On a recent nippy night, The State Theater in Falls Church, VA was host to one of the hottest current tours in the country: Karl Densonâ€™s Tiny Universe with Anders Osborne. Though a tour with these players combined would be noteworthy in its own right, when the the tour’s focal point was announced, the level of grandness was taken beyond that of simply being a compelling mix of two world class musicians. In what was at one point a “one-off” type of thing, and rather than mixing up a bunch of funk standards every night, Karl and Anders announced that they would be taking their much hailed take on the Rolling Stones’ album that formally introduced Mick Taylor to the world, 1971’s Sticky Fingers.
Karl Denson is not new to the world of improvisation. In fact, he very well may be one of its kings, particularly amongst funksters. There literally is not a fathomable situation to which Karl cannot add. He is a veteran and when with his Tiny Universe — that now includes the guitar prowess of DJ Williams (who replaced Brian Jordan in late 2011) — Karl shines brighter than ever. Yes, even brighter than he did in the Sexual Chocolate horn section.
Anders Osborne came onto the Louisiana scene with a subtlety that, over the past 12 years, has amassed a fervent following. Through his passionate lyrical abilities — that led Tim McGraw to a number one hit with “Watch the Wind Blow By” — Â combined with his guttural howl and fiery guitar work, Osborne approaches a stage as though he is in attack mode.
In short, to have Anders and Karl on the same stage tackling one of the greatest rock albums of its period was quite the treat. It was a perfect storm of musical creativity and talent and it had the packed State Theatre crowd buzzing the whole night through.
The Anders Osborne Trio opened the show with a nice 45 minute set, containing mostly new songs from the forthcoming album, Black Eyed Galaxy, that is set for release in April. Not surprisingly, the showcased tunes from the new LP were a pleasant blend of thoughtful tunes with excellent vocal harmonies along with some hard driving tunes that were particularly ripe for extension through improvisation at the hand of Osborne and company.
As the set wound down, he asked if he should play something old. Rhetorically, the crowd obliged and the trio eased into 1995’s “Burning on the Inside,” a great departing number. Â With that, Anders made his exit and trio bassist Carl Dufrene and drummer Eric Bolivar shot each other a quick look and big smile before doing the same.
After a short break, and with jackets and sweaters stacked like leaning Pisa towers across the venue the lights once again dimmed. The time had come for all to get real good and sweaty on a rather chilly night in Virginia.
With zero hesitation, Karl and his Tiny Universe sprung Â into several funky jam vehicles that included “Three Trials,” “Look Out” and “Find It.” From Jump Street, the band was tight as a tick — making multiple hairpin turns on a dime while always remaining melodically succinct. It was immediately clear: this was the Tiny Universe in their finest form.
Announcing that the next song was a “song is about interracial sexâ€ as only Denson could do, Anders made a return to the stage and Tiny Universe guitarist, DJ Williams, breached the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” with the familiar and timeless Keith Richards opening lick. It was official. The gig was on.
The adrenaline in The State Theatre mass was palpable. The best part was that it was difficult to tell who was rocking harder, the band or the crowd. What was certain was that the energy between the two was constantly recycling.
As the set continued, Karl, Anders and company managed pull off many a teenaged boyâ€™s musical fantasy, by actually jamming Stones’ tunes onstage in front of a large crowd rather than having it simply be left as a dream in a long since passed garage.
The third song brought a nice surprise when Carl Dufrene retook the stage with an acoustic guitar for a wonderfully reworked take on “Wild Horses” that provided a breather, but also proved the depth and breadth of the players’ aptitudes and moreover, that of the vocalists (Osborne and Denson).
The band then spliced in some serious funk with their take on “Canâ€™t You Hear Me Knocking.” The interplay between the wizard like play of DJ Williams and the straight rock play of Osborne was like witnessing a dance-like battle. Retrospectively, the number was so well schemed that it could have just as easily been an original as it was a track from a defining album of one of Rock & Roll’s greatest band’s of all time.
A peak of the set followed in the form of the Marianne Faithfull co-written “Sister Morphine.” The tune brought about a series of spacious psychedelic solos from the strings and brass sections of the ensemble, and hereby provided another example of how the Tiny Universe are certainly masters at what they do, they can do more than funk people silly.
Following the closing of Sticky Fingers, Anders departed while KDTU remained to finish the night with several encores that provided the audience any last opportunities that may have been needed to shake out any kinks — or stock up on some for the future.
On its whole, the night spent in Falls Church could not have been better. There was a bit of everything for everybody — from funk to familiar and rock to ballads. There was not a dull moment. One can only imagine the moments when the idea between Karl and Anders was first tossed around. They took a risk and the bottom line is , they could have fallen on their faces doing it.
As jackets were found and the cumbersome exit was begun, the looks on the faces of the crowd told the story. Not only did the idea work; this crowd had been overcome with what they had just witnessed. What a night!
Click the thumbnails to view more photos from the show by Bob Adamek…