Most pop singers from the 60s and 70s who are fortunate enough to still be touring resort to what I call vocal cheats. Thats when they get to a point in an old hit that has a particularly high note they cant hit a note that especially resonates with the baby-boomer audience so they either drop it an octave or turn it over to the background singers.
Theres nothing really shameful about these vocal cheats it would be worse, for instance, if Daryl Hall tried to hit that big release note in Shes Gone and failed miserably. Or if Roger Daltrey attempted to render the big scream in Wont Get Fooled Again and sounded like a frog.
I tell you all this because I saw Boz Scaggs last night at Ruth Eckerd Hall and he didnt resort to any vocal cheats. Hes 65 years old. Very impressive. When, on Lido Shuffle, it came time for the Lido, whoa, whoa part, he was right on it with the backup singers helping, yes, but not drowning him out and thus protecting him. Scaggs came up a little short or a little thin on some of the high notes, but he went for them all.
It wasnt just the lack of vocal cheats that made Scaggs 75-minute set in front of a near-sold-out crowd a success. His voice still has that full, creamy texture of the old days, and his delivery and phrasing brimmed with nuance. (more photos below; all are by Tracy May)
Scaggs most recent albums have been made up of standards from the Great American Songbook. He set that material aside at REH, opting instead for a compendium of hits from the latter half of the 1970s and early 80s (Jojo, Lowdown, Georgia, Look What Youve Done to Me and others) as well as blues and R&B tunes from his early, early career. His encore was an extended version of the slow blues Loan me a Dime from his 1969 self-titled album.
Scaggs, who played guitar as well, was backed by five instrumentalists and a dynamic background singer who, I think, went by Miss Monet. She was as torrid as Scaggs was ultra-cool, and provided the ideal vocal foil. Miss Monet took center stage for a roof-raising version of the Aretha Franklin vehicle Until You Come Back To Me. Her performance drew a big smile from the perpetually laid-back Scaggs.
The bands dynamics were impeccable, dialed back at times in order to make room for Scaggs supple pipes to take the spotlight, allowing him to contour the lyrics in fresh ways.
Besides the fact that he omitted Breakdown Dead Ahead and declined to sing any standards, I was thoroughly pleased with Scaggs set. A longtime fan, it was my first occasion to see him in concert.
Just for the record, Michael McDonald played the second set of the double bill. Im not a fan, so only caught a few tunes and left. As a result, Ill pass on offering commentary here except to say that he sat facing the crowd behind an electronic keyboard as his feet pumped on pedals and he was wearing flip-flops. Yeesh.
Special thanks to Eric Snider and Tracy May.