Longtime rhythm and bluesman Boz Skaggs and his band put on a good show at K-State’s McCain Auditorium last Thursday. It was a good show of skilled performances of decent songs. Good. But let’s not get too happy about it.

Because even as they performed some of Skaggs’ hits and some less familiar numbers, there was something a little joyless about the performance. It was as if the musicians were determined to prove their worth to us but didn’t expect the maybe half-capacity audience would get it.

This is a problem as audiences and the musicians they favor grow old.

A couple of years ago Steve Winwood was visibly worried that the crowd at Salina’s Stiefel Theater had gone to sleep on him. Actually we were having a great time, but we aren’t as loud as we were in 1970. When the house lights came up and the leader of Traffic and Blind Faith saw how gray we were, he understood and relaxed.

In Skaggs’s case, the singer, song-writer, and guitarist looked sober as a judge during the bulk of the performance. His bandmates—lead guitar, kit drummer, percussionist, and two keyboard players, one of whom also played guitar, sax, and melodica—all followed his lead. Only the bassist seemed to be having any fun on stage until late, when up-tempo material energized the crowd and Boz finally seemed to relax.

His material contributed to the misunderstanding. During the 1970s Skaggs made his name playing post-Soul and ballads using then-contemporary idioms and voicings that now reminding one of Steely Dan’s “Aja” album.

Later the Texan got back to playing Blues, but with a little Jazz flavor. Actually the Jazz shows up most in Skaggs’s arrangements, which can be expansive. Playing live for us he worked without studio strings and horns. Still, the sound we heard at McCain, coming from a live seven-piece group, seemed lush.

More than a couple of the show’s dozen and a half numbers began with velvety, abstract keyboard introductions only vaguely related to what followed. And for audial color, the arrangements relied on what percussionists call “traps.” Lots of jingle stick, often doubling the snare drum accents. Temple blocks. Honest.

While the ordinary song in the 90-minute set ran about five minutes and included one instrumental solo, some of the pieces were longer. A late one had four distinct stages, each with its own rhythm.

Skaggs, who played the best of the guitar solos himself, used some sort of auto-wah on one song. Besides a Rhodes piano and a Hammond organ, the keyboards included a master mimic Nord and other sound modifiers. So electronic instrument voice altering was very much the order of the evening.

The singing and playing was absolutely stand-up. For example, the kit drummer sounded a lot like the original recordings, and was not looking for opportunities to improvise. The complicated, multi-instrumental sounds blended together.

And Skaggs’s fans know that sound. The repeated bass hick-ups in “Lowdown” in some sense make the song. The ballads and walking tempo numbers felt full. Ironically, the 12-bar blues tunes may have been the most successful songs we heard.

And then late we heard Skaggs’s one rabble-rouser, “Lido Shuffle.” The crowd liked that enough to call the band back for a two song encore. The second song our star said was “just for fun.” It was Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell,” a pretty sophisticated Rock number the crowd liked. We were happy then.

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