Friday, June 11, 2010

Boz Scaggs concert review

A version of my review originally appeared in the Orange County Register's Soundcheck blog [].

Nice and smooth. That was the modus operandi for much of Boz Scaggs’ 90-minute O.C. concert on Tuesday night. No surprise there.

After a spacey blues/rock band stint in 1967-68 with frequent music collaborator Steve Miller, the singer-guitarist became a prominent purveyor of blue-eyed soul, alongside Hall & Oates, Average White Band and others during the Seventies.

Early on, Scaggs recorded with the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and put out several critically acclaimed albums. He found major success with 1976’s Silk Degrees, a sleek R&B, pop, rock and disco melange. It was a multi-platinum seller and spun off three multi-format top 40 singles. Scaggs reached a commercial zenith in 1980, when both Middle Man and Hits! kept him in the upper echelon of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for an entire year.

Retreating from the spotlight, Scaggs focused on running San Francisco nightclub Slim’s and released just one other album in the Eighties. The next two decades found him unveiling new material sporadically, delving into blues and more recently, tackling the standards (2003’s casual, jazzy But Beautiful; 2008’s Speak Low, featuring Rogers & Hart and Hoagy Carmichael interpretations).

Scaggs also became a winemaker and added another music venue to his business portfolio (the baroque, century-old Great American Music Hall, where I had the pleasure of seeing Brendan Benson last year on a trip to the Bay Area).

The veteran musician - who turned 66 yesterday – was greeted by fans at a just over half-filled Grove of Anaheim constantly shouting “happy birthday” (later, Scaggs’ six-piece band would also mark the occasion by uncorking some poppers and a quick serenade).

Despite his reputation for penning romantic songs, Scaggs really excels at bluesier numbers like two vintage ones that served as bookends to the 14-song set. Opener “Runnin’ Blue,” from 1971’s Boz Scaggs & Band, found the front man displaying tasteful electric guitar chops as the other musicians took turns at solos. Then it was onto the luxurious groove of “JoJo, prompting a wildly enthusiastic audience response.

Before launching into the rock-oriented “Some Change,” Scaggs said, “we haven’t done this one in awhile. I wish we’d brought it out a few years ago,” referring to the Barack Obama election period. The humorous cover of Fats Domino’s “Sick and Tired” brought some New Orleans style boogie woogie to the proceedings. Here, Michael Logan played fine barrelhouse piano and female backing singer Miss Monet gave it her sassy best.

Bassist Richard Patterson and Monet’s robust harmonies throughout the show proved invaluable, especially at times when Scaggs’ creamy upper range thinned out (the idyllic “Harbor Lights,” a sweeping “Georgia,” stark piano-led drama of “Look What You’ve Done to Me”). The seated audience was up and dancing briefly amid the jazzy, more sedate-than-usual “Lowdown,” a favorite to sample among rappers over the years.

For awhile, Scaggs appeared to run on autopilot onstage, but he eventually loosened up during the latter track’s ad libbed ending. “Miss Sun” resulted in a fun exchange when Scaggs’ electric guitar and Monet’s wails were the basis for some call and response action. The gospel/soul take on Bonnie Raitt’s “Something to Talk About” found Scaggs content to play subtle rock flourishes in the background, while Monet led the way with Aretha Franklin-styled cries.

Scaggs and guitarist Drew Zingg bolstered “Lido Shuffle” by appending some blues licks. The main set closer had fans clapping and singing along loudly. Come encore time, the flowery disco vibe of “What Can I Say” found Scaggs hitting both the high and low notes with ease (maybe he just needed to warm up awhile).

The show’s shining moment was saved for last. Epic blues jam workout “Loan Me a Dime,” off the 1969 self-titled debut, originally featured guitarist Duane Allman. Scaggs totally immersed himself in the tune, displaying dexterous tandem runs with Zingg and singing with authority as if a fog had been lifted. Meanwhile, the band pulled out all the stops instrumentally. I wouldn’t have minded witnessing more Scaggs repertoire in this style.

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