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photos by PSquared Photography; words by Bill Pearis

Shuggie Otis @ Highline Ballroom, 1/10/2012
Shuggie Otis

For his first New York show in ages, it was not an auspicious start for Shuggie Otis. Taking the Highline Ballroom stage in a long coat and scarf, his Gibson 335 was silent. A roadie came out, tried mashing power plugs into place to no avail. Shuggie switched to a Strat, was ready to start when the roadie yelled, "I got it working!" The crowd cheered as Shuggie and his band kicked in with the title track from his 1974 opus Inspriation Information and we were blasted back in time.

That album was the last Shuggie Otis, 59, made, though that is about to change on April 16 with re-release of Inspiration Information that will be packaged with a "new" album, Wings of Love, that features unreleased recordings from the last 40 years. We got a few of those new tracks, like the title track, "Trying to Get Close to You" and "Doin' What's Right" which Shuggie said was "Freedom Flight Part 2." The latter was especially good, definitely not throwaway material.

That said, the biggest cheers came from hearing his classic '70s material like "Aht Uh Mi Hed," "Sparkle City," "Island Letter" and, of course, "Strawberry Letter 23." While Shuggie's vocals have dropped a couple octaves over the years, he can still play guitar and nailed that songs's hammered-on outro riff. With much help from an ace backing band (including a piccolo player), this was a most welcome return.

Last night's Highline show was a "Summerstage preview" show that also featured London soul singer Ofei (whose set ended abruptly with a microphone drop halfway through a song), indie rock band People Get Ready, gospel singer Joshua Nelson, and Kool Herc on DJ duty between sets. Shuggie, who plays BB King Blues Club on April 19 (tickets), told our photographer that he's playing Summerstage too.

More pictures from Shuggie's set at Highline, plus the setlist and video of "Inspiration Information," are below.

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