After a quick bite and a glass of spilled water at Ringlers, I'm back at the Crystal waiting on Shuggie Otis, legend, visionary, scion of another legend Johnny Otis. Oddy, in my view, he's on the bill before Charles Bradley. Nothing against Mr Bradley and his many fans, he's a fine musician deserving of his following (one of which, when I was leaving after the set to catch another band elsewhere, was incredulous. "You're not staying for Charles? But he represents!"), but compared to Shuggie Otis? His stature wanes.
But in the meantime, we're treated to the soft groove soul of Morning Ritual, an ensemble I'm wholly unaware of, an organ-let five piece, two of whom are background singers a la classic Tamla/Motown. The mood is mellow, the bass exquisite. They'll be at the Mississippi Sept. 19th if you want to check them out and by the strength and sway of tonight's performance, you do.
Oh, and by the way, the Crystal is unusually sweaty tonight, even by their standards, close to unbearable but then again maybe it was that Captain Neon burger? The bite of jalapeno? Nahhhh!
But here's the deal. I take the opportunity to inch up close to the stage to take the above shot of Morning Ritual - not too crowded yet, mysteriously - and, recognizing it for the chance it is - seeing an historic performance of Shuggie Otis from this close - decide, despite the pressing heat, to stay put. This..should be good.
Trumpet, sax, bass, keys, drum and Shuggie on guitar, is that classic enough for you? They haven't even begun yet and I'm already blown away.
Trim and decked out in a black broadcoat with bright white frills spilling out at the neck and the sleeves, knee-high black riding boots and the coolest dark glasses you've ever seen (well, they're not that unusual but given who's wearing them..), Shug's the definition of star power, smiling, a man content with his legacy being finally allowed to flower.
The (purportedly) first-time-ever-played "Special" skips along on a jouncing disco groove (sorry I keep using that word but there ain't no other) that just don't stop, it's eternal in its funkaliciousness.
With "Me And My Woman" we return to the sleek West Coast blues the man made his name in, Shuggie's blue Epiphone cryin' out in a type of pain that can't fail to bring the greatest joy to those down front here.
Naturally there are echoes of Sly, intimations of Arthur Lee & Love, but come the title track from the great 'lost' album Wings Of Love (unreleased for 30+ years, now issued with as a double with Inspiration Information, which I'd hoped to purchase at the merch table but no Shuggie to be had there, sadly), we are talking pure Shuggie Otis, a deliberate, yearning, soul stirrer of a song featuring some of his most eloquent soloing of the night, full of grace and fire and clearly the push-off point for that notorious little guy from Minneapolis that's also prone to the occasional frilly shirt, and there's little wonder Prince took what this guy had started and flew with it on, indeed, wings of love.
Superb, and I'm going to shut up now and just...groove.
I finally have to wait in a line for admission, at Roseland for Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the monumental post-rock titans from Montreal. Nothing serious, ten minutes or so, and once in it's all forgotten. What an astonishingly beautiful racket. Besides being here just to hear such breathtaking noise (and it will take your breath away), I'm also trying to redeem myself for having missed them at the Aladdin back in 2000. There was little excuse for not going that time aside from a sorry lack of initiative, a state of affairs I do my best to avoid these days.
So OK, I'll just lay it out straightaway: this is psychedelic music for the over-stimulated digital age, complet with droning visuals projected on the screen behind them (makes sense if you were there, all B&W media smears and flashing bits of lost text). Symphonic, hypnotic, relentless, heavy, portentous, restless - sound like I'm describing 2013 yet? Those visuals emphasize media saturation, the sonics ambient overload. Why it's all so beautiful is another story.
Very little compares to this band - Sunn O))) maybe, Mogwai almost (not really). Apocalyptically orchestral with a taste for aching doom and the poignant hope for salvation through persistence, GY!BE are a floating soundtrack to everything that's wrong and everything that's right with the world.
They are wordless but more profound than most any other band by several miles. You don't really need to see this band (which is good, as I'm shoe-horned in at the back), there's nothing all that much to see, no presentation per se and certainly no histrionics. What you need to do is hear this band, stand there and be assailed by a building majesty, a sometimes sorrowful, sometimes hopeful, oftentimes mysterious majesty. All of this is manifested by a guitar, keyboards, a bass player, violin, the occasional cello and a double drummer drama that punctuates the soundscapes like Thor if he'd been obsessed with Wagner.
And then this word comes to mind: elegaic. Something cries in you hearing this band live, even as you rejoice. Sounds pompous but once you hear/experience them, crescendos building, resolving, then being instantly rebuilt, understanding will flow, trust me.
Sadly, by 11:00, my barely rested legs betray me, they can take it no more (absolutely no place to sit at Roseland at the moment; hardly any place to stand). Trooper that the rest of me is being, the rest of me that wants to stay, my legs declare Go home or we're falling off. Not to be argued with, surely. Yet the heavenly noise coming off the stage, riveting, seductive, it's such a marvel to witness as it's being created live and I'm almost persuaded to perservere. Almost. However, in the spirit of 'the spirit is strong but the knees are weak,' I gotta go.
Tomorrow night the finale: Neko Case.
- Dave Cantrell