Vulfpeck’s Woody Goss (left) and Jack Stratton (right) (photo: Joshua Huver)
Vulfpeck has been one of the fastest-growing internet-funk bands around the world thanks in large part to the genius marketing and musical talents of Jack Stratton. Most recently, the band released their second font with Oh No Fonts: VulfSans. For last weekend’s double-header of sorts between the Greek Theatres in Berkeley (Saturday) and Los Angeles (Sunday), the band focused on a Greek Week theme.
Stratton, along with keyboardist Woody Goss, drummer Theo Katzman, and bassist Joe Dart, formed Vulfpeck at the University of Michigan and comprise the original core of the group. Since forming, they have frequently collaborated with vocalist Antwuan Stanley, saxophonist Joey Dosik and stunt guitarist Cory Wong. All three were on hand throughout the show Saturday night.
The lights went down and the stage grew dark around 9:15, shortly after the sun had set. Goss perched himself stage left playing the intro to “Tee Time” from the 2017 release Mr. Finish Line. Stratton eventually emerged, channeling his inner Grandmother and shuffling across the stage hidden under a white towel. He eventually burst out and launched into the band introductions with the energy of a TED X Spin Class. One by one he brought out the members of the band. Stratton announced their instrument and hometown as they ran in and joined the song.
The band dropped right into a trio of tracks from 2016’s The Beautiful Game: “Animal Spirits” and “Cory Wong” and “Daddy, He Got A Tesla,” each building exponentially on the energy of the song before. Wong, throughout his namesake track, appeared to be bursting with energy from every corner of his being. It was written all over his face, that’s for sure.
The band moved smoothly into “Hero Town,” the second and final song from Mr. Finish Line, next. This performance marked the third instance ever, and only the second time played in the United States, since debuting at Red Rocks in Colorado in 2018. The kept the new funk flowing and charged into “Disco Ulysses” from last year’s Hill Climber for its second ever live performance.
One of the band’s more popular and more-often played songs followed. “1612,” from 2016’s Fugue State EP, was the first song of the evening to feature Antwaun Stanley on vocals. Stanley stuck around for three more songs. Thrill of the Arts‘ “Funky Duck,” The Beautiful Game‘s “Aunt Leslie,” and “Wait For The Moment” from 2013’s My First Car all showcased a deep relationship with Stanley across the band’s discography.
Stratton sent the band away from the stage briefly and invited Doctor Dean Ornish to the stage for a brief lecture. Several skeptical fans in the crowd could be heard asking “Is he a Doctor or a Dean?” But it wasn’t long before Dr. Dean Ornish had most of the audiences’ attention for TEDx style talk of the benefits of plant-based diets compared to the global toll of meat-based diets. The whole speech from Dr. Dean Ornish is available on YouTube.
When the band and Stanley returned to the stage, Katzman began leading the crowd on an a cappella challenge. He split the audience into three distinct vocal melodies, whether they knew it or not. Eventually they all returned to their instruments, performing the song in full while audience members began falling over themselves in excitement. Dosik took a saxophone solo center stage while Stanley filled out some work on the keyboard. Both exited the stage following the song for a “Beastly” performance from the bands’ 2013 Mit Peck EP.
Following “Beastly,” Katzman recounted from the drum kit a story about beginning his freshman year of college, and his excitement when Stratton approached him about the idea of Greek Week. “I said, ‘Let’s do both Greeks!’,” Katzman said while maintaining tension on the cymbals and accenting every word with a bass and tom combination. “I also said, “You know what Jack? Let’s add two more shows. Let’s play at Delta Phi Beta Kappa Epsilon Sig Fraternity and Sorority and let’s play the Parthenon in Greece!” The crowd roared, and Katzman revealed that neither venues actually were available.
The excitement continued to run over and off the stage as Katzman moved the set into “Christmas in L.A.”. During the bridge, he jumped into the crowd and broke the audience into another three-part vocal harmony exercise. The audience changed the lyrics to “in the Bay” before Katzman and the band brought the whole thing back around.
Bassist Joe Dart wasted no time getting the next song rolling, “Lost My Treble Long Ago” from 2018’s Hill Climber. Dart continued to support a lower-end theme and led the charge into “Dean Town” next. The fifth and final selection from The Beautiful Game, “Dean Town” quickly became a worldwide favorite. Crowds often respond to the massive bass lines with inspiring soccer chants over the music.
The band then left the stage, only to be called back for what they called a wedding set — basically, the dance hits for an encore. Of the six songs they played, three were classic funk or soul covers. “I Want You Back” by the Jackson Five and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” by The Four Seasons which segued smoothly into “September” by Earth Wind & Fire.
Mixed up in that funk medley was “The Speedwalker” from My First Car and “It Gets Funkier” from the band’s debut EP Mit Peck. The show ended with the first “Chromatic Walk” since 2017. The show was a resounding success, and the Bay Area will eagerly await the next Vulfpeck show. If you want to catch them, the only other shows scheduled for Vulfpeck in 2019 are the LOCKN festival in Virginia in August or at Madison Square Garden in New York in September.