Scaggs nearly does the Bozness

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The Last time Boz Scaggs played in London was way back in the days of Labour government. It was 1976 or '77. No one at the Jazz Cafe on Wednesday remembered precisely, though many of them had been there, and nearly all could have been.

At 53, Boz is one of the masters of the genre formerly known as Hip Easy Listening. It stayed hip for a full five minutes, before being blitzed by the forces of punk. If Scaggs had come along 10 years later, he might have been Mick Hucknall. Instead he sold a few million records and became a full-time father - possibly the second in rock history after John Lennon. He got divorced and stayed home in San Francisco so his two small sons could be with him two weeks a month. On the side, long before it was fashionable, he opened a restaurant with music - Slim's.

By the time the boys had grown up, it was the Nineties. Scaggs put out an album that is adored by everyone who owns it - all 25 of us. Some Change, he called it, and he had, though like an ageing sportsman, all he had really done was drop his pace and make up for it with his brain. His chugging West Coast soul gave way to equally seductive slow songs: still breezy and conversational, yet astute and poetic. Sketches by Boz.

The follow-up, Come On Home (Virgin), is both a joy and a disappointment. All but four of the tracks are R&B classics, done with loving erudition, but holding few surprises. It's as if he doesn't know how good his own songs are.

Usually when American stars come here, they bring a small band and play several dates at huge venues. Boz crammed 10 people on to the Jazz Cafe stage, and flew out the next morning.

The band were as tight as a Labour press conference. Boz's singing is that of a musician - top-class tone and timing, but he sings the song rather than the story or the feelings. When he did two Bobby Bland numbers, they weren't exactly bland, but they weren't exactly Bobby.

He's big and genial, a natural host. If Disney had given Baloo the Bear black jeans, a grey T-shirt, and an earpiece in each ear, this is how he would have looked.

He did "Lowdown", his first hit, whose subtle exuberance came close to giving jazz-funk a good name. It set the crowd alight. But then he was off into the realms of homage. We (the 25) waited for "Sierra" and "Lost It", the ethereal ballads from Some Change. We were still waiting when Boz and the band downed tools. Boz conferred with the guitarist, Drew Zingg, a lyrical performer in an anarchist's beret. They upped tools and gave an instant sort-of encore, a booming big-band number; and then they were gone. Five minutes passed, and another five. A roadie strolled on, looking like Boz's twin brother, which caused confusion.

Eventually the man himself reappeared. The absence of earpieces and presence of a cigarette suggested genuine reluctance. He had seriously intended to leave without playing "Lido Shuffle", which is not just his biggest hit but probably the best roof-down driving song in the whole history of California. When he did play it, the sound went all tinny. But the effect was electric. He may be back for more dates in the autumn; if he would just be a little less modest, they could be fabulous occasions.

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