Boz Scaggs Flynn Center for the Performing Arts Burlington, Vermont October 20, 2014
The Burlington Vermont stop of Boz Scaggs' "Memphis Tour" found the original member of The Steve Miller Band mixing a hearty selection of earthy numbers with the more polished likes of material from his breakthrough album Silk Degrees (Columbia, 1976). In contrast to his previous performance at the Flynn Center in 2010, a greater proportion of truly soulful songs this mid-autumn night highlighted the roots of his more commercial material, to the point that, if Scaggs' hits didn't seem quite of a piece with cuts from Memphis (429 Records, 2013), they became a significant part of a combustible mix that eventually caught fire.
It was an artful progression Scaggs and co. enacted through the course of their two hours on the MainStage. Beginning with the loose, easygoing shuffle of "Running Blues," from Boz Scaggs & Band (Columbia, 1971), Willy Deville's "Mixed Up Shook Up Girl" sounded like an even more artful choice than in its studio version, even if, despite the sonorous accompaniment of Monet Owens on vocal harmonies, Scaggs didn't hit the hook in the chorus resoundingly.
It took three or four numbers for the frontman's voice to fully warm up, roughly the same interval required for the audience to become fully engaged with the concert. But the stirring was visible and audible with the plucked bass intro of "Lowdown," the first of a clutch of well-known material that, oddly or not, coincided with a downturn in the audio quality in the venue: what had been studio-like perfection became discernibly louder and more homogenized with the synthesizer- heavy arrangements, while Scaggs' notably use of electric guitar receded in direct proportion to the prominence of the keyboards.
So while the bluesy likes of "Dry Spell" and the spacious balladry of "Rainy Night in Georgia" had no real counterpoints during the heart of the show, "High Sierra" and "Harbor Lights" demonstrated just how beautifully emotive a singer Scaggs is, imbuing a warmth to the proceedings in direct contrast to the icy arrangements and oddly disengaged demeanor of the rest of the band as they played the likes of "Lido Shuffle." There was a marked change in both the tone of the music and the musicians' stage presence as the set proper came to an end, followed by a double (!) encore, not a common occurrence in this elegant venue.
"Loan Me A Dime;" the signature song from his eponymous debut album of 1969 seemed that single song closest to Scaggs' heart all evening as he rendered it in a fevered depth of emotion by the time it was over. Guitarist Mike Miller responded in kind too, making the most of one of his few chances to step out, ripping off an extended flurry of notes that, if it didn't render obsolete the fiery Duane Allman solo on the original studio version, nevertheless furthered the fervor Scaggs displayed when he sang.
On the brighter end of the spectrum was the jollity Boz Scaggs & band conjured up in response to the full house clamoring for their return to the stage. In contrast to the showbizzy non-sequitur mid-set of Owens' faux Tina Turner routine, the bouncy New Orleans-flavored "Sick and Tired" was of a genuine piece with the early portion of the set and suggested the means for this artist to fully recapture the authenticity at the heart of his best recordings, included his latest one, without sacrificing his calling card (and gold circle seating)in the form his most popular tunes.
Which made the abandon of "Breakdown Dead Ahead" so appropriate a finale to the evening as almost as many attendees were standing and gyrating as remained sitting and reserved, at least near the stage, as the ensemble tore it up to an exhausted close. By this point, the security team that had patrolled the better part of the show (and actually removed one mad dancer from the front of the stage) was only slightly more reserved than Boz Scaggs himself as he bid adieu with an air of weary satisfaction he shared with his followers as they filed out into the deliciously cool air in the Green Mountains.
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