You Got Satin Shoes

February 9th, 2012

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and Anders Osborne – Webster Hall – February 8, 2012

Sometimes you see a concert listing and it raises more questions than it answers. Take last night’s show at Webster Hall, billed as Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe playing the Rolling Stones’ classic album Sticky Fingers with special guest Anders Osborne. A look at that billing and you might be asking, “Hasn’t that cover-a-whole-album thing been played out?” And if not, “Karl Denson playing the Stones? How does that work?” And “How is Osborne’s gritty, soul rock going to mesh with Denson’s acid-jazz grooves?” Well, of course, the devil is in the details.

After a scintillating fire-in-the-belly set from the Anders Osborne Trio and a dance-floor-lubricating warm up from the Tiny Universe, it was time for the main attraction. Denson reintroduced Osborne to the eager crowd like introducing a date to his parents for the first time and then described the opening song, the quintessential “Brown Sugar” as a “song about interracial sex.” It took the mind a minute or two to wrap around the buried subtext and risqué hilarity of the comment, and by then the band was already deep into it. To pull off the full-album replay, a balance between faithfulness and adventurousness must be struck, and Denson and crew pretty much nailed the dichotomy. In the end, it was the small details that transformed a bunch of covers into a transcendent deconstruction: a punch-in-the-gut slide guitar solo from Osborne during “Sway,” Denson’s surprisingly emotive vocals on “Wild Horses”—the microphone looking like a toy clutched in his muscular hands—the improbably harmonies during “You Gotta Move” and, of course, the impeccably jammed, don’t-let-it-end coda to “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.”

It was clear that there were three pro veterans on stage: Denson, who has been making people dance for decades, from Sexual Chocolate to the Greyboy Allstars to the Tiny Universe, and Osborne, who has been getting impossibly better every year for just as long. Last, but not least, Sticky Fingers itself, which has served as the keystone for the Stones’ heyday output, but also one of the greatest albums of all time (of which the original LP had the one of the greatest album covers of all time). The unexpected highlight came late in the set as the band stretched “Sister Morphine” into a delicious, almost ambient mind jam. As Osborne’s raunchy slide mellowed around the dreamy, long notes from the horns, the question of the night changed from “Why is Karl Denson covering Sticky Fingers?” to “Why doesn’t everyone?” —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno |