For most Jam Fans in Southern California, the two Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe shows July 24th and 25th at the Belly Up in Solana Beach (North San Diego) marked the first indoor shows in the region since before the pandemic. Karl and Company brought the heat, and after a little warming up period, the fans found their groove and the place was cookin.
The band came out a little past 8:30pm, “Hello San Diego! How you be?” Karl asked. “You guys ready, you ready to get down? Close together? Sweating on each other? Well…we’re here to help!” and the band fired up a ripping ‘Chicken Lickin’ to get things started.
Last time KDTU was in town DJ Williams (guitar) wasn’t with the band, so it was a pleasant surprise to see him up on stage, the chemistry between him and the rest of the band was evident from the start.
The band continued with a track from their newest album Gnomes & Badgers (2019) ‘I’m Your Biggest Fan.’ Karl was singing and the band was grooving, but it wasn’t until the next song that they truly got things fired up.
The band then started up the David Bowie classic ‘Suffragette City’ with Karl doing his best Bowie impersonation on vocals. The band delivered a great cover and after Karl announced that they were going to perform a special set of Bowie songs at Jazzfest in New Orleans this year, and they’d be trying out some material this evening. Definitely not to be missed at Jazzfest.
After two more tracks from Gnomes & Badgers (Gossip, What If you Knew), KDTU reached deep in their past for ‘Tenor Man’ from the classic 1994 Grey Boy Allstars debut album West Coast Bugaloo. With fellow Grey Boy Allstar member Chris Stiwell on bass, and Zak Najor on drums, and not to far from where the Grey Boy Allstars began their legendary career in San Diego, it was like taking a journey back in time hearing the 27 year old classic again.
One of the highlights of the night was up a few songs later, with a roaring version of Hendrix’s ‘Power of Soul.’ Only Karl Denson can unleash a flute solo to match the intensity of this song. Definitely the coolest 64 year old on the planet…he makes the flute cool…who else can do that?
The band returned to the Bowie material with ‘Ashes to Ashes,’ again with Karl on vocals. I hope the late night crowd at Jazzfest is ready for this. During the Bowie song Karl played a beautiful building sax solo. For much of the show Karl is a gracious bandleader, giving everyone else space to shine. But for this moment, Karl was the center of the show, and rightfully so. Karl then told the crowd not to worry, and they plan to bring the Bowie set back to the area after Jazzfest. That’s a can’t miss for me.
Two songs from the 2002 album The Bridge followed (How Fine is That and Elephants). Then the band unleashed the 2014 track ‘Everybody Knows That.’ It was at this point of the show that the roof came off, and I was reminded that this band is on the same level of Lettuce, Snarky Puppy and all those other jazz, rock, fusion bands (that all seem to come from Berklee School of Music) with their ability to blend so many genres (Jazz, Blues, Rock, Psychedelic), and that uncanny ability to have the whole band turn on a dime without notice, and take songs in wildly different direction. It’s an amazing skill, and it takes a band of supremely talented musicians to make it seem so effortless.
After declaring the Belly Up the ‘best venue that they ever play,’ and praising the new changes and revamped sound system, Karl called out the encore of ‘New Ammo,’ the DJ Williams song from their 2014 album of the same name. The Band fired off another massive jam and concluded the night. The fans left satisfied. It was a perfect reentry back into the live music scene. Thanks Karl and your Tiny Universe.