Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Kirsten Ferguson
The calendar hadn’t flipped to June yet, and the Solstice was still weeks away. Nevertheless, the tank tops, jogging shorts and Hawaiian shirts that dotted the nighttime landscape made one thing clear: Summer’s here, and the time is right for drinking in the street… or, at least, in the open-air bars across from me as I made my way up Putnam Street. But rather than drawing me in, the cover bands assaulting the night with mediocre takes on “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Burning for You” just made me walk faster, because my mission involved real, original music from one of New Orleans’ classic musical mongrels!
Anders Osborne may have been born in Uddevalla, Sweden, but he may as well have been born in the Crescent City. He’s a regular at JazzFest, which may be where most of the packed house at Putnam’s Den saw him for the first time. Then again, that first time could have happened anywhere, since Osborne’s been your basic road dog since his first record came out in 1989. And he hasn’t slowed down, either: Aside from touring his own music, he’s part of the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars, and he’s one of the raft of NOLA legends who appear on Galactic’s eclectic mash-up disc Ya-Ka-May. If you didn’t know what Osborne looked like, he could have passed for one of the customers as he walked into Putnam’s in black-t-shirt and jeans.
Mind you, it wasn’t the grey in his now-relatively-trimmed beard that betrayed how many miles Osborne has on his odometer. After tuning up, Osborne sheepishly announced that he’d left his reading glasses back at the hotel, and without them, he couldn’t read the lyrics on the iPad taped to the music stand in front of his chair. If an audience member hadn’t lent Osborne his reading glasses, we might still be staring at each other. Instead, Osborne dove into the blues of “I’ve Been Away Too Long,” and the show was on the road.
Now, all my experience with Osborne’s music has been electric, both on his own recordings and the various live JazzFest performances I’ve gotten through the outstanding online outfit Munckmix. As a result, I raised an eyebrow when I heard he was playing solo acoustic. A little research would have quelled my fears, because Osborne grew up listening to acoustic warriors like Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, and his latest six-song EP Three Free Amigos is semi-acoustic. All Osborne was doing was playing open chords, but to hear the crowd, you’d have thought he was shredding like Johnny Winter. Then again, Osborne made a hilarious attempt at “shredding” when he tried to simulate the wild middle section of “Black Eye Galaxy.” Again, to hear the crowd, he may have pulled it off.
Getting sober hasn’t made Osborne any less personable. Responding to a request for “Meet Me in New Mexico”, Osborne said, “That’s high, so I’ll do it before my voice gives out.” Maybe Osborne’s voice isn’t what it used to be, but his lyrics had all the power Osborne needed. “Katrina” was a love song to a girl who had literally destroyed his world, “and left me in the dark!” The fans in the crowd whistled the refrain: “I suck, so why don’t you do it,” Osborne encouraged them. Osborne also gave us the sunny-even-with-no-money side of the Crescent City with “Summertime in New Orleans”, name-checking Kermit Ruffins as he went. Osborne wasn’t shy about doing other people’s music, pulling out a slow country take on “Friend of the Devil” that was beautifully expanded by the harmonica and background vocals of Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Clarence Bucaro, who’d played a solo set of his own before Osborne came on. Bucaro came back a couple of times during the set, with the highlight being a haunting duet on Osborne’s “Echoes of My Sins.” After the tune, Osborne exchanged a fist pound with Bucaro. “We should start a band,” Osborne laughed.
It all ended the way it should have: With a set-closing “Louisiana Rain” (The crowd howled when Osborne sang, “I just can’t wait to see my JazzFest friends…”) and then the driving beat of the ever-erudite ditty “Stoned, Drunk and Naked” for an encore. Every song was personal, and yet every song was relatable – a far cry from the cover band that was howling “I Want You to Want Me” as I walked out of Putnam’s parking lot. I got more from Osborne in one song then the punters across the street could ever provide, even if they knew the entire Cheap Trick catalog by heart. It wasn’t even a fair fight.
Dan Hogan’s review and photographs at Nippertown