Serenading a completely packed theater, American rhythm group Vulfpeck delivered a knockout show at the Hearst Greek Theatre in Berkeley in its quest to play both the Berkeley and Los Angeles Greek Theatres back to back. Vulfpeck, formed in 2011 at the University of Michigan’s music school, has released four EPs, four albums and a silent album. The band’s most recent album, Hill Climber, was released in 2018 and received widespread praise from fans, proving that the band is still operating at its peak level of success.
On Saturday, the group was opened by Joey Dosik, a singer-songwriter from Los Angeles who makes his music with what he describes as “emotional intensity.” Dosik was accompanied by percussionist Lucky Paul, and the duo played a brief hourlong set. Dosik announced to the crowd multiple times that the two were “trying something for the first time” using Paul’s extensive DJ equipment. The set included highlights such as Paul sampling an E note from the crowd and playing it back to accompany one of Dosik’s songs.
At 9:15 p.m., Vulfpeck entered the stage to a roar of applause. Woody Goss appeared first, taking his seat at the keyboard, before Jack Stratton crossed the stage, hunched with a white towel draped over his head. Theo Katzman and Joe Dart followed, and the group launched into song.
Dosik, along with two other frequent Vulfpeck collaborators, Cory Wong and Antwaun Stanley, accompanied the group on various songs, such as “Disco Ulysses,” “Funky Duck” and “Beastly.” Dosik skillfully played the saxophone while Wong offered his sensational guitar skills and Stanley his soulful vocals.
Vulfpeck played a set chock-full of fan favorites such as “Wait for the Moment” and “1612,” during which Stanley held his microphone out to an eager crowd, which shouted back, “Sixteen-twelve, that’s the code to my heart.” Vulfpeck’s great showmanship not only highlighted its funky music but also drew the crowd in closer to the group. Wong, Dart and Stratton danced around the stage together with their guitars. Stanley provided a short set of jumping jacks during a vocal break.
As is the case at the group’s other shows, Vulfpeck brought out a special guest to briefly give a TED Talk-style oration to the audience. Dean Ornish preached to the audience about switching to a plant-based diet because meat consumption contributes to global warming. The group continued its set after the speech, with Katzman hoping everyone “got their money’s worth.”
Katzman also led a cappella sessions for “Back Pocket” and “Christmas in L.A.” Katzman divided the Greek into thirds, assigning each section the same lyric in a different key. The crowd enthusiastically sang along at his cue.
Katzman offered an explanation for the group’s “Greek Week” theme. Amid drum breaks, he relayed to the crowd that his roommate at the University of Michigan asked him if he was interested in Greek life (meaning joining a fraternity). Katzman misunderstood him, thinking he was asking about life in Greece. He also mentioned the group’s ambitions of playing at a fraternity and at the Parthenon in Greece, neither of which were available for this tour.
The group finished its main set with “Dean Town,” a funk-tastic bass-driven instrumental song that had the audience singing along to the iconic opening bass line. It was the perfect way to end the show, but Vulfpeck wasn’t quite finished yet.
The group left the stage for a moment but returned quickly to the crowd chanting, “Wedding set!” The “wedding set” consisted of Vulfpeck playing a series of famous soul/funk covers, including the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” the Four Seasons’ “December, 1963” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” The group also played three more of its own songs (“The Speedwalker,” “It Gets Funkier” and “Chromatic Walk”) before finally exiting the stage in front of an obviously satisfied and ecstatic crowd.
Vulfpeck’s heavy involvement of the audience, showmanship and comedic touches made the show all the more enjoyable, and the group’s music was pretty damn good as well. The band members bring a modern twist to old-school funk and soul, and it’s not every day you see a music group with what’s essentially a lead bassist. With the crowd visibly jamming along to every single song for a solid two hours, it’s certain that Vulfpeck gave each person in the crowd a great night to remember.
Contact Pooja Bale at [email protected].