Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe & Anders Osborne: Performing Sticky Fingers Live – Webster Hall, NYC 2/8/12

The Tiny Universe can encompass a lot these days, including one of the greatest rock albums known to man, Sticky Fingers.  This group has been performing the album live across the country with the help of their special guest Anders Osborne on guitar, but before the 70’s swagger was broken out both outfits did a bit of their own playing. 

Anders Osborne opened the show with the low end backing of Carl Dufrene on bass and Eric Bolivar on drums.  The power trio was just that…powerful!  The minute the group stomped out the first note the walls in the sometimes disco shook, actual pieces of confetti were jarred loose from parties past and floated down throughout the opening set.  The group was awash in dirty grooves and killer guitar solos, the songs were minimal but the jams were long, just five songs in 45 minutes. 

The sludgy riffs dipped into “Cortez The Killer” range as the band played some new tracks from an upcoming album and then got out there with Allman Brothers like excursions and southern rock riffs.  However, the band that this trio most closely resemble are the original Gov’t Mule; if fans of Woody, Warren and Abts have yet to hear Anders and company run and do that now. 
A short break followed before the five piece Tiny Universe; Ron Johnson (bass), Chris Littlefield (trumpet), Brian Jordan (guitar), David Veith (keyboards) and John Staten (drums) came out to back up horn man extraordinaire Karl Denson.  The band broke out their spacey trip-hop soul to go along with their positive upbeat vibes.  The crowd was full on grooving and Staten on drums in particular was vital to the proceedings, laying down a complex yet danceable beats. 

After a few songs however they went into their track “Satisfied” off of The Bridge and got really lost in the ambiance.  Denson himself played cowbell, sax, did a flute solo and then ended the song with a long keyboard adventure.  The meandering Jamiroquai outtake sounding tune was probably the weakest of the night especially when directly after it, Anders returned to the stage and Denson shouted, “This next song is about interracial sex!”      

What was already a solid night of music got turned to 11 as “Brown Sugar” kicked off an exciting cover take on the Stones classic album.  While many bands are doing full album shows of their own past catalog this was a great twist on that topic and is a route more bands should take; covering a great album not necessarily right in your wheel house so you can add your own special sounds and spices onto it.      

The players on stage were obviously relishing in the moment by adding their own small flourishes to things, like the large drum build in “Wild Horses” or the dueling guitar outro of “Dead Flowers”.  The song that seems the most obvious for experimentation and custom suited for this ensemble, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” was shockingly done almost note for note with the band reining it in.  The two tracks that deviated the most from the originals with glorious success were “You Gotta Move” and “Sister Morphine”. 

“You Gotta Move” had Anders taking lead vocals with slow blues pumping and the massive horn riffs flowing, the jam went on and built over a long period of time with special flair.  “Sister Morphine” seemed to be keeping it close to the vest with Denson’s vocals before a trumpet rise singled something new and a full on funk breakdown erupted to close the song out for hip shaking blast.   Denson and Osborne split lead vocals but neither tried to hit Mick’s range or style and the set was much better off for it. 

A live show that should be seen when it pulls through your town, this had pretty much everything a music lover could hope for: down and dirty blues, spacey soul and a stroll through some classic tracks that combined it all.  This served as an all around a welcomed collaboration that produced fruitful sounds… well done.          

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