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Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009

Boz Scaggs @ The Pabst Theater

Sept. 23, 2009

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Clad in two-thirds of a natty gray suit, Boz Scaggs strode casually onto the Pabst Theater stage Wednesday to enthusiastic applause. By the time he finished his 100-minute set, the applause sounded as if it had increased fourfold. The reaction was well deserved.

Scaggs, 65, teamed up with Steve Miller while both were UW students in 1960s Madison to form the Steve Miller Band. But it wasn’t until the Canton, Ohio native carved his own niche in the 1970s, creating a blues-infused blue-eyed-soul sound, that he gained popular and critical attention. With his elusive, inflective tenor intact, the guitarist treated his Pabst audience to an evening of greatest hits, threaded with some early blues gems and New Orleans-inspired funk that brought fans to their feet.

Like most veteran performers, Scaggs appreciates a powerful backup band. His accompanying sextet easily laid down both familiar tracks and extended blues jams, their tight formation recreating Scaggs’ familiar ’70s sound while still allowing room for improvisation.

Silk Degrees, the artist’s 1976 chart-topper, contributed several numbers to the show, including “Georgia,” “Harbor Lights,” “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle,” which had largely boomer audience members dancing at their seats. Allen Toussaint’s “Hercules,” from 1974’s Slow Dancer, was one of several Crescent City-based numbers. “Jojo,” from the 1980 album Middle Man, opened the evening.

The surprising showstopper was backup singer Monet Owens’ cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do),” which she delivered with fire and soul. Fenton Robinson’s “Loan Me a Dime,” which Scaggs originally recorded in 1969 with Duane Allman on guitar, turned into an impressive blues jam with sideman Drew Zingg ably filling Allman’s shoes. Earle King’s “It’s All Down the Drain” brought a rousing finish to a rare gem of a performance.