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Karl Denson Revisits Classic in Baltimore

Feb 14, 2012 11:47PM ● By Anonymous

Accomplished saxophonist and vocal bandleader Karl Denson treated a packed Baltimore Soundstage to an energetic night of fun on Friday, February 10th, with a well executed and heartfelt take on the Rolling Stones’ 1971 album Sticky Fingers. With an entire tour based around performing the work in its entirety, the band has become adept at performing the piece from cover to cover. Their adaptation proved to be more than a trip down memory lane, as most renditions of the album’s songs featured enough personal touch and flair to keep it interesting and noteworthy while not straying too far from the merit of the original work.

Saxophonist and vocal bandleader, Karl Denson of Karl Denson's Tiny Universe.

As a venue in its infancy after a recent conversion from the nightclub format, Baltimore Soundstage appears to have found its feet and is beginning to book a consistent stream of talented national touring acts.

With swaggering blues/rock guitarist and vocalist Anders Osborne kicking off the evening with his band and lending some southern fried slide and lead licks to the main fare, a necessary element of the album was achieved. It is important to note that this evening was nothing like the experience of attending the performance of a cover band. Cover bands, by nature, recreate the experience of seeing a famous act from the past as meticulously as possible with little to no creativity or personal inflection. From the start, with Denson and his band’s reputation, this billing promised an original, flavorful take on a well respected work.

(Left to right) Anders Osborne and Karl Denson.

From the beginning, it was obvious that the crowd was at least partially split in reasons for attendance. While some were captivated by the gritty ferocity of the opening set, featuring the high octane blues rock that Anders Osborne cultivated while playing gig after gig in New Orleans’s famed French Quarter, others appeared bored and anxious, waiting not so patiently to hear a slice of Rolling Stones nostalgia.

The rift grew ever more apparent when Denson and his band took the stage and began their performance with several original tunes. Throughout these numbers, fans of Denson and his brand of energetic funk infused jazz-rock cheered effusively, glad to witness and share in the music of a great bandleader revving up the engines before peeling out on a well worn track of rehearsed material.

At last, fanatical Rolling Stones devotees and Denson fans were reconciled as the group charged out of the gate with one of the most appropriately placed album openers in the classic rock canon in “Brown Sugar”. Denson showcased his ability to nail an energetic vocal number while engaging a boozy Friday night crowd, never missing a beat when it came time to tear into the sax solo built into the original number.

Guitar duel during "Dead Flowers."

The album’s performance proceeded with a smooth persistence, as each member of the group stepped up and showcased their skills when the album called for a solo or particularly strong feature on a track. As Denson and his band reside mostly within the realm of jazz and funk, the services of Anders Osborne and his ragged Southern charm shone through with necessity on tracks with particular country influence. Without it, tracks like the charming “Sway” and brilliantly catchy “Dead Flowers” would have missed a certain flare required of this particular era in the Rolling Stones’ musical evolution. In a particularly enjoyable segment, Osborne and Denson’s young lead guitarist engaged each other in a short but scorching lead guitar dual momentarily during the peak of “Dead Flowers”. The dual lasted long enough to remind the audience of the individuality and talent involved, while ending with enough punctuality to retain the feel and authenticity of the track as it relates to the album as a whole.

When it came time to stretch out and rock the house, the solos came out in a predictable, yet appropriate setting- the coda of the seething rocker “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’?” However, despite the energy and clap-along interaction shared by the audience and performers, the highlight would be exceeded by a fantastically lucid exploration following the haunting drug ballad “Sister Morphine”.

Once the album had been completed with a cathartic burst of emotion in “Moonlight Mile”, the band regrouped backstage momentarily before treating the audience once again to a burst of creative energy in the form of several original numbers, including some well received new material. After the show, Denson stayed around at the merchandise table to shake hands and meet fans. Undoubtedly, many of those who stayed around to wish Denson well and thank him had been the aforementioned attendees hoping only to experience some re-hashed nostalgia.