ALBANY In his first-ever Albany show at The Egg on Monday 40 years into a hit-making career spanning blues, rock and pop Boz Scaggs turned his back on the vintage jazz chestnuts of his most recent albums in favor of a crowd-pleasing greatest-hits (his own) song survey. Even at $96 for top tickets, it felt like a bargain for its song choices and for high-precision performances that were always clean and powerful and in their best moments achieved a swaggering soulfulness.
Fans screamed in recognition as Jojo made a mellow introduction, then Payday felt even more mellow, a let-down, actually. But Scaggs recovered instantly with a fervent (and naturally slow) Slow Dancer and the throbbing New Orleans funk of Hercules. In this Allen Toussaint classic, Conesha Owens set her sassy alto on stun for the first time and just lit up the place. The straight rock of Georgia, the slow, soft soul of Harbor Lights, the tuxedoed suavity of Lowdown, the New Orleans return of Im Sick and Tired of Fooling Around with You and the mellow/melancholy of Miss Sun as strong as these songs all were they all somehow seemed to melt away from memory when Owens once again took over with Until You Come Back to Me (Thats What Im Gonna Do). She ate up the spotlight, inspired screams of awe, adopted the whole audience and put a Minnie Ripperton falsetto flourish on the coda that all but cracked The Egg in two.
Scaggs who sang smoothly and sweetly all night, but without her fireworks stood in the dark behind her, grinning and dropping short, sharp licks into the bands Cadillac groove. For all its play-em-like-the-records precision, the band had plenty of personality and Scaggs generally played like part of the band himself in other words, really, really well. The sound was beautiful, and had to be for the songs to soar like on the well-remembered hits. All the signature riffs were right in place: the bass thump that kicked off Lowdown, the piano solo in Harbor Lights, the quiet verses that built up to the steamroller chords in Lido Shuffle to close the set.
But Scaggs and the bands most remarkable achievement was the epic slow blues of Loan Me a Dime. Scaggs and second guitarist Jonathan Zingg tackled the incendiary licks the late, great Duane Allman welded into the original and they both nailed it. Recorded in 1969, the song hasnt lost its impact, and neither has Scaggs.
Singer-songwriter Sean Rowe simmered and sizzled in his opener. He wrapped his Greg Brown-deep voice around both originals from his Magic album and a newer number or two. But apart from his opening Old Black Dodge, these seemed a bit episodic and unfocused alongside the classics he borrowed and transformed. To be fair, his Dodge and Surprise especially are very good songs, but his covers are great ones. He revved and rebuilt Richard Thompsons Vincent Black Lightning 1952, substituting a wordless croon over driving strums for a skipped verse; turned on the jazz knob, as Dan Hicks likes to say, in Leonard Cohens Bird on A Wire before scorching it with the declamatory, Ray Charles-like force of a full-on soul singer; and going full adrenaline on a B.B. King blues.