Boz Scaggs Mellows Out at Edmonton's Jubilee

Boz Scaggs Mellows Out at Edmonton's Jubilee

Boz Scaggs is a sterling example of what happens when rock ‘n’ roll settles down in Northern California (such a lovely place). It gets mellow. It gets peaceful and easy. It turns into soft rock – and almost no one does it better than this guy.

Not all rock has to be hard, you know. Must be something in the water. Yeah, that’s it. The water.

The one-time Steve Miller Band member and master of the laid-back soul-rock hybrid brought a bag o’ hits and studio cat-worthy groove band to the Jubilee Auditorium Monday night, causing an epidemic of incontinent nostalgia amongst a crowd of devoted baby boomer fans. Incontinent meaning you can’t control it. Merely to hear a song like Lowdown done by its creator is a time machine straight back to 1976, when Boz’s definitive album Silk Degrees came out. He sure got a lot of mileage out of that record. With the high strings and the flute riff and the Steely Dannish, Bacharachian level of chord progression sophistication, you could almost hear the AM hiss on mom’s kitchen radio. They don’t build pop songs like this anymore.

There were more where Lowdown came from in a night that started with a slow burn and ended with a blaze: Some New Orleans mojo, a version of Lend me a Dime, standing ovations and two encores. Not too shabby for a guy who hasn’t had a hit since the 1980s.

That doesn’t keep him from trying. Scaggs, looking and sounding fit at the age of 70, is touring in support of a new album, recorded in and called Memphis. You know that awkward classic rock moment when the performer says “We’re going to do one from our new album now” and everybody goes to the bathroom at the same time? Boz did at least five ones from the new album, so you better hold it. One of the newer highlights was Gone Baby Gone, a bitter brush-off song with a groove straight out of the rhythm & blues days of yore.

For the most part, the new record is heavier on the blues than the rhythm. It’s not exactly Chicago blues, Delta blues or even Texas blues. It’s Northern California blues, the kind of white blues one often describes as “tasty.” The rest of the night, as he promised, was comprised of songs “from the radio days, from the CD days, and the eight-track days, maybe.” The time machine worked almost perfectly.

It takes a great band to make laid-back sound exciting, and Boz’s band was terrific: A rhythm section of drummer, bassist and percussionist locking in the effortless grooves ranging through all the styles in the American roots music canon, flanked by keyboards, lead guitar and a multi-instrumentalist. Truly the sound was studio-quality, practically flawless, yet loose and spontaneous at the same time. Leading the way with his solid chops on his semi hollow body guitar, Boz was in fine voice. He’s one of the few rock singers who can get away with singing right up in his throat; it makes for a distinctive, reedy tone few of his peers have been able to match. You know exactly who it is.

Standing out among the band with some extra soul power was Monet Owens, aka “Miss Monet,” who hammed it up a bit and killed on a short side trip back to the land of Sam & Dave, early Tina Turner and Sly and the Family Stone. She sure can shout, and unleashed some of the high notes that could crack glass in those “Is It Live or is it Memorex?” ads from the ‘70s, for those who might remember the eight-track tape days.

There were some dull moments in the first half of the show, despite a lovely reading of Rainy Night in Georgia, especially with an early acoustic interlude with two songs he recently performed at a funeral. But by the time Lowdown and his other money-making hits came around, it was clear his reputation and fame is no fluke. This is about as hot as it gets when it comes to soft rock.

Posted: Wednesday 8 October 2014

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