Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe Tears Down the Belly Up
He strutted on stage fashionably late. Karl Denson and the sharply dressed Tiny Universe band were all smiles as they walked out to an eagerly awaiting crowd. “Hey Einstein’s here,” Karl shouted to a man who bore a resemblance to Albert Einstein standing in the front row. Apparently Karl and this man had shared a few drinks the night before. Karl bantered with a few other people in the crowd who he had met before and then signaled to his band to get things going.
Karl and the band tore off into a rocking choppy jazz lick. The increasingly inundated dance floor started to groove, but most people were still focused on conversation until Denson dropped into his first sax solo. You could feel the audience fall into a trance as talking stopped and the people begin to close their eyes and jam with the Tiny Universe.
The band then shifted into a jaunty classical rock n’ roll sounding jam. Karl dropped his sax and focused on his Wilson Pickett Style singing as the band demonstrated their synchronized dance shuffling their feet back and forth to the blues rhythm.
Tiny Universe is one of the most stylish bands on the market. Dawning button up shirts, fancy ties, and black top hats, their dress and jazzy sound can make it feel like a fairly classy event. The guitarists’ differences in dress parallel their differences in style. Seth Freeman wears a bandana and shreds pedal steel and slide guitar with a southern rock sound, while DJ Williams dresses like he is playing in a jazz club and sounds accordingly. The contrasting sounds make for the perfect back and fourth solos. Denson didn’t wear a top hat, instead he captained the band sporting a flat brimmed hat with the word “Zigaboo” printed across it.
Karl continued to demonstrate his mastery of multiple instruments as he picked up his flute and laid some amazing jazzy lines down. This was one of the heavier rock n’ roll shows that I’ve seen Tiny Universe play, and the crowd was up to the task. The Belly Up dance floor neared capacity and it felt like it was bouncing. The audience hopped up and down so much it looked like an electronic house concert. A man behind me, enjoying his Belly Up classic tall boy PBR, screamed in ecstasy at the peak of one of Karl’s flute solos so loudly that Karl smiles and made eye contact with him.
The mixed crowd was rowdy the entire night. I’m constantly impressed with the amount of older people that inhabit the first few rows of the floor at the Belly Up and dance harder than anybody else. Denson has played with the Greyboy Allstars, Steve Winwood, Lenny Kravitz, the Stones, and the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh, but Tiny Universe is on the newer side of music. This made for a great mix of ages rocking in the Belly Up on Thursday night. This was maybe epitomized by the quantity of young men dancing with older women. The cougar game was definitely on, but combined with captivating music, it added to the energy. It didn’t matter who one was dancing with. The hunt is always on in Aspen.
One of the best parts of going to a Belly Up show is conversing with some of the most interesting people in the world standing right next to you. One mustached man told me the story of going to see Denson play with the Rolling Stones at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. He went with his parents as they bonded over the love of the music, but he couldn’t pass up the chance to eat acid and jam to Karl and the Stones while with his parents. He said that he tried to cover up the fact that he was tripping, but when the tears started streaming down his face during “Brown Sugar” it became pretty apparent he was on something.
One of the musical highlights of the night was when the Tiny Universe delved into the Rolling Stones catalogue. Denson has been playing sax with the legendary rockers since October of 2014. Guitarist Seth Freeman led the band through a beautiful cover of one of the Stones best songs, “Tumbling Dice”. Freeman built and sang the song perfectly before taking off with a slide guitar solo that would have made Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey Betts proud.
The band jammed until well after midnight. You could feel that the end was coming when the band members upped the intensity of their solos even higher. Keyboardist David Veith screamed off such a captivating organ solo that he took a hand off the keyboard and threw a fist bump so excitedly that he looked like he just won the Super Bowl.
The Belly Up continues to amaze with the talent they’re able to pull into this small mountain town. I’ve seen Karl Denson play at the Coney Island Amphitheatre in New York and was so far away I could barely hear. I’ve always been able to get to the front row at the Belly Up, and it’s an incredible experience to see a band as talented as these guys up so close. Tiny Universe has played in Aspen three times this year, so keep your eye out for them to appear on the Belly Up schedule again soon, as it is always an unforgettable experience.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe at The Belly Up amazed all, and continues to do so with the talent they’re able to pull into this small mountain town. To see the upcoming Belly Up Aspen schedule click here.
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