Boz Scaggs Feeds the Beast at a Scorching Festival

Jul 5, 2018


"Chaud" is the everyday French word for "hot" -- but "brulant" is le mot juste: the perfect word. Translates (according to Babylon) as "burning, scorching." Also "scalding, roasting."

Every day that I've been in Montreal this time, someone I know or strangers at the festival gasps something about the heat. "Is it always this hot when you come here?" a sweating fellow in an elevator wondered.

I'm pretty much stoic about weather, but I don't remember an especially hot Montreal in the 26 years I've come here. Rain, yes. Shut-down-the-jazzfest rain? Yes. I'll never forget the year that Avenue Jeanne-Mance became the Place des Festivals. On a new and enormous stage at the corner of Rue Sainte-Catherine, Stevie Wonder was opening the jazzfest, playing to an expected 100,000 or so fest-goers in the street. Rain shut off outdoor shows all day. An enormous loss of music. An enormous loss of the beer sales that pay for the music.

Stevie Wonder performs at Montreal Jazz Festival 2009.
Credit YouTube

And then, just as the concert was supposed to commence, the rain eased off. Stevie Wonder came out, and quickly the new festival street was being danced upon. "This is a jazz festival," said Stevie, and he played "Giant Steps." And "Spain." Everyone was happy. And then the rain came back.

Michael Jackson passed just before the jazzfest, and to remember him Stevie started singing some of Michael's hits. Michael's voice soon was joining Stevie's, loudly from monitors above the stage. Dancers in the street sang along. And that's when the rain suddenly fell again.. Heavy but not thunderous rain. Sweet rain. And one was tempted to feel the rain as if tears from heaven.


Herbie Hancock returned to the jazzfest this year and played the big hall on a double-bill with Thundercat. I was down the walkway at Theatre Maisonneuve for Boz Scaggs.

Polly Gibbons opened and was as charming on stage as she'd been a couple of weeks ago on Singers Unlimited. She's got chops and a half. She jumped on several songs into a higher-than-high soprano voice I haven't heard since Minnie Riperton. She mostly sings with lungs full of soul. "Sugar In My Bowl" came from deep down. "Comes Love" was sillier and sweeter. "Anything Goes" was hiply swinging.

Credit Valeriegay Bessette for FIJM

Boz Scaggs uniquely defies being boxed. Rock. Soul. Blues. Jazz. He plays all of that and more, plus he sings more like a crooner than a rocker. He sang songs that he said he heard and he liked: a Bobby Bland song, a Mink DeVille song. "Drowning in the Sea of Love" was a highlight. His solos on the guitar were rarely blasting rock solos but were much more melodic. And he let his band play.

"Lido Shuffle," his greatest hit, was his inevitable climax, complete with the audience singing along the "Whoa! Whoa! Way-oh!" And then came the inevitable encore(s). "We'll leave you with the blues," said Boz, a heartfelt "Somebody Loan Me a Dime," -- but the audience always wants more. He'd played two hours, and the blues was a powerful finale, but an audience is like a beast. Ravenous. And, actually happily, Boz and the band came back. "We'll leave you with a Chuck Berry smile," said Boz and rocked the house -- but the beast loudly hungered for mole. I was shouting "No more! No more!" -- but Boz kept on playing.

Credit Valeriegay Bessette for FIJM

Not that all (almost a half-hour) of the encores were not enjoyable, but after the blues, even the enjoyable more was anti-climactic.