Fresh off the Jam Cruise boat and, prior to that, a European tour playing saxophone for The Rolling Stones, Karl Denson decided that enough just wasn’t enough and embarked on a winter tour that brought him and his Tiny Universe to Portland, Oregon on January 27.
The Saturday night throwdown at Revolution Hall featured a capacity crowd of true believers that were there to get their groove on to the soulful funk stylings of the Tiny Universe. Denson, who’s known for keeping things interesting in the cover song department (he’s done complete sets of Rolling Stones and Run DMC songs, for instance), recently did an Allman Brothers-themed project, and threw some choice Allman Brothers cuts into the mix Saturday night, much to the appreciation of the audience.
After an opening set from Seattle’s The Dip, a young seven-piece rhythm and blues band, the crowd was geared up for the Tiny Universe. The Allman’s “Stand Back” was the opening offering and got things cooking right out of the gate. Then “The Grunt/Mighty Mouse (Intro)” segued into Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kidz.” Next up was “Everybody Knows That,” which featured some shredding from guitarist DJ Williams. Denson traded his sax for a flute for a take on “Flute Down,” from 2001 album Dance Lesson #2. Slide guitarist Seth Freeman got to show off his considerable talent on The Allman’s “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More.”
Watching Denson lead the Tiny Universe is a pleasure unto itself. During an extended take on “The Bridge,” he made gestures to the band, leading them into a jam in the key of “F.” Then, as he did several times, he walked over to trumpeter Chris Littlefield, who leaned down to the mouth of Denson’s sax, where he heard Denson’s desired horn part. Then the two of them stepped up to their respective microphones and unleashed the horns into the flowing groove, held down nonchalantly by drummer Zak Najor and bassist Chris Stillwell, and punctuated by the two guitarists and keyboardist David Veith.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe was scheduled to play for 90 minutes. When the final notes of the set-closing song “So Real” echoed through Revolution Hall, they’d been on stage for about two hours. The band returned for the encore, and some people were yelling for the popular “My Baby Like To Boogaloo.” Denson said that they wouldn’t be doing “Boogaloo” but decided to do “something big,” and then tore into the sprawling Allman Brothers classic “Jessica.” The crowd responded justly, getting down as if their collective life depended on it. And with that, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe proved, as they always seem to do, why they are one of the most solid, beloved touring acts out there today.