in the past. The pace seemed toned down a little bit in the 1st set, but you try driving from Chicago to St. Louis to Indianapolis in two days see if you aren’t a little worn down!
I do not know what has been going on at other KDTU shows this tour, but this night saw many extended jams, at least 6 clocking in at over 15 minutes. Set one found the band working their way through both new and old material, including the crowd favorites Can You Feel It and Perfect Score. Tucked between these two great numbers were a couple of newer songs, Walt’s 1st Trip and a 5 minute unknown instrumental. The band followed up a heart-felt Perfect Score with a very abstract jam, which found its way to Karl on the sax ushering in a lively Dance Lesson #2. The band pulled off a great transition from this song into another unknown, yet thickly funky jam. Karl was putting his heart into the show as always, and I realized that I should not expect the energy level of JazzFest late-nite gigs to be matched on a Sunday night in Indianapolis. After the band broke for half-time, a thus-far-satisfied crowed filed out of The Vogue for a “breath of less air.” On to set two...
Set two commenced after a brief break of about half an hour. Many of the people present in the 1st set were not back for round two (some people will never learn). The band opened the set with the members gradually working their way onto the stage creating a very “Sun-Ra-esque” instrumental intro reminiscent of parts of the Superjam at JazzFest ’99 featuring Karl Denson w/ Stanton Moore, Jon Medeski, Michael Ray, Marc Ribot, & Jim Singleton, etc. This abstract opener morphed its way to an extended flute intro to The BBQ Song which was, in my opinion, the highlight jam of the show. Karl extended his customary invitation to the ladies to come on up to the
front row during the extended intro jam, declaring “it’s your world!” Following this phenomenal jam, which saw a good amount of improvisation, the Tiny Universe began the Jimi Hendrix tune Spanish Castle Magic which I love, but do not feel jibes well with KDTU’s flavor. Time will tell on that tune...
The tenor man dedicated the next tune called Elephants Are Big As Hell to the late, great Fela Kuti. I really liked this song, which had very tribal feel to it, including heavy drum and percussion overlays and African chanting from Karl. This very long and complex composition was followed by another new tune called Front Money which was played for “all of those burgeoning entrepreneurs out there.” This song clocked in at a bit over 5 minutes, and was not very impressive. Consistently following what seemed to be the theme of the night, a very extended Funky Chicken closed the set. There was quite a bit of improvising going on during the closer, which made me reflect on what I would say was the other theme to the night. There was a good amount of chirping about JazzFest 2001, and the 2nd set featured more energy that the 1st set. Clocking in at over 90 minutes, I was pleased with the show even though it was over by 12:30 am. I smiled as I walked out of The Vogue Theater into the cold, because I knew that the next time I left a KDTU show, I would be greeted at the exit of Tipitina’s Uptown by the rising sun and muggy heat that is the swamp I have come to love for one magical weekend each spring!
Time to start stocking up on those zzzzzzzz’s,
JamBase MidWest Correspondent
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