Anders Osborne went deep and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe embraced their inner Ray Charles for a wholly satisfying double bill at Los Angeles’ El Rey Theatre last Thursday. The two combined for 3 ½ hours of wall-to-wall intensity, stunning jams and a full on soul dance party.
Osborne’s LA appearances are a rarity, made more of an event in the larger El Rey space and two act offering. Osborne is touring on his latest release, Peace, and several tracks were featured including the Cortez-ian title track that opens the album. (I couldn’t help but think that Neil isn’t the only one waging heavy “Peace” throughout the set. The Young influences are more than just the material, but down to the stage posture – lead foot stomping, head and shoulders hunched, scraping every note to the bone). “Windows” flew, “Five Bullets” attacked and “Sarah Anne” took the band into the light. True to form, Osborne opened with the thunderous squonk of “Black Tar” (from 2012’s Black Eye Galaxy), but also went way, way back for “Burning on the Inside” (from 1995’s Which Way to Here) that has been a staple in his sets for some time. The fitting highlight was an extended “Love is Taking Its Toll” (from 2010’s American Patchwork) with a “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” tease before closing with Patchwork’s “On the Road to Charlie Parker”.
Osborne is fearless in his playing and his delivery. He has lived the bottom and seen the sun rise. The result is often dark, always honest and routinely fierce. His bandmates of some time, Carl Dufrene and Eric Bolivar, always have his back (the band was also filled out by a second guitar player who tangled nicely with Osborne).
I’m relatively new to Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, but have known of the band for well over a decade and familiar with the San Diego native’s work with the Greyboy Allstars and frequent NOLA collaborations. This is not the first time Osborne and Denson have toured, or even dressed up musically together. In fact, a few years back the two teamed up to cover Sticky Fingers (which I unfortunately missed). This gig was billed as a “Ray Charles Boogaloo Dance Party” with guest Zach Deputy on vocals, and the nearly 2 hour set of robust and energetic guitar driven and horn-centric funk started up (“The Hen”), and went higher from there, even covering the Beastie Boys “Sure Shot” along the way. Denson is a powerful and fun player, driving, flying, reaching, hitting, egging others to follow. Guitarist DJ Williams joined in 2011 and came out swinging the whole set.
The entire Universe knows this territory well and taking on Ray Charles was a natural fit. The familiar tunes started rolling (“Unchain My Heart”, “Hit the Road Jack”, “What I’d Say” and even, “America the Beautiful”) with Zach Deputy growls that would have made Ray proud. These songs are part of our vernacular. Appropriately celebrated by all involved.