Boz Scaggs: A communal disappointment

Bruce Spotleson

Appropriately enough for something with roots in the San Francisco Bay of the late ’60s, Boz Scaggs’ official online fan site is known as the “Boz Scaggs Music Community.” And it was indeed a communal sort of environment that awaited Scaggs’ appearance at the Concerts on the Beach series at Mandalay Bay Beach June 5.

Age profiling aside, the atmosphere was pretty much what you’d expect from a crowd of graying former hippies: No jostling for position in the ticket line. Minimal entry searches from security personnel. No waiting at the bars. The concert even began right on time, under the stars and in quite pleasant temperatures.

Befitting their stage in life and the musician they had come to hear, it was obvious that these several hundred mostly first-wave baby boomers weren’t going to get too crazy, even on a Saturday night.

And they didn’t. Once the show got underway, the audience didn’t hoot, scream or whistle through any of the quick 13 songs Scaggs performed from the elevated stage. But then, the longtime singer/guitarist gave them precious little to get wild and crazy about in an uninspired performance that simply went nowhere.

Despite Boz’s still-clear voice and a strong set of musicians backing him, the songs -- almost all standards pulled from the early phase of his career -- were delivered with little spark. The set list didn’t help, either; the order of the songs pretty much precluded any semblance of a crescendo to the show.

A deft songwriter over the years, Scaggs is best known for ballads and blues, but has always had a rock and roll following. To establish any momentum and clear high points to his concerts demands strategic insertion of his few faster-paced tunes. Timing is critical.

But it wasn’t there on this night, and as a result, neither was the electricity. People moved briefly to the interspersed upbeat disco-era standard “Lowdown” and the pop hit “Lido,” but fell back to their beach towels with the too-soft repertoire that set the pace for the show.

Over the years, fan-base loyalty has been a marketable asset for Scaggs, who began his big-league rock career as the early vocalist for the Steve Miller Blues Band. Many in attendance talked about having seen him perform multiple times over the years.

And even though Scaggs has never been one for on-stage banter and generally doesn’t acknowledge the crowd at his Las Vegas shows, fans retain an uncanny affinity for his music, sincerely like him, and would almost certainly give him the benefit of the doubt for an off night. But this performance tested the strength of such bonds.

In line with the tone of the evening, an encore of “What Can I Say” and “Breakdown Dead Ahead” seemed business-like, obligatory and unfortunately lackluster. The crowd’s disappointment could be heard after the lights came up. Not in shouts, of course, but murmurs.

Their expectations may be more realistic these days, and their limbs may not be quite as supple as they once were, but even front-edge baby boomers want to feel a connection and shake a tail feather on a Saturday night.

The Concerts on the Beach series resumes at Mandalay Bay with a performance by Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Rick Springfield on June 19.


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