Shuggie Otis in The Sugar Club on December 1st 2012
It’s the second of two nights in the capital for Shuggie Otis – songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and all round enigmatic cult figure. With three albums under his belt by the age of twenty-one, Otis then fell off the radar until the nineties, when his work was re-discovered and the classic ‘Inspiration Information’ album re-released on David Byrne’s label. Otis celebrated his birthday the previous night in Whelan’s and so kicks off his fifty-ninth year proper in the cosseted amphitheatre of The Sugar Club.
Looking somewhat like a preacher man in his black and white garb, Otis appears and compliments the crowd, and his band, telling us “We’re gonna break the laws tonight”. The crowd are up for it, and respond in kind to the flute solo of Island Letter. Otis takes a time out to introduce his “real good” band – a master of understatement is Shuggie. Trying To get Close To You follows, lounging along with swirling-psych guitar effects as each band member takes his dues, stretching out on solos.
During Happy House we get just one instance of Otis the guitar maestro, delivering a wah solo with the best of them, bolstered by a flute accompaniment. Otis spends the gig wrenching all manner of noises from his guitars, constantly modifying the sound with pedals, pick-up switch and good old-fashioned hammering the shit out of them. The sound man frequently comes in for some light ribbing, and indeed the vocal sound is erratic throughout leaving much of Otis’ stage patter incomprehensible.
“How many of you came here to catch tonight?” asks Otis. That’s LA speak for getting the shift. The slow blues of Sweet Thang follows, with Otis coming centre stage for a solo. Sparkle City turns into a jammy, solo-laden extended piece with the band getting lost in it behind those powerhouse funk drums. Here and for the duration of the gig Shuggie’s bassist shrugs in time with the beat, and what was once a halo of empty space in front of the stage is now filled with grooving punters.
A snare solo kicks off Doin’ What’s Right and then it’s all screeching horns as Otis downs guitar. He comes to the front of the stage and presses the flesh, exiting as his stellar band continues the funk instrumental. This is “the greatest band I ever had in my life” says Shuggie as he re-emerges, kicking off the encore with an unexpected Shuggie’s Boogie and building it into a right kicker. The biggest reception of the night of course goes to Strawberry Letter 23, a more forceful version than its recorded form but no less fantastic with the band firing off each other. The bass pops, the bass drum drives it and the place goes mad for the psych-breakdown of the coda.
‘Freedom Flight’s Ice Cold Daydream rounds things off with an extended solo and off he goes, leaving the band to take it home. The players exit as the bass man takes a solo, then the keyboard player appropriates the drumstool and they delve into a playful funk jam. They’re clearly enjoying themselves on the last night in Dublin, ending the night on an easy-going, smile-swapping wind-down. “Maybe I’m the coolest one here” quips Otis during the nights festivities. He wasn’t rebuffed.