Call it truth in advertising. After he and his five-piece band warmed up the crowd with a laidback bluesy tune, Boz Scaggs warned them "We're going to move all over the musical map tonight." That he did, delivering what was surely one of the most eclectic (and best) sets of the Toronto Jazz Festival. One of the best attended too, as he filled the big tent to capacity.
Scaggs' commercial peak came in the late '70s to early '80s, via a series of hit singles and platinum-selling albums that showcased his blue-eyed soul style to top effect. He has had periods of retirement since then, but this performance showed that, at 69, he has retained his skills as a versatile, mellow-voiced singer and tastefully fluent guitarist. The first half of his set drew upon the blues and Southern soul to great effect, and it featured material from his acclaimed recent disc, Memphis. Kudos for his shout-out to the late great Willy De Ville prior to covering his "Mixed Up Shook Up Girl," a tune featuring big-voiced and voluptuous backing singer Miss Monet.
A beautifully tender version of "Rainy Night In Georgia" was a set highlight, followed by a sweet and soulful take on "Corinna Corinna." The pace then picked up with his 1981 hit "Miss Sun," featuring a fiery vocal exchange between Scaggs and Monet. That elicited a standing ovation, followed by Monet taking centre stage and belting out a stirring version of Sly Stone classic "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin ..)." By this stage, the crowd was back on its feet, clapping and singing along, and Scaggs then launched into his hits portion of the show, delivering "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle" to the delight of the crowd.
You sense Scaggs' heart is now more in the blues and classic R&B, but he gave no sense of going through the motions on his hits. For an encore, he kept the crowd happy with a faithful version of his disco hit "What Can I Say," then closed out the show with a stunning 15-minute rendition of blues classic "Loan Me A Dime," the highlight of Scaggs' 1969 debut album. The Duane Allman guitar leads on the original were taken impressively by Drew Zingg (Steely Dan) here, who swapped solos with Scaggs (mention of the fine musicianship of all of those onstage should be made). It is hard to imagine any other current artist who could move from blues, R&B, and Southern soul through yacht rock, MOR and disco with credibility this intact. One class act.