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All words: Brian Werner — All photos: Lori

Given the humble and regional beginnings of the blues, you could be forgiven in thinking the Hamilton an unusual venue for catching the genre. Several blocks from the formal columns of the Treasury Department and part of the ever expanding Clyde’s Restaurant Group empire, the Hamilton’s swank, business-like feel and candle-lit, tiered seating seems more appropriate for an evening with a Frank Sinatra cover artist rather than a gruff, New Orlean’s blues rocker. But on Saturday night Anders Osborne evoked walking down Bourbon Street and being in the back woods of Louisiana, flawlessly.

Emerging wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt, shoulder length blonde hair, and full beard (trimmed down from his previous Stonewall Jackson impressions), Osborne looked like he’d be more comfortable at Burning Man or a Civil War reenactment than a mere two blocks from the President’s house in present-day DC. Nonetheless, he immediately approached the mic and in his dense NOLA accent said, “The new venue looks nice, DC. We’ve got two hours together – let’s see where it takes us.”

After an ambient, feedback-driven opening, Osborne settled into his set with some straight forward blues rock of the tried and true women, booze, and drugs variety. Stand-outs and crowd favorites like “Stone Drunk & Naked” and “The Road to Charlie Parker” were welcomed ecstatically in the eclectic crowd where mentions of the words “bayou” and “New Orleans” were met with loud ovations.

After a souped-up cover of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” roughly an hour from the start of the set, Osborne traded in his electric Fender for one of the acoustic variety as well as a strategically strapped harmonica, which he placed around his neck. I welcomed the change of pace as it allowed the audience a short breather and a brief reprieve from heavy, distorted blues riffs. After asking the audience what they wanted to hear and, as usual, receiving an indistinguishable roar of yelling fans, he settled on the heartfelt “Me & Lola.”

His touring band, limited to bass, guitar, and drums, were noticeably missing the instrumentation that’s normally an integral part of both his festival shows and the genre at large–horn section, keyboard, trombone, tuba, et al. While several songs would have benefitted greatly from a few well-placed horn accompaniments or the added layer of a complementary keyboard, Osborne’s riffs are so solid and intricate that they easily stand on their own.

Osborne closed the second half of his set with the crowd drunkenly singing along to the chorus of “Ya Ya.” He re-emerged for his encore in his third t-shirt of the evening, appropriately adorned with “America the Beautiful” block letters in front of a black-and-white stars and stripes. A final cover of “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” with the requisite hint of marijuana in the air and the evening was complete. Watching Anders Osborne lay down blues riffs as thick as the New Orleans air, it’s fair to wonder whether or not in an alternate world somewhere he’s the one selling millions of albums instead of the Black Keys.

The three-piece British blues performers, the Oli Brown Band, opened the evening with plenty of pounding riffs and extended solos. They seemed to know that they were playing to a crowd that was merely waiting for Anders Osborne as
they consistently reminded the audience that their CD was for sale and that we should“…buy it because it will help us fly back home.”

Despite the consistent sales pitch, Oli Brown looked like a ’70s-era Robert Plant (hair included) with a voice just as powerful. Shortly after playing his stand out, slow building “Mr. Wilson,” he remarked, “I should get a haircut. I can barely see up here.”