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Ear candyman: Boz Scaggs at the Egg.

Photo: Joe Putrock

Keepin’ It Smooth

By Paul Rapp

Boz Scaggs, Sean Rowe

The Egg, June 22

Shortly after getting this assign ment on Monday, I learned that Boz Scaggs’ last couple of albums were of jazz standards, so that was what I was expecting, and not too keenly. But this, his first Albany appearance ever, turned out to be a greatest-hits show, which meant:

Silk Degrees, Scaggs’ 1974 masterpiece, in which he and the future members of Toto took a mess of fern-bar lounge-band affectations and made them somehow OK. Silk Degrees is basically one big hit, the album you played when you had a girl visitor you didn’t know very well—you knew she was gonna like it, and despite its steady undercurrent of unctuousness, well, you really liked it, too. You even listened to it when there was nobody around.

Anyway, Scaggs and a crack six-piece band (including the stellar guitarist Drew Zingg) chugged through most of Silk Degrees and the handful of hits from his other ’70s and ’80s albums with style and grace, and a good measure of deep groove. Most songs got a rise from the audience during the first bar, which was often little more than a beat. Scaggs sang great, and nailed the occasional guitar solo; people forget that he was an early lead guitarist for the Steve Miller Band, and an ace player. The sound was big and lush and delicious, with the keyboards pumping out vintage synthesized waves and everything absolutely in the right place. Talk about ear candy.

Back-up singer Monet nearly stole the show with a slightly over-the-top blast of Stevie Wonder’s “Until You Come Back To Me,” but the real meat of the matter arrived with the encore, an epic version of “Lend Me A Dime,” a blues classic from Scaggs’ first solo album, originally recorded with Duane Allman at Muscle Shoals. Scaggs dedicated the song to famed Muscle Shoals keyboardist /arranger Barry Beckett, who died last week, and then the band dug in for a 10-minute-plus orgy of electric blues. It was jaw-dropping.

Speaking of jaw-dropping: Sean Rowe made a roomful of new fans with a gripping 30-minute set. Rowe’s voice is every bit as soulful as Scaggs’, and his delivery was dramatic and engaging. He completely reimagined two iconic classics, Richard Thompson’s “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” and Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire,” and played a bunch of originals that trade on silence as much as audacious bursts of sound. He commanded the undivided attention of the packed house, and got a big and deserved ovation at the end. Kudos to the local promoters who are putting Rowe on these shows. He belongs on the big stage.

Just A Girl Party

No Doubt, Paramore

Turning Stone Event Center, Verona, June 22

In Verona Monday evening, No Doubt sure didn’t seem like a band that hasn’t toured in five years, or released an album of new material in eight years. Their high-energy hodgepodge of ska and punk, with a soupçon of emo and a dash of indie, is held together by a killer pop sensibility that hasn’t dulled a bit. The gleaming white, ultra-mod stage set and state-of-the-art video effects didn’t hurt either.

The venue isn’t that big, and the intimacy seemed to astonish frontwoman Gwen Stefani: “I can see the faces of every one of you. This is kinda like theater!” The audience returned the enthusiasm in kind, standing and/or dancing for the entire show—something they mostly did not do for openers Paramore, much to that band’s dismay.

It’s easy to forget how many hits (and radio faves) No Doubt had. For starters, they cranked out the manic “Spiderwebs,” the dancetastic “Hella Good” and insidiously catchy “Underneath It All.”

Stefani has always made the most of her odd but powerful voice, with an approach to phrasing that’s half Siouxie Sioux, half Dale Bozzio. (She also showed off her physical prowess, dashing off 10 pushups before “Just a Girl.”) Her singing was dead-on, ranging from playfully seductive (“Hey Baby”) to edgy and angry (“Excuse Me Mr.”) to tears-in-her-voice schmaltzy on “Don’t Speak.” The band—bassist Tony Kanal, guitarist Tom Dumont, drummer Adrian Young and horn players Stephen Bradley and Gabriel McNair—equaled her manic energy. They’re going to make an album after the tour; it’s something to look forward to.

Special props to the Turning Stone audience; there were as many actual lighters held aloft during “Don’t Speak” as glowing cell phones. That’s old school.

Just as Stefani eschews No Doubt tunes in her solo gigs, none of her recent hits were in this set. (It was as if the Harajuku era never existed.) The shit was still bananas, though.

Total costume changes? Four: Three by Stefani, one by Young, who donned a tutu for the encore.

It’s not that Paramore weren’t popular before landing a couple of songs on the Twilight soundtrack. They were. It’s just that the legions of teenage girls around me, screaming at top volume for “Twilight” (not the name of the soundtrack hit, of course) probably wouldn’t have been so deafening without this connection. The Tennessee pop-punkers play well enough, and singer Hayley Williams has plenty of enthusiasm and can sing. It’s just that too many of their songs were forgettable. Hooks, kids—they’re called hooks. Also: Maybe Williams wouldn’t have complained so much about people not dancing if the screaming girls around me were closer to the stage.

An inability to follow the simplest of driving directions led me to miss most of Janelle Monae’s set. The one song I did catch was a beguiling mix of rock and R&B. My loss.

—Shawn Stone

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