karl denson’s tiny universe & anders osborne
san francisco, ca usa
when this show was first announced, i didn’t pay much attention. sure it looked like an interesting idea, but not enough to make me run out (or rather, click over) and buy tickets. i’m talking about the karl denson/anders osborne tour, wherein the two collaborate on a complete run-through of the classic rolling stones album “sticky fingers.” don’t get me wrong. i love the stones and that album is a personal favorite…probably just behind “exile on main street” and “beggars banquet” in my top 10 stones albums list (what—doesn’t everyone have one of those?).
one of the reasons for my reticence was that i had (unfairly, i’ve now come to realize) always thought of karl denson’s tiny universe as one of those 3rd- or 4th-tier jam bands. i, of course, was basing that judgment not on any firsthand experience, but from the general perspective of a snobbish deadhead. (and yes, i understand how that might seem like an oxymoron to some folks.) i thought of karl as a horn player who sat in with other jam bands; his own thing couldn’t possibly be that interesting, could it? well, yes. yes it could. more on that in a minute. as for anders osborne, well i thought i knew a thing or two about him too, musical omnivore that i am. he was the guitar player in the early 90s alt-country band varnaline, right? wrong. that was anders parker. parker, osborne…you’ve seen one anders you’ve seen ‘em all, right? again, wrong. in fact, this was a night where all of my preconceptions were dead wrong. i love it when that happens.
anders opened the show with his trio and delivered a blistering 45-minute set that left many of us scratching our heads in amazement after the band left the stage. what we’d witnessed was what new orleans natives have known for a long time: this motherfucker is for real. blues, rock, psychedelia, balladry—you name it he can play it. and he can sing it. and apparently he can write it too, because other than a 10-minute scorching run through the CSNY classic, “ohio,” his set was drawn from all original material. i’m glad it wasn’t anders parker after all (even though i liked varnaline when i saw them open for son volt years ago), because anders osborne is my new favorite guitar hero. go see him if you can.
next up was the main event, at least in terms of how the show was billed. after a 25-minute break, anders came back out with karl denson’s tiny universe and launched into “brown sugar.” what followed was a mostly-exhilarating recreation, track-by-track, of “sticky fingers.” the songs were faithful recreations for the most part, jammed out at appropriate times, but delivered with clear love and reverence for the tunes. karl did most of the singing (who knew he sang? anybody who’s seen him before, i suppose) which might have been my only complaint. some of the tunes could have used anders’ more refined and polished voice. but all in all it was a killer set. karl’s guitar player, DJ williams, was a perfect foil for anders, giving the songs a funky variation on the richards/taylor vibe of early 70s stones. highlights included the “can’t you hear me knocking” linked at the end of this post. would love to hear this band keep chugging through “goat’s head soup” in 2012. good stuff.
the biggest surprise of the night, however, was the KDTU set to close the show. after another 20-25-minute break, it was time for what tiny universe heads have been crowing about for years: a funked-up hour-plus set of surprisingly great original tunes. i honestly can’t recall a highlight for a couple of reasons: i don’t know the band’s material at all and therefore couldn’t identify a tune to single out; and i was having such a sustained good time that, from start to finish, there weren’t any lows that would have accentuated a high point.
rumor has it the tour will be hitting the east coast for more dates in 2012. i can’t recommend the show highly enough.