Like I said, the vocals got my attention and that stayed steady for the entire performance. His voice has quite the range with a very strong falsetto and wonderful tone. When he hit the electric piano for a chilling rendition of the Beatles ‘Help’ he went through at least three octaves without a single flutter. Not pretentious, just talented. Matt Morris was a very good opening act and entertained like he had been doing it for years.
Truth be told, he has been performing since he was eleven. An alumnus of The New Mickey Mouse Club (First degree for those of you playing along at home) Morris grew up on camera, right along side Britney, Justin, Christina et al. Not a bad pedigree if you consider the company he kept. He is signed to Justin Timberlake’s record label (Tennman Records) and J.T. co-produced his upcoming album the Un-American LP. He has appeared at Bonnaroo, Coachella and other large festivals, but related wonderfully to the several hundred of us lucky enough to catch his first set in Portland.
Tonight’s headliner, Joan Osborne ambled onto the stage shortly after nine, looking relaxed and ready to party. With a wry smile and a slight squint she and her band (Andrew Carillo on guitar, Aaron Comess on drums, Keith Cotton on keyboards and Richard Hammond on bass) lit into Rodeo from her newest release, Little Wild One. A drum beat heavy country song of heartbreak with a touch of yodel thrown in to keep it interesting; Rodeo got the crowd hooting right away. They hardly skipped a beat between the next two songs, Who Divided and Breakfast In Bed. Osborne got her dance groove on for Breakfast, stomping her boots and shaking the tambourine with abandon.
She finally addressed the audience before her next song. She lamented that maybe bringing Matt Morris on tour with her was a bad idea, seeing as he had us in the palm of his hand. She hit back strong with Saint Theresa, another strong vocal dripping with folk and gospel charm. Osborne pulled out another concert favorite next, Spider Web with the opening lines about meeting Ray Charles in a dream. In the dream, Ray can see, but he cannot sing. The song started out very sparse; a rattle of drum and slight bass trembling with Osborne’s steady, controlled delivery. The delivery built slowly and deliberately to a sincerely hard rock guitar part that got the crowd on its collective feet. This was my second favorite song of the show.
The favorite would have to be Hallelujah In The City, also from the new album. With its New York City references and ‘based on a true story’ tale of redemption brought on by relocation, it hit home in reverse for me. I’m a New Yorker myself, but I have lived in Portland almost thirty years. Sorry, I won’t take the time to explain how that works. If you are a fellow New Yorker, you know what I’m talking about, no matter where you currently get your mail.
Mid show, Osborne brought Matt Morris back onstage for a duet. They dug up a deep one here. Cathedrals, from the Irish indie band Jump Little Children was the perfect song to mingle these two powerful singers. They traded verses just fine, but brightened my little patch of Earth when they harmonized on the chorus. They could make a mint in residuals for Jump Little Children if they put that on the radio.
Of course they played One Of Us a song I never really liked till tonight. Carillo’s guitar treatment at the beginning mixed with a slight shift of tempo rang a bit truer tonight. Or it could have been Joan Osborne leaning over the monitor and singing the song right at me. Plus, they jumped right into a rocking cover of Dave Mason’s Only You Know And I Know to end the set.
The three song encore was highlighted by the finale. When The Blue Hour Comes, a bonus track from 2006’s Pretty Little Stranger, simply tore my heart out, Osborne’s spot on gritty blues together with the bands minimalist treatment made for a beautiful finish to the show.
I almost forgot to mention that, toward the beginning of the set, Osborne played the “…only Dead song you’re going to get tonight.” Brokedown Palace. This song was a highlight when Osborne toured with The Dead in 2003, and fit in just fine with tonight’s show.
The Dead connection is, obviously, the second degree. See, I told you it was easy. Now that you’ve read this post, you can connect Mickey and Jerry with Jump Little Children and move on from there. And if you can toss a Kevin Bacon connection in there, more power to you.
Rock On Through The Fog