Psych-soul hero Shuggie Otis hasn't released new material or toured regularly in decades. His catalog so far — a handful of albums from the early '70s and a disc's worth of tracks recorded between 1975 and 2000 — is a bold, beautiful and unpredictable hybrid of funky soul and psychedelic experimentalism, sounding like someone dosed Allen Toussaint's jambalaya with pharmaceutical-grade acid.
We sidled into Exit/In last Thursday to find opener John Murry communicating with alien satellites from his massive guitar pedal board. There wasn't the slightest hint of funk in the set Murry laid down with keyboardist Andy Grooms, but it was still a great match with Otis in that we had no idea what would come next. Trying to find something to compare with Murry's deep well of guitar sounds and melancholy baritone mumble-drawl is like trying to catch one of those lizards that can regrow their tails. Things we wrote down included "Guided by Voices covers The Durutti Column" and "Kurt Wagner gets laryngitis, asks Jay Farrar to fill in during Lambchop tour." When we could hear Murry clearly, we were treated to some heartfelt and enticingly weird songs, delivered with the nonchalance of a high-schooler playing a basement party, but with decades of experience and nuanced technique. Accompanied by Grooms on piano, Murry poured himself into a delicate cover of "Thorn Tree in the Garden," one of the other assorted love songs on Derek and the Dominoes' one and only album, all while tuning his guitar.
The crowd, spanning boomers who got into Shuggie the first time around through generations who discovered him in dusty crates or on late-night radio, filled the place to a comfortable level, with just enough room to get our swerve on without elbowing someone, and the body heat several notches below sticky-sweat suffocating. Samuel L. Jackson's Pulp Fiction monologue about his relationship with Ezekiel 25:17 came over the P.A. while the band took their places. Cued by "But I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd," the man of the hour appeared, sharp and elegant in a tailored velvet tux with a tailcoat, scarf and shades, ready to guide us through the valley of funk. The opening track, "Special," wasn't officially released until this year's Inspiration Information/Wings of Love comp, but the whole audience seemed to know what to do, and the band of longtime Otis associates responded in kind, tearing up the song's proto-disco groove.
Next up were what amount to Otis' greatest hits, favorite cuts like "Inspiration Information," "Aht Uh Mi Hed" and "Sparkle City," followed by more of the eclectic cuts from the Wings of Love collection. Shuggie's guitar solos were mind-blowing torrents of notes, delivered at hard-bop speed without sweating a drop. Both he and his wind section went to town with a range of complex harmonic relationships that would make Charlie Parker jealous. Otis may have played most of the parts himself on his albums, but his choice of bandmates couldn't have been more appropriate, and they followed his every move with incredible feel, making what was insanely difficult look easy. And then there was the guy who had his video camera out in the front row, and got called on it. As far as we could tell, the fellow complied and put away his gear.
After a couple of smoldering Chicago blues numbers, the band disappeared, re-emerging to burn a hole through the Sly Stone-tinged deep cut "Ice Cold Daydream," stretching the single to more than 10 glorious minutes, with Otis' guitar weeping buckets of ear-splitting feedback as he sipped calmly on a tallboy. And that was it. Thank you, Nashville, and house lights. But where was "Strawberry Letter 23," Otis' signature cut and a strong contender for best pop song of the '70s? Maybe Otis is tired of being defined by it, or maybe it was dropped from the program when dude stopped the show with his camcorder. Either way, we got a serious serving of soul from one of the all-time greats, and we're not going to kvetch about that.
The Spin has been going to Greer Stadium since we were wee little Spinlets. Of course, it's always been for Sounds games, so the prospect of a whopping EDM event, complete with outlandishly clad youngsters and gut-rumbling sub-bass, was something we just had to see for ourselves. Derek Vincent Smith (aka Pretty Lights) brought his Illumination event to Greer on Saturday evening; it's the first time he's rolled through Nashville since he and Skrillex put on With Your Friends last October at The Lawn. Of course, despite the good vibes that Smith tries to imbue all his events with, there was still a touch of drama: Controversial Detroit hip-hop artist Danny Brown was dropped from Illumination at the last minute due to a beef that took place the previous night in St. Louis. Nevertheless, The Spin managed to catch the late-night set at SEEN that Brown booked — but we'll get to that later.
Due to the Brown fiasco, start time was pushed back an hour, meaning that The Spin showed up at Greer in time to knock back a tallboy and eat a full tray of ballpark nachos before dusk. Outside, murmurs about Brown's cancellation elicited complaints from a vocal minority of attendees, but inside, glitter-spangled breasts and neon mukluks poured in by the dozen — and their owners either didn't know or didn't give a shit that Danny had canceled. With the sound booth over home plate and the stage over second bass, the sun set just as SuperVision commenced his set of blooping, thumping hop-tronica, warming the crowd and plugging his forthcoming EP along the way. Next was HeRobust, who we found ourselves referring to as "Hero's Butts." It was another pretty standard set of crowd-hyping, dubstep-oriented party tunes. At one point, we swear we heard dude's iPhone ring, and shortly thereafter his sound went out altogether. "It could be worse," he told us. "Danny Brown could be here."
The scope in which we quantify a DJ's value as an entertainer is admittedly limited, which makes a performer like Andrew Owsley, aka local dude DJ Wick-It the Instigator, so refreshing to watch. While most DJs rely on a dazzling AV display to distract from the button-pushing (or lack thereof), Wick-It grabs the mic to hype the crowd for every drop, funnels a beer from a pink flamingo (i.e., a Flabongo) mid-set, invites local rapper Fyütch onstage for a quick verse on his "I Walk the Line" remix and even busts out an electric guitar to lay down a sweet and seamless solo onto home-crafted bangers built around hits by Metallica, Three Six Mafia and Van Halen.
If The Spin weren't surrounded by a stadium full of six-to-eight-hour party people, we might have mistaken GRiZ for a wedding DJ catering to young EDM fans in love. The Detroit native came out blowing the silky tones of a saxophone over a vaguely funky groove before unleashing the obligatory snarl of glitchy synths and vibrating sub-bass. All of this was interrupted at one time by a raw and comparatively thin recording of Parliament's "We Want the Funk" that lacked the sonic boom or cultural novelty to come off as anything more than blah. Even worse, GRiZ closed his set with Isley Brothers' "Shout" for an audience far too young to understand why he was asking them to crouch on the ground during the tune's famous ending.
We tried to get two perspectives during the Pretty Lights set: on the field and in the stands. It was cool to be underneath the lasers that shot across the field and moved like ocean waves, and we were also impressed by the TRON-like neon-lit platforms on which Pretty Lights' band members stood — yes, a band (five members, by our count) that joined Smith for only the second time ever. There were tweaked versions of older tunes as well as songs from the brand-new A Color Map of the Sun, and we enjoyed the dimension added by the two-piece horn section. In the stands, the bass was crazier than down front; we felt our teeth clatter. We remained in the stands for the second half of the show, and got to see the crowd sing along to "Finally Moving."
By the time we made our way through the line at SEEN — dodging drunk SoBro dwellers who didn't know what was up along the way ("Who the fuck is Danny Brown?" bellowed one increasingly belligerent bro) — Purpl Monk was winding down his opening set with Bohemian Hype Cult affiliate Pradda. For a show that was thrown together literally hours before they went onstage, we have to give them props for winning over a crowd that had no clue who they were. After dropping a couple of bangers on the crowd, Kidsmeal evacuated the DJ booth and Brown sauntered onstage, tongue hanging out and fist in the air. Apparently unfazed by the dramarama that put him in this situation, Brown didn't hold back on the (much smaller than Greer) crowd. For maybe a couple hundred hip-hop nerds, he tore through cuts off XXX and Old, including rapping "Blunt After Blunt" while smoking a blunt that he later passed into the crowd.
To his credit, Brown remained coolly diplomatic about the weekend's shenanigans. Even as the crowd erupted into a chant of "Fuck Pretty Lights," he kept the focus on being happy to perform in Nashville — a city that he says always treats him well. Danny Brown flirts with the electro world thanks to collaborations with artists like Purity Ring, but he doesn't drop dance songs. And inside SEEN, we were lucky to see him unleash his uncompromised weirdo rap style without getting bummed out by a sea of boos from the glow-stick fiends.