As you get older, you move further and further away from your past selves. One of mine, as an example, is Wildman Mike. Though he still appears now and then, makes a headline, and disappears again like Bigfoot, Wildman Mike resides in the past and survives mostly in embarrassing photos and fuzzy group memories. Once in a while though, if you’re lucky, you get to reconnect with a past self and it’s like a reunion.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I were invited downtown by another couple to see Susto, a band out of Charleston, SC. None of us had any idea who Susto was so I spent a good week watching YouTube videos, reading snippets, and finding out what I could about these guys prior to the show. This is what’s it’s like to discover an unknown band through social media and word of mouth – something that is new to me, a guy who entrusts our local hip radio station to keep me current. But a band doesn’t need radio. They just need a genuine presence and a unique quality that gets people talking and buying tickets.
As it turns out, susto (the word) is a Spanish term that refers to when the soul gets separated from the body, connoting something akin to a panic attack due to trauma, and is treated with the ritualistic, plant-based hallucinogen ayahuasca. Susto (the band) is a five-piece group that can rock or skirt Americana with songs that are both introspective and visceral, and their personal themes elicit personal reactions. The songs conjure the emotions every lost 20-something experienced as he wandered between reckless youth and the vague frontier of What Comes Next. Front man Justin Osborne has a southern growl and backstory that involves anthropology studies, living in Cuba, and getting ACID BOYS tattooed onto his knuckles as a means to remove the mainstream path as a viable option, forcing him to pursue music do-or-die, music as the potential Promised Land for a talented misfit with an aversion for the middle of the road.
There’s drugs, alcohol, a party on every periphery, but the festivities have a dark undercurrent and these aren’t wide-eyed wannabes writing about their first acid trip – these are the guys the next morning. Tired, reflective, the ones at a table at the Waffle House. They’ve been up all night (up for years, even) having their circuits rewired and worlds spun like a bald, dirty basketball on God’s index finger. I’m the dad at a nearby table with the wife and kids in booster seats. I can tell by their eyes where they’ve been and what they’ve seen because I’ve seen it too, maybe 25 years ago but I had the same fleeting glimpse into the other place, the place without the veils, it’s just hard to remember what was behind them all these years later.
This isn’t about a specific song or album though Susto is currently touring in support of their new CD – “& I’m Fine Today” – and the opening one-two punch of Far Out Feeling (soaring and disco-tinged) and Hard Drugs (a dreamy introspective country ride) is a thrilling combination that sets the tone. But to just know the new record is to ignore the gold stuff from their first self-titled release – Dream Girl and County Line, and all the mysterious tunes you will hear at the live show that will simultaneously pull you in and spin you around amid the other listeners undergoing a similar transformation.
These songs are transformative for everyone – they were surely transformative to write and to play, but they also do work on the listener. At least this listener – a 45 year-old existing in two chronologies at one time. Wildman Mike came to the show but behaved – he’s grown up too, maybe. We reflected on our own good times, the ones flecked with blackness, feeling and refeeling what it meant then and what it means now. The music coursed through it all, the source and destination.
In another time I would’ve been right there on the porch of the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame, their renowned Charleston gathering spot, HQ, crash pad, and hub of revelry for this new generation of Merry Pranksters. Though I’m the old dude at the party, it feels good to be here. Nostalgic but nice. I raise my High Life and tell them that the good times change shape, but they do continue.
Ultimately Susto is not the condition – it’s the treatment.
The current lineup of Susto includes Justin Osborne, Corey Campbell, Jenna Desmond, Marshall Hudson, and Dries Vandenberg. A 6-song set from Audiotree will give you a preview but go see them live – they’re playing all around the US for the next few months. Visit their website here.