Review: Boz Scaggs show brings house down

Boz Scaggs' show Sunday at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts featured a riveting performance by a singer who galvanized the room, brought the audience to its feet and turned one of Orange County's stateliest venues into something close to a mosh pit.

For that matter, Scaggs was pretty remarkable, too.

I don't mean to underrate him. The veteran singer-songwriter gave a sterling concert in his Segerstrom debut, playing old and new material with finesse and showing his expertise in multiple realms of American music. The roughly 90-minute show, which featured imaginative lighting and a crack six-piece backup band, could have served as a master class on how to pace and stage a rock performance.

But with all respect to the headliner, the star Sunday night was Ms. Monét — full name Conesha Monét Owens — who whipped the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall into a frenzy three quarters of the way through when she took the spotlight to sing a medley of Sly & the Family Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" and Sam & Dave's "I Thank You." Soul music, as its name implies, has deep roots in gospel, and this extended tour-de-force felt like a spiritual release of some kind.

Monét started the night unassumingly, sitting out the first two numbers and then entering unannounced to sing backup and play percussion on the lovely "Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl." As the show progressed, she became more prominent, sometimes sharing lead vocals with Scaggs and even sharing the spotlight, literally, as the crew cast the two of them in bright hues while the others faded to the background.

Then, for 10 minutes or so, Scaggs reverted to a dimly lit guitarist as Monét took center stage. With a gutsy delivery that recalled Aretha Franklin at her best, the singer called for the whole audience to stand and clap (the seating around the stage made the effect nicely communal) and tore through both numbers with relish, starting and ending with snippets of the Sly tune and making "I Thank You" into a passionate sing-along.

A few times, Monét elicited further whoops by belting out the words "Costa Mesa, California!" — an exhortation about as silly as a fist-pump or an "applause" sign, but in context, pretty much irresistible.

So was just about everything else Sunday night. Scaggs, touring behind his new "Memphis" album, delved into that rootsy collection for much of his set list, infusing "Rainy Night in Georgia" with after-hours melancholy and forging a solid groove for the blues covers "Dry Spell" and "Cadillac Walk."

Like Al Green, whose style he tapped on "Memphis," Scaggs isn't a naturally ferocious singer — his weather-beaten voice often feels like the comforting tones of an old friend — but he can amp up his delivery when the occasion calls for it. Toward the end of Sunday's set, he pulled out the 1976 hit "Lido Shuffle," and by the time the song exploded to its striding chorus ("Lido / oh-oh-oh-ohhhh"), it became another stand-and-clap moment.

The show ended on a poignant note, as Scaggs finished with the ballad "Loan Me a Dime" and dedicated it to blues singer Bobby "Blue" Bland, who died earlier Sunday. Bland was among the artists who formerly recorded at Memphis' Royal Studios, where Scaggs laid down his new album, and the announcement of his passing drew a few gasps from the crowd.

Shortly before that number, the singer introduced his band members one by one and ended by crediting "wonderful Monét on the vocals." Wonderful was right. Just the other week, the documentary about backup singers, "20 Feet from Stardom," hit theaters, and the bio on Monét's website claims that she's sung with Celine Dion, Lenny Kravitz and others in addition to leading her own gigs. While we're on the topic of honoring side women, perhaps Segerstrom could carve out room for a Monét show in the near future.

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