Review & Photos | Anders Osborne | New York City

Images by: Robert Chapman
Words by: Chad Berndtson

Anders Osborne & Billy Iuso :: 2.20.14 :: Highline Ballroom :: New York, NY

Read Chad's review following the gallery...

The tension is thick in the music of Anders Osborne, and so is the conflict. Is our narrator backsliding, an endless spiral down into druggy abyss? Or is he redeemed, able to find his get-up-and-go and yoke a deeper strength to push past all the demons?

Yeah, there’s a lot of emotion in a two-hour Anders set – a lot of torment, and a lot of relief. And so much of that emanates from the man himself, summoning all manner of hellfire slide-blues sorcery and then the next moment quieting the howl in favor of something graceful and even chipper. Anders’ core strength is that he’s figured out how to convert all this drama into showmanship – even his more banal songs convince, and never drag.

This was a special show. Anders is wont to expand his core trio when friends are in town, but he went wide and deep, adding usual Big Apple foil Scott Metzger on a second guitar, his recent Phil Lesh & Friends bandmate Tony Leone on drums (spelling Eric Bolivar), and, deliciously, Marco Benevento on keyboards. (Old pal Billy Iuso, who opened the evening with a sturdy acoustic trio set – and sit-ins from 10-year-old whiz Brandon Niederauer and Dirty Birds saxophonist Jackson Kincheloe -- also slid in with Osborne toward the end, making the axe count three.)

It would have been easy to plug in ace players like Metzger and Benevento as extra soloists – easy, but wasteful. Instead, both musicians began the two-hour set primarily as colorists, adding snatches of gooey organ here, rhythm guitar counterpoint there, and gradually influenced the music more and more. The effect was cumulative: by the time Benevento or Metzger was claiming more of the improvisational real estate, the crowd had gotten used to what Anders songs sound like with a fuller, five-piece band. It wasn’t added-on guests; it had achieved real coalescence.

Anders’ 2013 album Peace has some of his strongest original songwriting yet, and maintains that terror/redemption push-pull that defines so much of his work – he worries he won’t make it, and that we won’t make it, but damnit, we’re all going to defiantly go forth and maybe find some sweet love along the way. Peace tunes comprised about one- third of the Highline set, but they didn’t announce themselves as “new” – they nestled in with Anders staples like “Pleasin’ You” and “On the Road to Charlie Parker,” the selections all of a logical piece with each other.

There was scarcely time to catch breath. The one-two blues attack of “Pleasin’ You” and “Black Tar” yielded to the lilting reggae of “Marmalade.” “Echoes of My Sins” had a southern rock feel and pulled Metzger into the spotlight for a stemwinding solo. The group collectively kept building, both up and out; “Peace” turned into Crazy Horse-style squall, while another sweet reggae number, “Sarah Anne,” eventually left behind its island flavor and became something more ambient and sprawling. A much older Anders song, the jagged boogie “Aim Way High,” snuck through late in the show to break up all the psychedelic blues and showcased the protean Benevento on electric piano.

You had to marvel at how unhurried this all felt. Watching Anders kick off a song, lay into a solo or lead the band on a voyage-like jam, you always get the sense he’s in no rush for the song to end. Maybe not interested in exploring every last possibility in these songs – there’s no endless vamping here, and only rarely formless noodling – but you see it in Anders’ face: I’m going to make this one count, this is my stage, I’m going to see what we can do with this.

At the Highline he was clearly having fun, too – he’d wander over and push Marco to play, play, play, bouncing next to the keyboards to soak it up, and he’d pull Metzger to the middle of the stage for an old fashioned, Allmans-style duel. He was positively beaming when he strapped on an acoustic guitar for the encore, which combined his tender “Higher Ground” with the Stones’ “Let It Bleed,” every word shouted by the crowd embracing a very communal vibe.

It’d be fashionable to say that all this “let it happen” might be something Anders picked up from new buddy Phil Lesh – it’s not far afield from Phil’s islands in the stream jamming concept. But Anders has been doing this, willingly and expertly, for years now. He invites you to go deep into the roiling, beastly core of his songs with him, and maybe what you find is tender resignation, maybe a bittersweet, but upbeat resolution, maybe a psychedelic orbit, maybe gnarled-out annihilation.

Whatever it is with Anders, you’re getting the full effect. Like all good Anders shows, this was beautiful, exhausting stuff.

SETLIST: Pleasin’ You, Black Tar, Marmalade, Echoes of My Sins, Peace, Windows, Sarah Anne, Five Bullets, Aim Way High, I Am Ready, On the Road to Charlie Parker#

Encore: Higher Ground^, Let It Bleed^

Entire show with Marco Benevento, keys
Entire show with Scott Metzger, guitar
Entire show with Tony Leone, drums
# with Billy Iuso, guitar
^ Anders on acoustic guitar

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[Published on: 2/21/14]

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