Just days after the release of their first album in over five years, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe played a rollicking show at The Troubadour in West Hollywood, California, on March 14, 2019. The band has been hitting clubs around the United States while on their Winter tour, testing out some of the new material from the just-released “Gnomes and Badgers.”
Karl Denson, the 62-year-old touring dynamo, brought a long set of KDTU standards, new tunes and a few special covers to The Troubadour, just one stop on his packed gig schedule. Aside from leading his Tiny Universe seven-piece band through several upcoming Spring and Summer shows, he also has a few performances booked with his other band, The Greyboy Allstars. He will also resume his recurring role as touring saxophonist for a little group known as The Rolling Stones, along for their upcoming Summer tour.
Denson’s Tiny Universe always brings heavy doses of funk, soul, rock, jazz and blues to their live shows. While Denson led the charge at The Troubadour with explosive saxophone and flute solos as well as expressive vocals, he seems to be taking the current volatile political climate to heart. He took time between songs to express his wishes for people to be kinder to each other and think before speaking.
The new music is a way for Denson to express his most personal thoughts, views and philosophy. The band played “Gossip,” “What If You Knew,” “I’m Your Biggest Fan” and “Can We Trade” midway through the set. “Gossip” is the only cover on the new album, but a timely choice. The Leo Nocentelli-penned song, originally recorded by Cyril Neville in 1969, is as relevant today as when it was originally recorded.
Denson’s passionate singing and the band’s impressive funk chops carried “What If You Knew.” “I’m Your Biggest Fan” deals with a scary stalker and features fast-paced strumming by guitarist D. J. Williams and impressive keyboard runs by David Veith. On “Can We Trade,” Denson preaches harmony and plays a sparkling flute solo.
As a subtle tribute to his other band, the group played an instrumental version of the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb.” Denson and trumpeter Chris Littlefield took turns playing the melody and each took artistic solos. Drummer Zak Najor also played a nice chest-rattling solo. The band showed off their versatility on additional tunes, all the while keeping the audience dancing. On “Boogaloo,” Denson, Littlefield, guitarists D. J. Williams and Seth Freeman and bassist Chris Stillwell showed off their synchronized dance moves for the up-tempo tune. They encouraged the crowd to join them while Freeman showed off his incredible slide playing.
For the afrobeat-sounding “Elephants,” guest saxophone player Mike Owens joined Denson and Littlefield for some incredible horn playing. On “The Mighty Rebel,” the band broke out their reggae vibe to keep the audience swaying to the hypnotic beat. The show closed with an instrumental song written by their always busy and sometime drummer Alan Evans, who has left the band to reform AE3. “Have You Seen Him” is a rowdy, funk-heavy tune that afforded each of the bandmembers a chance to show their immense chops one more time.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe has club
dates and festival shows including the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage
Festival, Mountain Jam and High Sierra scheduled through September 2019. The
new songs from “Gnomes and Badgers” are some of the best the band has produced
and their deep catalog of funky, dance-inspiring music makes them one of the
must-see live acts on the scene right now.