Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, NOMO
Music Farm
Nov. 6

Opening for an established, guaranteed funky party band like Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe can be a tough gig. Fans know that it’s going to start late and end late, so the few that get there early are even less concerned about the first act. Despite this unenviable position, NOMO got most of the small crowd’s attention with an eclectic batch of funky Afro-beat-inspired tunes. Set-closer "Nu Tones," starting with a simple hand-clap rhythm, impressed the most as the rhythms of horns, bass, and dual drum kits locked into a complex, danceable groove.

Calling the Tiny Universe a party band is no slag, but it’s not the whole story. Denson and company are seriously talented musicians, but starting out with a fired-up, extended version of Michael Jackson’s "Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’" — the first of several Thriller covers over the course of the evening — was a heads-up signal for a good time. The renditions of older jazz-funk material felt a bit worn-through, but the songs from the band’s soulful new album Brother’s Keeper really shined. Denson’s new personality as an old-school soul man and songwriter suits him well, and songs like the funky reggae "Mighty Rebel" and the ’50s dance rocker "Shake it Out" benefited from his band’s expanded sound and even a bit of lyrical heft. For Tiny Universe, at least, a little poignancy doesn’t have to get in the way of a good time. —John Edward Royall