The Cult of Shuggie, in WilliamsburgApril 22nd, 2013
Shuggie Otis – Music Hall of Williamsburg – April 19, 2013
On Friday night, Music Hall of Williamsburg played host to legendary musician Shuggie Otis, who rose to fame thanks to his funky fusion of rock, R&B and psychedelic soul before more or less fading away, all within the span of the 1970s. However, over the past few years, Otis has been making up for lost time with a slew of performances, as well as a recent reissue of his 1974 record, Inspiration Information, alongside Wings of Love, a companion album with new and previously unreleased material.
As Otis and his seven-piece band filed onstage and readied for the set, his trumpet player, also serving as unofficial host and hype man, riled up crowd with a warning: “Brooklyn! Beware. If you have never been dominated, I give you three minutes to exit. And if you do not exit…it’s on! We will not be merciful.” Otis unleashed the domination through his guitar, opening with Inspiration Information’s title track, much to the delight of a crowd filled with folks who looked like they may not have been alive during his heyday, plus a strong contingent of original fans, all grooving along to the mellow melody. Otis and his band treated the crowd to more old favorites like “Aht Uh Mi Hed” and “Island Letter,” as well as songs from the new LP, “Tryin’ to Get Close to You” and “Wings of Love.”
In contrast to the long curly locks that were a signature look on his 1970s album covers, present-day Otis wore a stylish wide-brimmed hat, hair short and slicked back. Occasionally closing his eyes as he sang—and tilting his head back and smiling when playing an especially satisfying riff—he was an understated yet commanding presence onstage. As the show progressed, the reserved Otis seemed to loosen up a little, getting lost in intricate guitar solos during songs like “Sparkle City.” After an encore of “Ice Cold Daydream” the band left the stage, seemingly for good, and as the audience began to file out, a group of fans began to chant for Shuggie Otis to come back and play his 1971 hit “Strawberry Letter 23.” After several rounds of “Straw-ber-ry! Straw-ber-ry!” the band was back, obliging the demands with a spirited version of the song, just as smooth and catchy as it must have sounded back then. —Alena Kastin