Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe Takes on RUN DMC at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom (SHOW REVIEW/PHOTOS)

Karl Denson is on a major roll. Having just returned from an epic Australian tour with the Rolling Stones, the saxophonist extraordinaire has rejoined his usual musical crew of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe to tour the country playing their unique style of boogaloo funk and soul, and taking a set to honor the self proclaimed kings of rock rap and of rhyme, Run DMC.

The KDTU tour hit Portland’s Crystal Ballroom on February 20th, with a variety of guests in tow. Vokab Kompany’s 2 MC’s Rob Hurt and Berky Baby handled MC duties for the Run DMC set, and Austin Texas’s Brownout opened for KDTU. Their lead guitarist Beto Martinez spent most of the evening adding his flair to the Tiny Universe and they even brought out Portland’s own renowned trumpeter, Farnell Newton.


Brownout is a hard pounding eight piece band who bring Latin and Salsa grooves, fierce rock chops and funk rhythms to life. At times they even delved deep into the heavy metal world. After all, they have an alter ego as a Black Sabbath cover band, Brown Sabbath. Toward the end of their set, they played a couple of Sabbath inspired tunes. They mentioned that they are officially Ozzy Ozborne approved. Since they are playing Ozzfiesta festival in Mexico with the man himself, it is hard to disagree.

Brownout’s set was fun, but it seemed somewhat disjointed. Since their styles are so varied, it was hard to fully get into synch with their sound. It may have been a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, or too many styles thrown at us in a short 45 minute set. They seemed to want to show off all they can do, which is a lot, in a time slot that wasn’t large enough for their diverse catalog.


Tiny Universe came on stage looking dapper, as they were all adorned in sharp black suits, black ties, and classic white Adidas sneakers. They opened the show with a Jimi Hendrix song “Power of Soul.” The Pacific northwest has its heroes, and without a doubt Jimi Hendrix is one of them.

The rest of the first set was your typical KDTU set that blends funk, soul and boogaloo. Things got really interesting toward the end of the set, when they covered Traffic’s instrumental anthem “Glad.” It was a rousing and heart pumping rendition, and acted as a great musical juxtaposition to the classic hip hop set that was to come. Both Karl Denson and Chris Littlefield led the horn based charge, on this classic.


The Run DMC set was really where this show took off. Emerging from back stage with head to toe matching red Adidas jumpsuits and tri-striped white Adidas sneakers, KDTU and company looked the part, and meant business. The overall musicality of this set was excellent and done in a fresh and surprising way. Instead of just recreating the original Run DMC classics with live instruments, they reworked each song with hints and flavors of other songs from across the musical spectrum.

The lyrical structure of the songs were honored, but musically they evolved into something completely new. It was like watching a live band create DJ style mash up songs in front of our eyes. Through the set we heard samples of Sting’s haunting “Roxanne” vocals, and Robert Plant’s iconic “Immigrant Song” cry mixed into “Mary Mary”.


Tiny Universe also played Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa” that led into “Christmas in Hollis”. They even added teases of Parlament Funkadelic’s “Cosmic Slop,” and Sabbath’s “Crazy Train” at different points in the set. Basically they gave  a little something for everyone. All of these added elements recreated and reinvigorated classic Run DMC songs.

Vocab Kompany’s 2 MC’s, Rob Hurt and Berky Baby, handled the lead aspect of the set in strong form. They did an amazing job in their MC duties, and really got the crowd singing, responding, waving your hands in the air like you don’t care, and dancing to songs that many in attendance grew up with. There were a couple of slight hiccups along the way, both “Walk This Way” and “Christmas in Hollis” had early flubs, but they recovered nicely and finished each song strong.

After this incredible set, KDTU took the stage one last time to play their dance number “My Baby Likes to Boogaloo”. KDTU was on stage dancing, singing, and playing their hearts out, and it was a perfect way to send us out into the night with a little extra boogaloo in our step..

 Photos by Greg Homolka



Peter Piper

XMas in Hollis (Back Door Santa)

It’s Tricky

King of Rock

You Be Illin

My Adidas

It’s Like That (KDTU Debut with Crazy Train hints)

Mary Mary (With Immagrant Song hints)

Walk This Way


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