Review: Anders Osborne a guitarist possessed, and that’s a good thing
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE – In a phone interview last week, Anders Osborne sounded listless, hoarse and grumpy. This didn’t bode well for his concert the following night at Carbondale’s PAC3, especially considering that Osborne still had to contend with the drive from Jackson Hole to the Roaring Fork Valley in the interim.
After seeing the PAC3 concert Thursday, Oct. 27, I’m letting Osborne completely off the hook. Clearly he was conserving his energy, voice and positive vibes for the stage, and not wasting them on an interview – a strategy that I wholeheartedly endorse. If you have to choose when you’re going to rise to the occasion – for the press, or for the fans – definitely go for the performance (especially if I’m going to be in attendance, and doubly especially if I’m going to review the performance).
Osborne and his band, a rhythm section of bassist Carl Dufrene and Eric Bolivar, took the stage an hour late, which compounded my anxiety. But that washed away almost instantly. Osborne came on with a palpable force – through the night, and in the aftermath of the show, the word that was uttered over and over was “possessed” – and within minutes he was off into his first guitar solo of the night, an excursion of noise and feedback that had him communing with his amplifier, jumping in the air, and going toe-to-toe with Dufrene as they drove one another to musical heights. By the middle of the first tune, Osborne was sweating, and making it clear why he had a towel draped over his shoulder most of the time.
I had last seen an Osborne performance some 15 years ago. (I’m not counting the New Orleans Road Show tour, which landed in Aspen in 2008, in which Osborne split stage time with a dozen other musicians.) Back then, Osborne was a song-and-groove man, a Swedish-born singer-songwriter who had found his place in New Orleans, and was mixing some Louisiana elements into his well-crafted, soul-oriented tunes.
In Carbondale, Osborne was a guitar man, through and through. I consciously avoid the term “guitar god” here because that phrase always puts me in mind of someone showy, standing at the lip of the stage to flash the awesome licks he has learned.
This was something different. Osborne’s guitar-playing is all heart and feel, gritty as can be. There is another term music fans use – gutbucket, for a raw, emotional style – and this was, to my mind, the essence of it. Osborne didn’t especially play to the crowd, but stomped around the stage, head often down, unselfconscious, trying to find something within him. The first three songs took up over a half hour, as Osborne had no trouble finding whatever demons, visions, pain, ecstasy lived in him, and translating them into meaningful guitar lines. Gone for the most part were those tuneful songs of his earlier days.
If I have trouble remembering song titles, I think that’s understandable; this wasn’t so much about songs, but what they became in the moment. One song I do recall was a cover of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer,” which has always been employed as a chance to go into long, noisy explorations of lead guitar. (Young’s version was named the 39th greatest guitar solo by Guitar World magazine; Warren Haynes has also used it to launch into some memorable soloing.)
Was this Anders Osborne at the top of his game? Was this him feeling like hell, and using music as a release? Was this his usual m.o. – save it all up for the stage?
Whatever it was, I’ll take it. And next time, maybe I’ll skip the interview.
Bonus coverage: I double-downed last Thursday, following up the Osborne show with Greensky Bluegrass at Belly Up Aspen. The last time I had seen them, a year and a half ago, the Michigan quintet struck me as a talented progressive bluegrass band, but with a small sense of imbalance: mandolinist Paul Hoffman seemed too much at the center of everything; the other pickers, especially dobroist Anders Beck, were on the sidelines.
Greensky – which recently put out a fine album, “Handguns” – showed much improvement in the balance area; they played with more of an integrated band sound than the last appearance. Particularly fun were several cover tunes: Pink Floyd’s “Time,” Grand Funk Railroad’s “An American Band.”
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