Heading to the Lexington Opera House Tuesday night, it was easy to wonder which Boz Scaggs we would see: the radio hit maker of the 1970s and early ’80s or the bluesy Boz of recent albums and PBS specials.
It turned out the 70-year-old guitar master was able to meld his various personas into an eminently satisfying hour-and 45 minute set, even if he didn’t play your favorite song from his catalog (No Jojo? May have been too disco Boz.).
In recent years, Scaggs has returned to the bluesy roots of his career, particularly on his 2013 album Memphis, recorded in the title town and delivering heavy doses of Delta blues from the frets.
And that’s where the evening started, reaching all the way back to 1971 and Runnin’ Blue, a fitting introduction to Scaggs’ distinctive voice and the crack seven-person band he brought with him. Fast forward 42 years, and we got the Willy DeVille tune Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl from Memphis.
Having set the bluesy tone with a few more numbers, we began to navigate into Scaggs’ signature West Coast cool hinted at in a lovely rendition of Sierra, which demonstrated how well a big group of musicians can come together to create something of subtle beauty. That is also an apt description of Scaggs’ cover of Brook Benton’s Rainy Night in Georgia, a near perfect selection for the rainy evening we had come in from, and would depart into.
But there are songs Scaggs cannot get away without playing, and the energy of crowd clearly spiked as drummer Gene Lake smacked into the opening of Lowdown with bassist Rich Patterson getting a cheer for plucking off the song’s signature two-note bass accent. We were at the singing-along-to-every-word point in the show — Scaggs reflexively backed away from the microphone as the crowd bellowed “Low, low, low down,” heading into the bridge. That’s where we stayed for a while through radio fare such as Harbor Lights (a showcase for saxophonist Eric Crystal and keyboardist Mike Logan) and Miss Sun, featuring a playful call and response between Scaggs’ guitar and singer Conesha Monét Owens, aka Ms. Monét.
Monét got the stage to herself to run through some R&B hits such as Sly and the Family Stone’s Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) and the CCR-via-Tina Turner classic Proud Mary. Though she tended to overdo hand motions to illustrate the lyrics, her voice was glorious, and at that point in the show she had done the best job of bringing the crowd to its feet.
That was, until the encores.
After a sound-plagued rendition of Lido Shuffle, the band did the obligatory departure to return after just a few minutes with What Can I Say from Scaggs’ iconic Silk Degrees album (along with Lido and Lowdown) and then launching into a cathartic rendition of Loan Me a Dime, another song he’s been playing since at least the early 1970s.
In this performance, Scaggs gave some of his most emotional singing, fretting “This girl’s been gone so long, it’s worrying me, you know it’s worrying me,” and taking tack sharp blues runs on the guitar. But what really made this star-turn affirm Scaggs still has “it,” was how much he relished being one of the boys in the band, particularly trading tasty licks with guitarist Michael Miller and supporting the sideman’s solos with some jazz riffing.
That could have ended the evening on a powerful note, but it was powerful enough for the crowd to demand and receive one last encore of Sick and Tired. (It almost seemed we were going to get a third, but a spent-looking Scaggs returned to simply say goodnight.)
In less than two hours, we went from wondering which Boz would show up to being glad he showed and affirmed his body of work holds up very, very well.