Review & photographs by Dan Hogan
What a deal, folks! Anders Osborne in Saratoga for $15! Who could refuse such a deal? Not me, so I contacted my bud, Bernie and we made plans to go to this show. We began our evening with a late breakfast at the Gateway Diner on Central Avenue in Albany. The service was hyper and efficient, the coffee was pretty darn good and the food was okay – better than cooking.
Heading up the Northway, we soon arrived in downtown Saratoga and found a place to park. Saratoga was hopping, but I was worried when we parked and got out of the car only to hear a cover band playing “Margaritaville.” Bad omen, I thought, but it was nice to see so many young people out on a Friday night, drinking, dancing and having fun, misguided though they may be.
We found the Putnam Den – it was set back from the street – and went in to find out we were about the ninth and tenth patrons of the night. I asked the doorman “Where are the peeps?” and he said it was early. Early allowed us to walk up to a table right in front of the stage and take our seats. The Den is a very good venue. It has a large stage with professional light and sound, ready to hold a couple hundred rabid fans. They just weren’t there yet. The long bar goes along the far side of the place, and like some of those bars in NYC about 20 years, they feature patrons’ bras hanging above the bar. I wanted to donate my bra, but it was early, and I am shy and, well, I don’t have one, so I kinda felt left out and such.
The opening act came on and, well, they were playing some real toe-tapping hippy acoustic jam-band kind of thing that really worked well. The Tim Herron Corporation came from Syracuse and played for about 40 minutes of the above-referenced type of music. It was all pretty upbeat and energetic and played with a passion that led me to wonder if Tim Herron could still play guitar if he was sitting? I think not! Herron had some of that Neil Young dancing-stomp thing going on, and he was playing that acoustic guitar HARD, wrestling the neck and putting his whole body into every note he played. They offered a CD for sale for $5, and I would have bought one, but the guy at the next table said it wasn’t very good, so I bought a can of Bronx Pale Ale instead. Tim Herron Corporation was very enjoyable all night, and I thought a good set up for Anders Osborne.
Next came Clarence Bucaro. Never heard of him and don’t know the names of any of his songs, but he was a definite change of pace from the opener. Playing ballads accompanied by his delicate finger picking, Clarence was the softer side of unplugged. One of his songs reminded me of Harry Chapin’s “Taxi,” and they were all nice and soothing, but hardly what you would expect to hear in a bar on a Friday night. Anders Osborne produced his most recent album, but they aren’t very similar artists. Clarence has a beautiful voice, clear as a bell, but he just seemed out of place.
Before I tell you about Anders Osborne’s performance, I have to make the disclaimer that I would have rather heard him with his band playing electric – or so I thought. Osborne seems like a regular guy. If he was disappointed about the size of the crowd, it didn’t show. He seemed happy to be there and spoke to the audience like they were friends. Armed with two guitars, harmonicas and an iPad, he was ready to go when he asked if anyone in the audience had an pair of readers – reading glasses 2.0 or 2.5 – because he left his in his hotel, and it was a no-go show until he could read. “You think I’m kidding?” he laughed.
Wearing a pair of borrowed glasses, Anders got into his set and started going through his catalogue. By now there were about a hundred people in the bar, and Anders would keep up a dialogue with the audience through out the show, sometimes asking for requests and then not playing the song (“Yeah, that’s next”) or playing the song, such as he did with “Black Eye Galaxy,” after wondering out loud how to recreate the spacey electric middle part of the song. He did, and it was one of the highlights of the night.
One of the best stories was about his song “Meet Me in New Mexico,” written hile in rehab. Rehab was so hard, he wasn’t allowed any musical instruments, but he found an old piano and later a smuggled guitar. Already a great song, the story just added to the presentation.
Being a resident of New Orleans, Osborne had two songs about Katrina, the first of which was called “Katrina”; the other called “New Orleans Rain”. For me, the highlight of the night was “Black Tar,” about his struggle with addiction. An incredibly heavy song on record, stripped down to acoustic guitar, it was even more powerful, and sitting that close to the stage, the words – “black tar leave me alone, can’t you see I’m movin’ on?” – were scary, but hopeful because he was here to tell the story.
Other songs were: “Echoes of My Sins” (featuring a sing-a-long where Osborne asked us to provide the oohs),” “Tracking my Roots,” “Stoned, Drunk and Naked,” “Me and Lola,” “Summertime in New Orleans,” and some others I forgot. Part way into the set, he invited Bucaro back up on stage to play harmonica, which was cause for some fun as he nicely berated Clarence to get whatever harmonicas he had: “You don’t have an A? All you have is flats? Go get ‘em!” Poor Clarence also did his best to sing along even when he didn’t know the words. This was just not the place for a sensitive young singer-songwriter.
It was all over too soon. Too few people had much fun. I hope the person who puked on Bernie’s back wheel had fun too! Osborne said this was his first time in Saratoga, and I would guess this will become one of those “I was there” local debuts. Osborne has so much talent and so many great songs, I think we will all be hearing more of him in the future.