Tufnell Park saw two rare events last Friday: a train-stopping covering of snow and a jaw-dropping first UK show for OTIS.
Plunger had first been tipped off about the Kentucky Southern rockers by 68-75’s Suzanne Sledge back in 2014 but had pretty much given up hopes of seeing them here in Blighty, so we were mightily pissed off when this show clashed with an already-agreed gig elsewhere. Enter the Beast from the East, stranding the unfortunate act we were meant to see, prompting a last-minute online ticket purchase and a fingers-crossed Northern Line trip into the snow. Sadly it appeared the British Fail transport network had stopped more than a few getting to the Boston Music Room but those who did make it along basked in the Deep South heat of a sizzling set.
The four-piece of Boone Froggett on guitar and powerful, gutsy vocals (somewhere between Ronnie, Ricky and Gregg!) Steve Jewell Jr. (guitar), John Seeley (bass) and Andrew Gilpin (drums) distils the spirit of classic Southern blues rock for a new generation, blending raw heavy blues like the Hooker-meets-Mountain bludgeon of opener Rattlesnake and the minimalist, wild-slide topped Tough Times (which segued seamlessly into Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love) with big ballsy rockers like the down-and-dirty Blackfoot-like Washed My Hands.
There’s more to OTIS than Good Ol’ Boy bluster though: like all the best Southern bands they are more sophisticated than that. The Swamp Music-y backwoods romp of Lovin’ Man saw more complex rhythmic arrangements and a nice tricksy descending unison riff to a dead-stop finish; a brutal-but-clever Muleish riff with harmonised twin guitar drove Shake You, with stylish off kilter drumming and flaring Collinsesque guitar before a fantastic, spacey Les Brers midbreak with Steve and Boone indulging in some lovely ABB noodling and sweet twin guitar.
Drinking Woman had a Mule flavour too, with Steve’s trenchant solo given hammer-blow backing from the other three, some taut squealing guitar from Boone and more tricksy rhythms heralding an impressive short tour of the kit from Andrew. A touch of Soulshine appeared in the Southern soul psychedelia of Let Your Love Shine Down, with its splashes of exquisite crying guitar and sweet three-way harmony vocals from Boone, Steve and John culminating in a fine a cappella passage that introduced the highlight of the show: Steve’s lovely Allmansy discursive solo (with teases for Blue Sky and Jessica) was joined by Boone for more eye-watering interplay that picked up speed and intensity for a Rossington/Collins helter-skelter finish.
After Change, a final trip into slide-drenched barrelling roadhouse rock, and Blind Hawg (another violent, jagged riff underpinned by punishing drums and rolling thunder bass), OTIS were joined on stage by fellow Kentuckians Black Stone Cherry. Chris Robertson (vox/guitar) and Jon Lawhon (bass) took their places for the inevitable blues band encore Going Down, with Boone and Chris trading vocal and guitar lines, before a quick musical chairs shuffle brought Ben Wells (guitar) and John Fred Young (drums) on to join in a bustling canter through the Allman Brothers’ One Way Out.
It’s rare to hear Southern rock done ‘proper’ over here, and OTIS have just the right balance of the Skynyrd swagger, the Allmans inventiveness and Mule’s heft to tick all the boxes for Plunger. Hopefully it won’t be another four years til we see them here again.
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