TVD Live: Joan Osborne at the Hamilton, 8/6

PHOTOS: LAURA CROSTA | Fans call the week or so between Jerry Garcia’s August 1 birthday and the commemoration of the day he died (August 9, 1995) the “Days Between,” after a philosophical early ’90s Grateful Dead song. In recent years the annual occasion has been marked the Hamilton in DC with a series of shows from different Dead-adjacent acts, which this year included the realms of bluegrass or jazz.

It culminated Sunday with a set from Joan Osborne, who has no little Dead cred. She’s lent after her voice to the post-Garcia aggregation The Dead and tours with Phil Lesh and Friends and has long since been embraced by the fan community, who treated her show as a kind of offshoot, with all the tie-dye and taping stations that engenders.

Even with a new album due out September 8, she said this would be “a different show” with more Jerry than usual, and there were five Dead related songs in the evening—fully a third of the set. That compared to just a pair from her new album, from the opening “Should’ve Danced More” to the title track “Nobody Owns You,” the former a note to herself; the latter a note to her daughter.

Osborne had an unusual band but an effective one. John Petruzzelli, a guitarist who has worked with Rufus Wainwright, Ian Hunter, Patti Smith, and the ace Beatles cover band the Fab Faux had a thankless task—to help conjure the memory of Garcia without seeming to ape him, and he succeeded with a nice reserved style. The other backing musician, Texan Will Bryant, filled in solidly on electric keyboards, but was even better on the Hamilton’s grand piano, adding tasty solos and trading licks with Petruzzelli.

It was up to Osborne to add percussion when she wasn’t playing acoustic guitar—with tambourine mostly, and a snare drum on “Deep Elem Blues.” (A drum machine on the opening and closing numbers made one glad they didn’t use that device more.)

There were a trio of songs from Bob Dylan—perhaps not surprising since she recorded a whole Songs of Bob Dylan in 2017. And one of them, ending the main set, had also been something of a Dead go-to as well, “Tangled up in Blue.” Osborne has an advantage in all of this since she has such a distinctive, soulful voice. She’d always been a better singer than Garcia, Dylan, Lesh, or Bob Weir but understanding the sensibility of their songs, she’s able to bring an uncanny warmth to things like “Eyes of the World,” which she segued into “Stella Blue.”

Sunday wasn’t the best night for her voice, perhaps. It was likely touring or the mechanics of summer shows—with outside heat contrasting with dry air conditioning cool playing havoc on the pipes, and not her age (61). But she did have to spray some sort of throat medicine every few songs, turning her back sometimes to do so.

The difference was noticeable largely on the older songs. She did “Pensacola” from her 1995 debut Relish as well as its Grammy-nominated hit “One of Us.” In its famous line “What if God were one of us,” the high note made the deity a little elusive. But it was still well received, so engrained is its melody and message more than a quarter century later. She did have a delightful little gender change, though, in the final line, about God getting no phone calls “‘cept for the Pope, when she’s in Rome.”

Better was the closing song in the encore “You Gotta Serve Somebody,” a Dylan song with a verve and power that rose above the author’s original dirge.

Should’ve Danced More
High Water (For Charley Patton)
Deep Elem Blues
Alabama Getaway
I Want to Be Loved
Whole Wide World
Nobody Owns You
New Speedway Boogie
Eyes of the World
Stella Blue
Tangled Up in Blue

One of Us
Gotta Serve Somebody

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