2013 Summerstage Preview Showcase featuring Joshua Nelson, People Get Ready, Ofei, Shuggie Otis and Kool DJ Herc
January 10, 2013
Last week, the folks at Summerstage hosted their preview showcase, and it was an early opportunity to see some of the diverse acts across a variety of genres they’ve lined up for the summer. And from this year’s showcase, it’s obvious that the bookers and organizers wanted to not just go for the usual diversity of genres but that they also wanted to get a s much of variety of age groups as possible.
Joshua Nelson is the creator and self-described prince of Kosher Gospel, a unique sound that mixes the traditional songs sung in a Jewish temple with the sounds and joyous energy of traditional gospel. Of course, Nelson and his backing band also played a number of traditional gospel tunes which managed to show (perhaps intentionally) the connections between the holy scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. On a superficial level, it may seem gimmicky to those who are familiar with the tropes of Southern Baptist and Southern Methodist gospel but Nelson and his backing band’s energy is so infectious that you can’t help but feel happy, and like you need to jump up and dance. And man, Nelson has quite an impressive voice. The early attendees were treated to quite a set – and it was one of the highlights of the night.
People Get Ready
The Brooklyn-based band’s sound initially reminded me quite a bit of the eerie and moody atmospherics of a band like the Brooklyn-based counterparts. But their set was actually kind of disappointing. I was expecting the set up that countless other bloggers and critics have talked about – with crazy routines and the like. But what we had was a fairly straightforward set with a band that struck me as having an awkward, uncomfortable stage presence that made their set feel extremely long. I suspect that some of this was caused to do distinctly different events: their bassist managed to break his bass sometime before his set, and that to be honest (and fair) following a great set like Joshua Nelson’s set is a tough act to follow. I can’t say that I was entirely impressed but to be fair, I’d like to see them play their normal set.
Ofei is a rather mysterious London, UK-based producer and artist who has been blowing up the blogosphere with the release of his first single, “London.” Arriving on the stage with a keyboard and a laptop, and an almost entirely darkened stage, the attempt was to create a certain ambience but the only thing it did for many of the curious attendees who rushed up to the stage to see what was going on, was create a sense of awkward remove. No one knew who the guy was, and they all wanted to at least see him. And there was one other really odd thing that happened. I went to the bar for a Guinness during his set and by the time I got to the bar, got a beer and got back to my spot, the dude’s set was over. He played maybe three songs and he quietly walked off the stage without much explanation or anything. Huh?
Back in the late 60s and early 70s Shuggie Otis developed a reputation as a guitarist and as a singer/songwriter – not only did B.B. King once call Otis “one of his favorite young guitarists today,” Otis’ composition “Strawberry Letter 23” hit the Billboard 200 when it was first released in 1972. The song became a stratospheric hit when the Quincy Jones produced act, the Brothers Johnson covered the song in 1977. The Brothers Johnson cover hit #5 on the Billboard 100, and in some way time had mostly forgotten Otis – that is until artists such as Prince and Lenny Kravitz had touted his third and then last album, Inspiration Information as being a major influence. And although Inspiration Information had seen a previous reissue through David Byrne’s Luaka Bop Records, Otis had largely been a recluse – until now.
In fact, as he’s touring to support a Sony/Columbia Records reissue and a new album, we should all keep in mind that the initial shows he’s performing are the first live sets he’s playing in well over 40 years. And generally that means that when something goes wrong, as it almost inevitably does, it has a tendency to almost derail an entire set. Of course, just as Otis’ set was about to start, he had an issue with his guitar that seemed to make things painfully awkward. But once it was resolved, Otis and his backing band a played an impressive set of music that seemingly owed a debt to Simply Bill-era Bill Withers, funk and soul, as well as rock. And it was so well-written that it seemed shameful that his material disappeared from the public until now.
The backing band was incredibly tight and had the crowd grooving all night. I have to admit I was thoroughly impressed – especially by Otis’ bassist. That boy can fucking play.
For these photos and the rest of the photos from this night of music, check out the Flickr set here: