On a night capping off a daylong deluge in Upstate New York, it was all rays of sunshine inside the Westcott Theater when Anders Osborne and Tom Hamilton’s American Babies took the stage. The two guitarists are both at the top of their game and were showing why to the well-packed and exuberant crowd.
American Babies got things started with their unique blend of Americana and electronica, showcasing Tom Hamilton’s history, present and future together in one jam-happy presentation. Classics like “Tangled Up in Blue” started in the Jerry Garcia Band style before evolving slowly into an electronica-based section. While the first single off their forthcoming album, “Synth Driver,” exhibited the electronica influence early before mellowing into a spacey improv.
After a solid hour-long set, the band thanked the audience and exited the stage while the house music took over. Seconds later, with no prompting from the crowd, the band came back out, “They said we can play some more.” And that they did! Another 30 minutes brought unexpected highlights like a lengthy “Old Time Religion” > “Joeline” combo, and a “What Does it Mean To Be” that blasted toward the finish line with a rocking jam. It was 50% more American Babies! What a deal.
With set-opening “Five Bullets,” Anders Osborne and his band were “coming in hot!” as a member of the crowd aptly called out. Osborne smiled and pointed, repeating, “We’re coming in hot!” In previous years he might have started high and kept the energy high all night. With his current band, featuring his long-time bass player Carl Dufrene, Brady Blade on drums, Eric McFadden on guitar and mandolin, and Danny Eisenberg on keys, he was able to put together quite a dynamic set.
Surrounding himself with such incredible players, Osborne wasn’t required to stand front and center every song playing blistering solo after solo. And because the band was so good, that was actually not a bad thing.
Things were immediately taken down a notch with “47,” where Osborne’s recent forays with Phil Lesh’s band came to the fore in a beautiful reserved Jerry Garcia-esque jam. More Dead-influence was showcased in “Dyin’ Days” that featured some excellent work by McFadden playing off Osborne. The song wound its way up to ferociously before erupting into a quick “Down By the River” finish that left the crowd wondering if the set was already peaking three songs in.
With the bouncy blues of “Lafayette” and slow-building “Pontchartrain” from Osborne’s forthcoming album, it was clear this band still left room for surprises. Each song brought it’s own unique flavor, steeped in Louisiana’s musical cuisine.
Tom Hamilton and his backing rhythm guitarist Raina Mullen joined just Osborne and a mandolin-wielding McFadden for a mostly acoustic take on “Friend of the Devil.” Then McFadden and Osborne continued acoustically to play “Coming Down” as a duo. with Osborne scatting along with his guitar and McFadden trading licks on the mandolin.
The slinky reggae groover “Sarah Anne,” took a turn when Dufrene stepped to the front and blasted the groove into a dark space. A full-band improv ensued that could best be described as a beautifully controlled madness. It set your arm hair at attention. Osborne clearly felt it too. As soon as the song ended, he raised his arms in victory, looking excitedly around at his band. After a couple mid-set hugs, he stepped to the mic with a huge grin, “What is this place? Why haven’t we played here before? This is my favorite gig of the whole tour!”
The joy continued when they came back out for the encore. Osborne expressed his appreciation for the crowd, telling of his battles with addiction and how he’s built himself back up over the past seven years. This show, and the crowd’s enthusiasm, were vindication for all his hard work. He was truly excited about the amazing reception he was getting. On this rainy Syracuse evening. it truly was all sunshine on the inside.
Setlist: Five Bullets, 47, Dyin’ Days, Lafayette, Pontchartrain, Lean On Me/Believe In You, Friend of the Devil*, Coming Down, Move Back To Mississippi, Sarah Anne, Windows, Send Me A Friend
Encore: Call On Me
*with Tom Hamilton on guitar and Raina Mullen on vocals