ALBANY — Joan Osborne waited a little too long to break-out her one and only hit “One of Us.” It was the very last song of Alive at Five on Thursday night, and the crowd was visibly thinner than when she started at Riverfront Park.
Hearing Osborne sing her soulful blues for 90 minutes made her hit song that much cooler. And there were plenty who stuck around interested in her Grateful Dead affiliation. But a free, outdoor summer crowd can be unreasonably demanding. Her gracious, disciplined rendition of Jerry Garcia’s “Brokedown Palace” might inspire a few, but not the many.
Even her “St. Theresa,” which played early in the show, one of her largest tunes since “One of Us,” went unrecognized, including by the woman next to me who claimed herself a fan.
During “Spider Web,” Osborne stepped to the side of the stage to let her four-piece band stretch for a while, treating the Dead fans to a worthy jam. Clearly the band had a lot more to give when she cut them off, but we got a nice sample.
“The Grateful Dead portion of the show is over,” she said after the song, laughing.
I first started seeing Joan Osborne in a little bar on the east side of New York City on Tuesday nights 23 years ago. At that time she held the room in the palm of her hand, and I thought, this must be how Janis Joplin commanded blues songs in front of audiences. So when Osborne scored a mega-hit years later, and then even later sang for The Dead in large arenas, her success struck me personally. In her show Thursday night, like Joplin, she showed no sign of commercial success. She played as deep and personable as she did before she escaped from the empty bar scene with her multi-platinum record. But that doesn’t always resonate.
Probably the best tune of the night was Dave Mason’s “Only You Know and I Know,” an up-tempo groove that seemed to fit Osborne’s natural rhythm and raspy vocals.
She sang the spiritual “Poison Apples” with the sensuality and intensity that would silence an indoor club.
That power got lost at the Riverfront amphitheater.
But the city rolled the dice and got it right, holding the event at the Riverfront during the threat of rain. As opener Sean Rowe performed, the day-long grey sky faded into a blue one by time Osborne came on.
Rowe sings like his voice came right out of the earth. During “Into the Mystic,” he rivaled Van Morrison with his patience and feel. He moved from there to some blues.
“I need to play some more blues,” he said before starting the song. He covered others, like the Motown “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” and “Stand By Me.” Rowe is coming out with an album in the fall, and he sampled for us “Jonathan,” an emotional, melodic tune, his voice so deep and confident that it made me wonder once again, what did this guy sound like as a pre-teen?
Look for the local performer in the area, where he plays weekly. He won’t disappoint.
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