Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe plays The Barkley Ballroom in Frisco
Special to the Daily
Todd Altschuler, co-owner of The Barkley Ballroom, is a fan.
“It all started with a Greyboy Allstars CD,” he said, referring to one of Karl Denson’s other musical projects. Since then, he’s seen Denson and company perform “a lot of shows,” including here in Frisco. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe was one of the first bands to play The Barkley when it opened two years ago. “It was our first sold-out concert. The booking agents know I will always have Karl Denson play here. Any time he’s coming to Colorado, we try to get him to pass through.”
THE DIRT ON DENSON
For those who are not yet familiar with the band, let us first introduce, as his own website does, “modern day soul-funk icon” Denson. The musician has racked up accolades and admiration from fans, fellow musicians and critics. You may have first seen his cameo as the smooth saxophonist in Sexual Chocolate, the band in Eddie Murphy’s ’80s classic “Coming to America.” Later on, he played with Lenny Kravitz, adding those soulful sax lines on the “Let Love Rule” album.
In addition to Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, his main band, he’s had a number of other projects over the years, including The Greyboy Allstars, the Karl Denson Trio and, more recently, Slightly Stoopid. Denson’s most recent accomplishment as a musician has been becoming the newest member of The Rolling Stones. Yes, The Rolling Stones. They even gave him a welcome-to-the-band ceremony, so it’s official.
Denson is best known for his saxophone stylings, but he also sings and plays flute in Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and has been known to strum a little guitar onstage alongside DJ Williams, the band’s guitarist. Other members of the band include Chris Littlefield on trumpet, Max MacVeety on drums, Chris Stillwell on bass and David Veith on keyboards.
Fans and band members have described the band’s music as “funky,” “danceable,” “intelligent” and “fun.” Imagine soul, blues, jazz and rock blended together with big funk backbone that’s impossible to resist. Williams adds that “there’s no preconceived notion” in the band. The band members listen to all styles of music and incorporate their influences into their shows. Denson as bandleader strongly encourages part of this.
“He’s got a huge palette for music, all styles of music,” Williams said.
Denson also asks a lot from his musicians. Band members are expected to be familiar with a master list of his entire library. There are 75 songs he can choose from any given night, which makes for a spontaneous set list.
“If it’s exciting for us, it will be exciting for the audience,” Williams said. Denson wants to push the band, and as Williams said, “It’s a tribute to him that we are as good as we are.”
GETTING DOWN IN FRISCO
While the Frisco show is going to be mostly, if not totally, originals, the band is also known for doing tribute shows. During these special concerts, the band goes into character and plays in the style of musicians ranging from Ray Charles to The Rolling Stones. Some of the shows on this tour have been dubbed “Run DMC Remixed,” bringing a taste of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe to the classic hip-hop sound from Queens, New York.
The tour, which started earlier this month, has been going well so far.
“The band is getting tighter and tighter each night,” Williams said. “We sound tighter than we have in a long time.” They’ve also been playing some smaller towns for a change, which brings a different vibe to their shows. “Larger cities are harder to impress.”
Longtime fan Lauren Pierro has seen Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe in almost every state.
“They are one of the few bands that’s consistently been around and full of energy for so long,” she said. In all the shows, she said she notices “an absolute love. A connection. It’s a collective thing, and the band just keeps giving it back. It’s magical.”
Beyond the camaraderie she feels with the band and the audience at their shows, she said the performances are just big, feel-good dance parties from beginning to end. Having been a fan for more than a decade hasn’t dampened her enthusiasm for the band.
“They just keep coming back stronger and stronger, better and better,” she said, calling the band “one of the greatest jam bands and funk bands of our time.”
There is no typical Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe fan; people from all walks of life might end up with tickets in their hands for Friday’s show.
“I’ve seen recent high school graduates to fans in their 50s and 60s and everyone in between,” Williams said. “It’s nice to see a large demographic at our shows.”
SHOW OPENS WITH COLLIER
Denson is currently touring with Roosevelt Collier, who will be accompanying the band with his pedal steel guitar. Altschuler is happy to have Collier at The Barkley, when he played last week with some members of The Motet.
“It was an amazing show; one of the best we’ve had here,” Altschuler said. “He brings a lot of energy.”
Collier has played a few shows with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and adds a rock vibe to their funkiness. Williams said the band is looking forward to coming back to Frisco.
“Colorado is one of our favorite places to play,” he said. “There’s an absolute difference between Colorado and other states. People seem to get more excited and there’s a high love for music.”
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