Review by Kara Wilbeck
Photos by Alexander Maso
With a musician as versatile as Karl Denson, there have been times when I’ve wondered which side of him would show its face at a concert. Would it be the fly, funky Karl or the smooth jazz Karl? The hard rock Karl or the psychedelic Karl? Denson’s shapeshifting abilities seem to have spread to his jazz/funk/rock outfit Tiny Universe. Playing a late-night festival set at Horning’s Hideout, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe amped up the psychedelia, leaving the audience somewhere between “What just happened?” and “That was awesome!” At a fall show at Portland’s Aladdin Theater, Tiny Universe tapped Zach Deputy‘s vocals for an all-stops-pulled Ray Charles dance party.
At the Crystal Ballroom on Feb. 15, Denson and company opted for the harder, fuller, rockier sound, which unsurprisingly reflected the audacious attitude of their recent release, New Ammo. Much of the show’s set time was devoted to showcasing the new album, which- trust me- nobody was upset about. Forgoing the groove and soul of previous Denson projects, New Ammo is aggressive and bold- and bold is most definitely the way to go when you’re playing at the Crystal Ballroom.
Borrowing bassist and vocalist Tony Hall from Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk for the show, Denson’s show that night was fired up. The matching suit-clad band played with nonstop energy, barely giving us rest between songs. Statuesque guitarist DJ Williams blew the crowd away (as usual) with the shockingly good sounds emanating from his instrument. The night culminated in an intense cover of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” a standout track on New Ammo. (This author is also a huge fan of the title track, “New Ammo.”) The show ended with the Crystal Ballroom’s spring-loaded floor still bouncing and a crowd wanting even more of Denson’s heavy artillery.
Correction: This article previously referenced former guitarist Brian Jordan. The current guitarist for Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe is DJ Williams. We apologize for the error.
Gallery: Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR, 2/15/2014
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