Friday, 18 October 2013

Shuggie Otis pop 2013

Shuggie Otis  |  POP 2013

                     PHOTOS  |  EVAN CRANDELL

September 28, 2013 - When musicians wear sunglasses through an entire performance, they are either trying too hard to conjure an unrealistic stage persona or they have been in the game long enough, paid their dues, and gained enough swagger to the point where they have no choice but to wear sunglasses. The legendary Shuggie Otis falls into the latter category.

 The man who wrote one of the most sampled songs of all time (“Strawberry Letter 23”) graced the Rialto Theatre as part of the 2013 Pop Montreal Festival in a performance was as elegant as it was gritty. Rarely will one find an act with so much soul, professionalism, and undeniable authenticity. Otis and his band brought a fascinating mixture of attitude and down-home accessibility to the stage that absolutely captivated the audience for the entire evening.

The show was completely sonically unified. Otis’ sound is so distinct that it does not require any labels other than his name. His unexpectedly high, almost restrained but utterly funky vocal delivery, combined with thumping bass lines, understated but catchy guitar riffs, and spotless arrangements all define the Shuggie Otis sound.  

The majority of the program was taken from Otis’ masterful but criminally under-appreciated 1974 album Inspiration Information. It was worth the price of admission just to hear songs such as “Aht Uh Mi Hed” and “Inspiration Information” performed by the man who penned these fascinatingly unconventional hits.

The show was not only about rehashing songs of yesteryear, though. Otis is touring with the momentum from his recently released Inspiration Information/Wings of Love (2013) and showed that his creativity and song writing capabilities are as sharp and original as ever. Even though the title track “Wings of Love” sounded almost like an 80s cop show theme song, somehow it worked and fit seamlessly with the rest of the set. There is something about Otis’ musical product, live and recorded, that is inescapably captivating. Somehow it is always plainly clear to the listener just how much heart, soul, and love go into every note that comes out of the man’s voice and his band’s instruments. The warmth of his music is intoxicatingly infectious.

One of the highlights of the show and certainly of the material from the new album was “Special,” which has all the patented Shuggie Otis elements on top of a dance groove that would not let anyone in the room stand still. The floating, airy guitar riff in the chorus is a prime example of how Otis’ music sounds nothing like anything else.

Along with achieving song writing mastery, Otis showed that he also knows when to share the spotlight. Every member of the band had at least one chance to solo and the most notable example was a back-to-basics, 12-bar blues that took Otis to his roots and allowed several extended solos, each of which was crafted with care and built toward an emotional and musical explosion.

Even with the impressive solo contributions from the band, though, there was something different about Otis’ guitar solos. Every one would start simple enough, staying in the pocket and inside the harmony without making any drastic statements. Before long, though, they would gradually build and without necessarily noticing it, we were soon witnessing a complete takeover. It was as if Otis, through his guitar, grabbed the band, the song, and the music, and physically elevated it to another level. His guitar would scream with fervor while spewing poetic and tasteful melodies. Otis’ head would snap backward in passion and he would occasionally show his teeth in uncontrollable grimaces of pure musical ecstasy.

The show was a beautiful, well-executed musical package that was both inspiring and astounding. By the time the encore of “Strawberry Letter 23” came to a close, Otis had showed us why his irresistible brand of music has remained pertinent over the years. His sound and soul are timeless and his new material and that which is yet to come will no doubt continue to astonish us. Otis also proved in one show that he has the right to wear sunglasses wherever, whenever he pleases for as long as he lives. 

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