Now in its third year, Anders Osborne’s annual “Holiday Spectacular” has rightfully assumed its place as a New Orleans tradition. The annual two-night run at Tipitina’s once again featured some of the best musicians in town tearing through both Osborne originals and classic covers over the course of four sets. Although the stage was decked out in Christmas trees and lights were strung everywhere around the club, this was not a holiday concert in the traditional sense. The pair of shows felt festive, with the warmth of a holiday family reunion and consisted of set lists that were not dominated by the season’s inescapable Christmas standards.
Coming off a great year for the local singer-songwriter, Anders delivered two of the best performances of his career this weekend. Through 2014 the musician toured with his own band and various other projects, continuing his ascent as one of the pre-eminent guitarists in the national jam band scene. In spring 2014, Anders played a string of acclaimed shows with the supergroup Southern Soul Assembly (featuring Marc Broussard, JJ Grey, and Luther Dickinson) and just last week played with Phil Lesh’s band at New York’s Capitol Theater. His triumphant set at Jazz Fest (which conveniently preceded Phish’s much-anticipated return to the Fairgrounds) earned him a small army of new fans and, simultaneously, his local fanbase saw their favorite guitarist play one of his biggest shows to date.
The shows at Tip’s this weekend featured several guest performers culled from Anders’ extensive network of musical friends. The core band consisted of Anders’ usual bassist Carl Dufrene, John “Papa” Gros on keys, guitarist Scott Metzger and drummer Tony Leone. Although this lineup has never shared the same stage before, Anders managed to lead the artists through extended jams with a confidence he’s acquired through years of playing with a varied set of bands. Anders’ impeccable guitar work tied everything together as he hopped across genres while delivering blazing-hot solos.
The first night began with an acoustic set, easing the crowd and band in to what would be over six hours of music over the course of two days. The first guests to appear, Dave Hidalgo of Los Lobos and Joe Cabral of The Iguanas, each amplified the Latin grooves running through Anders’ songs. Following, Anders’ frequent collaborator Johnny Sansone took the stage, contributing a certain roadhouse swagger to the mix with his rugged voice and harmonica.
After a solid hour of acoustic songs, the guests left the stage and Ander’s band plugged in and took off. They tore through the title of track of Osborne’s most recent album, Peace, and seamlessly sequed into a cover of “All Along the Watchtower” that matched the dynamic intensity of Jimi Hendrix’s rendition while retaining the lyrical delivery of Dylan’s original.
The second guest set featured Galactic’s Stanton Moore, who effortlessly swung from hard rock to Caribbean rhythms as he reaffirmed his position as the best drummer in the city. The other half of Galactic’s rhythm section, bassist Robert Mercurio, appeared unannounced for a few songs and dug into the grooves as the rest of the band rode the beat. With ten guys on stage, all at the top of their game, Joe Cabral lead the band through an extended take on The Iguanas’ classic “Para Donde Vas.” After that detour into Cuban jazz, the night closed with two of Anders’ best songs, the rocking “On the Road to Charlie Parker” and mellow “Ya Ya.”
Night two featured Tipitina’s royalty Dave and Tommy Malone, as well as soul singer Marc Broussard, for a more straight-forward rock and roll show. The evening launched with an acoustic set from Dave Malone singing the Grateful Dead classic “Morning Dew” and Marc Broussard delivering an impassioned take on “When a Man Loves a Woman.” The biggest surprise of the weekend was an unannounced appearance by Jimmy Buffett, who joined the band for “Iko Iko.” Buffett left the stage to the sound of thunderous applause and was gone as quickly as he appeared, hopping in a waiting limo outside.
The rest of the second show featured a sound that rested somewhere between The Radiators and Little Feat, providing a perfect platform for extended solos and improvisation that whetted the appetites of those lucky enough to snag tickets to the Rads’ upcoming three-night reunion. Anders premiered a new song, “Lafayette,” before delivering an encore featuring “I Got a Woman” and a cover of “Spanish Moon.” When it all ended with the smooth blues of “Louisiana Rain,” the Anders faithful poured out into the early morning with enough great music ringing in their ears to get them through until his next local show.
Although New Orleans is not typically associated with guitar rock, Anders Osborne’s talent and popularity prove that the musical spirit of New Orleans finds its way into just about every song that comes out of this city. The Holiday Spectacular appears to be Anders’ way of acknowledging the influence of New Orleans on his music and a way to show gratitude to his adopted city for all it taught him. After this weekend’s excellent shows, it’s safe to assume the Holiday Spectacular will be back for many years to come.