Friday, December 7, 2012

Searching for Shuggie, Man

A little over an hour into cult soul singer/guitarist Shuggie Otis’ L.A. homecoming, the Beast was sitting out on the patio of the Echoplex listening to the baffled reactions of respectful but frustrated attendees, one of whom just was in the midst of typing out a tweet: ‘This is a f*cking DISASTER’.

We leaned over and asked them, “Who do you blame for this?”

This is why the Beast prefers underground or “experimental” shows done in performance spaces or galleries; yes, it sounds snobby and pretentious, but bear with us: those places almost always get it right. Their skeletal requirements for tickets, sound and staff precludes a leaner, meaner machine with no rote rock-club B.S. And there was a shovelful of B.S. at the Echoplex for Otis’ appearance on Wednesday night. Endless wait in long-ass line, check. Confused, slightly hostile security detail possibly outsourced from the TSA, got it. Disorganized, seat-of-the-pants ticketing/will call policy requiring people reform lines repeatedly, holla! Yet this was all nothing new and the Beast patiently went through the motions, confident that it would all be rewarded by seeing a multiracial, omni-talented wunderkind and member of L.A. music royalty (Shug’s the son of pioneering R&B impresario Johnny Otis and son-in-law of jazz bandleader Gerald Wilson) who was signed to a record deal at age 14 and has been referred to as the "lost" link between Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and Prince and the harbinger of Maxwell, Frank Ocean and Lil Wayne. Riiight?

It wasn’t. Even after the the 59-year-old Otis – dressed like a badass toreador in black boots, tight black pants, crisp white blouse and black satin vest (“Danny Trejo could play him in the biopic!” one kid noted) – and his seven piece band took the stage 45 minutes late, it took at least fifteen more minutes for persistent problems with his guitar amp (he blew up two of them) and non-functioning AC chords before the music even lurched to a wobbly start. (Soundboard guy to pianist: “Hey, Nick! You guys wanna play something just to warm up?” Pianist: “It’s up to the man himself what he wants to do.”) When Otis finally stepped up to the mike to sing the first lines of “Inspiration Information” from his 1972 cult classic of the same name – hey presto! No vocals! And no vocals for the rest of the song to boot! Wheeee!

The crowd was endlessly deferential and forgiving, constantly shouting out encouragement (“We’re with you Shug!”, “No rush, man! We’ll wait!”) to a leader who looked increasingly embarrassed and, yes, pissed off. “I’m just Shuggie’s brother, okay?” he joked tensely. “He’ll be out in a few minutes and then we can finish that tune.” Even a blast of errant feedback from his shiny new Gibson guitar brought hopeful applause. Things settled a bit for “Aht Uh Mi Hed,” at least to showcase (briefly, tantalizingly) Otis’s supple, almost jazzy guitar lines, which ran almost in direct contrast to the aggressive, horn-heavy groove of the band. Then everything fell apart again, with woodwind player Michael Turre marking time with a flute solo not heard since the hanging-terrarium ‘70s or Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Otis kept flashing stone-faced glares at the sound peeps while the cheers of the crowd made him crack a tight smile.

Outisde, the talk was nasty. Many patrons seemed to lay the problems at the feet of the Echoplex, but this wasn’t the only show on Otis’ mini-tour marking the 40th anniversary re-release of Inspiration Information that was marred by such difficulties. (Ditto for his debacle of a comeback tour back in 2001.) “I just can’t believe the game face the musicians are putting on,” said one blonde club-type girl. “All because a fucking roadie can’t set up a fucking mike!”; “No, that was like a high school pickup band in there,” her shaggy-haired companion disagreed. “They looked like they had never played together before.” (Perhaps unfair, as the band was comprised mostly of vets like trumpeter Jerry Douglas and drummer Marvin “Smitty’ Smith.) “There are people waiting in line to leave,” said another dude in an orange fedora as he swiped at his iPhone.

Back inside, the band was lurching through “All Night Long,” the kind of boilerplate blues jam that Otis’s father used to oversee back in the days of Central Avenue and the Club Alabam. The only problem: It looked like one of the roadies had jumped onstage to showcase some Hendrix-meets-Van Halen style fretboard wanking while Otis stood off to the side in a secondary role, dutifully trying to salvage his night while possibly working up to an exquisite tongue-lashing at someone once this D&P show had gone dark.

That’s when we had to leave. We stayed as long as we could. We jumped back to the long wait in line before the show and recalled the excited stories of the patrons waiting to see their idol. “Shuggie is so SoCal!” one woman gushed. One aging blond hippie-with-glasses type told his friends: “I saw this film once. It was, I think, a home movie shot at Leon Russell’s house in Laurel Canyon. It’s little Shuggie cutting heads with T-Bone Walker. He couldn’t have been more than fifteen for sixteen at the time, and he was amazing even then.” Yes, oh yes, he was.

No comments:

Post a Comment