Concert Review from Sands Bethlehem Event Center

By John J. Moser - Of The Morning Call

Boz Scaggs' fine show Friday at Sands Bethlehem Event Center in many ways mirrored his near-50-year career.

Here's the dirty lowdown:

It started consistently good, but understated: In the same way that Scaggs put out a half-dozen albums of very good but underperforming albums at the start of his career, the first half of his 15-song, 95-minute show was consistently good. But like those discs, it also was never overwhelming, and hard to pin down or define.

Scaggs' versatility was both a strength and weakness, as he moved easily through styles and speeds from the soft R&B opening of "Runnin' Blue," which highlighted his horn of a voice. What appeared to be technical difficulties meant he played almost no guitar, but his five-man band capably filled with elongated organ flourishes and a nice sax solo.

"Dry Spell," a blues shuffle from his new album (his first in five years), "Memphis," offered his first lead, and it was tasty. But Scaggs let his band handle the song's signature licks slide guitar – as he did throughout the night, despite playing at least a half dozen different guitars himself.

"Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl," also from "Memphis," was particularly good, with its R&B/surf-swing vibe and Scaggs singing well – his voice at first deeper and fuller then, at the end, high and strong. "Sierra" offered some of his better contemplative guitar.

Scaggs did a very good acoustic-guitar pair of songs he said was inspired by his participation in last year's memorial the memorial for billionaire music aficionado to F. Warren Hellman: A soft and sensitive reading of Tony Joe White's "Rainy Night in Georgia," then and even better turn on the folk/blues standard "Corrina, Corrina," played slow and emotional, Scaggs plucking the strings on a stinging solo. (Both songs also are on "Memphis")

Back on electric guitar, Scaggs played the R&B "Gone Baby Gone," also from "Memphis," clearly investing himself over Dylanesque organ flourishes, and it was good, indeed. Then "Georgia," which got a big hand from the smallish crowd, which appeared to be less than 2,000 people.

He hit his stride in the middle, with the hits: Just as Scaggss' career reached its apex in the late 1970s and early '80s, the Sands show heated up significantly when Scaggs' pulled out "Miss Sun," the 1980 song that was his biggest hit after his 1976 five-time-platinum album "Silk Degrees."

"Miss Sun" had Scaggs playing good wah-wah guitar over a steady-chugging backing band, and his backup singer Miss Monet Owens suddenly burst out like the sun rising. Owens then sang a sassy, saucy mash-up of Sly & The Family Stones' "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)" and Sam and Dave's "I Thank You" on which Scaggs played good guitar.

That seemed to infuse energy into the crowd, which suddenly was on its feet dancing.

Then the distinct plucked-string start of Scaggs' biggest hit, "Lowdown," drew cheers, and he played it for all it was worth, supremely funky, singing siren and falsetto, but again letting the band handle most of the guitar parts.

He followed with his second-biggest hit, "Lido Shuffle," to close the main set – slightly underplayed but still great, as the crowd, still dancing, clapped and sang along, then gave him a standing ovation.

Late in the game, still playing great: Just as Scaggs continues to put out strong music in his career (see the aforementioned "Memphis"), he continued to be strong in his encores – he actually played two.

An upbeat "What Can I Say" had him again singing in a siren voice and some nice sax. And on "Breakdown Dead Ahead" the audience became a dance floor.

He again left the stage, but returned to close with a straight-up blues treatment of "Somebody Lend Me a Dime," Scaggs played his most distinctive lead, leading his band through a jammy middle, and wailed with his voice.

Scaggs at 68 still is astonishingly talented, and maybe more recognition is finally coming. "Memphis" is his highest-charting disc in more than 30 years.

The one way in which his Sands show didn't reflect his career is that the audience appreciated him throughout.

Posted: Sunday 12 May 2013


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