The Art Of The Sit-In | Anders Osborne
Words By: Chad Berndtson
Welcome to another edition of The Art of the Sit-In, where we mix it up with the scene’s most adventurous players and hear some stories from the road. For more, check out our recent interviews with Jason Hann, Jason Crosby, Vince Herman, Scott Metzger and many more.
There are artists who when they’re performing on stage seem to pull everything in the room into their orbit by sheer force of will and emotion. And still a description like that seems to undersell Anders Osborne, who in music and in performance offers a balance of wrenching terror and sweet redemption like few others can.
Anders is one busy cat. In addition to keeping a loose core set of set players on the road as his band, he finds time to play solo, finds time to collaborate with old friends in groupings such as the well-received Southern Soul Assembly tour, finds time to be a Phil Lesh Friend, finds time to record new music and expand his catalog of stirring originals, finds time to fly to Jamaica to jam with Gov’t Mule, as he’ll do again in January, finds time for Dead Feat as he will once again with Bill Kreutzmann and his pals from Little Feat in April…and it goes on. He just plain finds time to be a presence.
When you interview Anders you’re always catching him just coming off of something and just about going on to something else. When we talked this week, a pair of Phil & Friends show was just behind him, and just ahead is his 3rd Annual Holiday Spectacular this weekend in New Orleans –which will feature a slew of guests such as David Hidalgo, Stanton Moore and Dave and Tommy Malone over two nights –followed by, in what’s fast-becoming yet another Anders tradition, a mid-December return to Brooklyn Bowl, Dec. 12-13.
JAMBASE: You just wrapped up a few nights with Phil Lesh & Friends. I was there Saturday and it seems like you’re a lot more assured in this band now that you’ve done a few of these. Accurate?
ANDERS OSBORNE: In general, yeah, I’ve totally gotten into it. First I had to get familiar with the catalog and I still am getting familiar with it: there are so many beautiful songs and it’s intricate and complicated music to learn. It’s a bit of a challenge. But each time, you get a bit further into it, you get a little more comfortable, your muscle memory remembers the songs. So I think that’s probably what you saw. I know 70 to 80 percent of the songs now, so I have more room to jump around.
JAMBASE: Do you have a favorite moment from the November 28 and 29 shows?
AO: There were a few things. There was a moment; I think in “Standing On The Moon” on Friday, it was definitely a jam, something really kind of sparkly. I had never played that song before and something really cool happened there in the solo section. But everything is special, even though it’s a lot to learn. There’s a tremendous freedom to playing with Phil which I think makes for a really creative environment.
JAMBASE: I’m familiar with the story of how you got referred to the Phil camp but I’m always curious how much preparation goes into these gigs. Do you rehearse much with a band like this ahead of time?
AO: You know, I got the setlist on my flight up [to New York] on Friday, so no, there’s none. You get the songs and you go. Most of the time, you get the setlist a day or two in advance but this was very little. It’s a run-through during soundcheck. Saturday I spent at the hotel room working on songs for that night. You have to do a lot of your own homework in this band so you can bring yourself in somewhat prepared. But people like Stu (Allen) and Joan (Osborne), they’ve worked for years with this music, so I can lean on them a little, too.
JAMBASE: Do you have a favorite section of the Dead catalog?
AO: I don’t know if I have a favorite or can name a favorite, I like a lot of it. There’s some of Phil’s more personal songs like “Unbroken Chain” in the way he has them –really more of a classical approach to composition. That’s really cool. That’s unique and different. And the standards like “Fire On the Mountain” always create a really fun environment. The whole spectrum is really intriguing; I don’t really have a favorite.
JAMBASE: Switching gears I know you’ve been working on the new album, Spacedust and Ocean Views, and you posted a new video update this week about the funding. How goes finishing the album?
AO: It’s going great. Right now we’re in between sessions because I have a bunch of other stuff going on, but later on in January I’ll go in and finish it up. We’ll spend a few weeks tracking and on overdubs. We put down 32 tunes, and out of those, we pick another 24 or 25, and then we’ll look at those and get down to 12 to 15. That’s going to make a record. Hopefully I’m going to be able to finish all the finishing touches.
JAMBASE: Of that batch of songs, have you been playing any live?
AO: Yeah, a few of them. I’ve been playing one song called “Move Back To Mississippi.” I did another one called “Lafayette” with the Southern Soul Assembly. Some of the songs that we’re looking at for this record might end up on other things.
JAMBASE: Talk about Southern Soul Assembly. I think I had a chance to interview both Marc and JJ at various points of the year and they both agreed this was something special.
AO: Yeah, it’s so wonderful. It’s a fascinating situation because it works so well. We’re friends; I’ve known all these guys for a bit. But this was finally put us together –we all got on the bus. It feels really natural, it feels like my brothers.
JAMBASE: It sounds like there are plans to do more?
AO: I think we’re making plans for late next year. Everyone is really busy this upcoming year but we definitely want to write songs together and make a record, really put out the force of the unit. That’s what we’re planning on. It’ll probably be late 2015 or early 2016. We’re very excited about it.
JAMBASE: Your annual holiday shows are coming up this weekend. What can folks expect?
AO: It’ll be a nice mixture. I try to play enough of my songs and the things people expect at my shows, but I also try to utilize the guests. We keep up a theme of some sort, or make up some sort of theme involving the artists there –maybe one is something silly like “I am a lonely wolf howling at the cajun moon,” you know? We’ll work it off the setlist, that’s what we like to do.
It’ll be two sets. I have a feeling we’re going to start the first set a little bit stripped down just to give folks a dynamic evening and not just do straightforward electric the whole time. I’m such a fan of all these people guesting.
JAMBASE: And you’ve played with them all before?
AO: Yep, I have. I really am such a huge fan of all these guys.
JAMBASE: Turning to your own band, it seems like you’re continuing with a somewhat fluid lineup. You have your core players and sometimes you expand with Scott Metzger or another guitar or add keys. Is it the plan to keep it fluid? Do you see settling into a permanent lineup?
AO: I love bands and I love putting together a core situation –you can get a good-sounding performance. Unfortunately I think I have to be flexible. I go out with a band, but then I might get an opportunity to do something solo or play with Phil or play with somebody else, and then the band is left sitting at home and they have to get some work. So I think it all depends on availability.
Carl [Dufresne] has been on bass for me for a relatively long time, and unless he’s looking for a change himself, I have no plans to change him out. On drums it’s been between Tony [Leone] and Eric [Bolivar] and Brady Blade –those are the guys I work off of depending on who is available. I got Scott on guitar –Scott, I think is just an amazing guitar player. He adds so much texture and his chops are fantastic. On keys, it’s Jason Crosby or John Gros or Marco Benevento, and I’ve used Dave [Veith] from Karl Denson’s band on a few things, he’s really beautiful, versatile, big ears. So it’s cats like that. There might be a few things where other people come in but those are the ones I go to.
JAMBASE: I always close this column by asking for a favorite sit-in story, either you with someone else’s band, someone with your band, whatever. What comes to mind?
AO: I have a favorite one, for various reasons. I’ve been a big Little Feat fan and friends with those guys for a long time –Richie Hayward, bless his soul, Paul, and those cats for many years. But over the years seeing them, I was always messed up –I didn’t quite have my stuff together. Well, at the Bayou Boogaloo [in 2009], for the first time I was asked by the guys to come sit in and close out their show. I got to play on “Dixie Chicken” and the encore and all this stuff and I took a bow with those cats.
I remember feeling this blessed feeling you get in sobriety when you know that some of the promises, when they come true, will be great. That was one of those very special moments. I knew that something had changed –I had changed, I was on the right track, and mentors of mine that I had looked up to since I was a teenager started to pay attention to me as a sober man. So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Here are five standout Anders Osborne performances from 2014 well worth your listening hours.
If intimate, solo Anders is your thing –soul laid bare, the rage and the tenderness in equal doses –you could do a lot worse than this stripped-down set, which really highlights the strength of the songwriting beneath the emotions and gravitas.
An epic display by Anders, along with Scott Metzger, Marco Benevento, Tony Leone, Carl Dufresne and briefly, Billy Iuso, covering plenty of bases and a range of styles –everything the guitarist and singer does best on a good night, from raging rock and psychedelic blues, to soul and reggae, to Crazy Horse-style jamming. Check out JamBase’s review and photos from that evening.
You really had to be live in the room to fully appreciate the warm, strumming-party feeling of seeing Anders, JJ Grey, Marc Broussard and Luther Dickinson get on stage and just sort of hang out, swapping tunes, chuckles and good vibes. Bootlegs do circulate from this year’s tours, but it might be even better to start with videos, especially the above-linked, behind-the-scenes capture from March 2014 at War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville.
Short and sweet by Anders standards but packing a punch all the same. And you can’t go wrong with the set-closing “Bring It On Home” featuring Nicki Bluhm. Fellow Southern Soul Assemblyman Marc Broussard turns up as well.
Fans are divided on the performances from this unusual Phil Lesh & Friends assemblage, which brought Anders into the fold alongside Stu Allen, Joan Osborne, Marco Benevento, Joe Russo and, for Saturday’s show, Bill Evans. But this one was a lot of fun and really hit some admirable peaks, including the mindscaping 2nd set run from “Fire On the Mountain” and “Down by the River” through a sludgy “The Other One” and a terror-filled “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.”
JamBase | All About Anders
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