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Boz Scaggs’ Rat Pack-era redux

An opinionated look at the week in live music, Oct.31-Nov.6.

Gig of the week

Boz Scaggs
(Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 5-6, $65 at 7 p.m., $50 at 9:30 p.m.)

Boz Scaggs has crooned his way through the genres and the decades without ever really changing his vocal style. He broke in with his old Dallas prep-school and Wisconsin college buddy Stevie Miller playing hippie-tinged blues out in ‘Frisco in the 1960s, then went to Muscle Shoals for his own debut and wailed out with guitarist Dwayne Allman on the incandescent “Loan Me a Dime.”

He donned natty threads and slicked his production for an alchemistical mid-1970s fusion of patent-leather disco and burnished suede soul on “Silk Degrees,” a disc that dared you to disdain all the rogue emotion behind its spit and polish hooks. (Check out this live version of “Lowdown” from that “Silk Degrees” period.)

Ever moving on, Boz’s 1997 return to the R&B of his childhood, “Come on Home,” is a treasure that every Van Morrison and Al Green fan should own and cherish. More recently, Boz has been plying the route of jazzy renditions of the American Songbook, via “But Beautiful” (2003) and the just-released “Speak Low.” There can be a nostalgic, Rat Pack quality to this traipse through Rogers & Hart, Duke Ellington and Johnny Mercer that’s as much attitudinal as musical — like Sinatra and the boys, Boz has always been intuitively diffident and engaged in a manner that exudes a cool, regal presence without forsaking passion. Here’s a rendition of the standard, “Love, Look What You’ve Done to Me.”

That’s what makes the Dakota such a simpatico joint for this current tour, which will be more stripped-down than the marvelous 2004 shows, but will hopefully still have the gospel whoomp of two backup singers for extra juice. Expect the hits from “Silk Degrees” and some drop-dead gorgeous R&B standards to be sifted in with the newer stuff, and get your tickets early because they’re going fast.

‘Licensed to Ill’ at the ballot box

The Beastie Boys and Friends Swing State Voter Awareness Tour
(Roy Wilkins Auditorium, Saturday, Nov. 1, 7 p.m., $37.50)

It’s probably fitting that there is more goofy irreverence on this bill with the Beasties and Jack Black’s faux guitar wanker outfit Tenacious D than there was at the Xcel four years ago, when Springsteen, Young, Fogarty and REM were banging the tub to drum up voters for the presidential election.

Back in 2004, you couldn’t reflexively lampoon the Bush administration and their divide-and-conquer cultural warriors and hate-the-gummint folks who wanted to invest Social Security monies in the stock market. Now, we’ve all gotta laugh to keep from crying … all the way to the voting booth. This is the Beasties’ first visit in a decade, but I can’t imagine they’ll vary their stage show of nonstop, skip-to-mah-Lou movement and fencing repartee on the microphones. The sound at Roy Wilkins is not conducive to good times, but the more resonant echo in the joint will be the prevailing feel-good vibe emanating a mere three days before the Obama-McCain throwdown. Finally, don’t sleep on Ben Harper, who might just steal the show.

Wretched lust and dens of iniquity

Amy Grant
(Mystic Lake Casino, Saturday, Nov. 1, 8 p.m., $49-$59)

I’ve always felt like a pervert for thinking Amy Grant is sexy. It’s not like one can do anything about it — checking out a “contemporary Christian” singer-songwriter is supposed to be corrective behavior, working against the baser impulses of  subscribing to magazines sheathed in black plastic or surfing Internet porn. But as God is hopefully my witness, I’ve never felt wholesomeness stir the pot with the vigor that watching Amy Grant can muster. That she is also smart and talented were convenient bonuses, like the informative articles in Playboy.

There was absolutely no cognitive dissonance on my part when Amy dumped her first husband, Gary Chapman, after 16 years and three children and took up with Vince Gill. Not only was it an obvious artistic upgrade, but confirmation that Amy herself was not oblivious to the sins of the flesh, something I suspected from the lyrics of her songs and the nuance of her vocals, but had dismissed as wishful thinking.

But now even I think Amy is pushing the boundaries on the faith of her flock, announcing on her website that she is reuniting her band from 20 years ago to reprise the live performance of her classic album, “Lead Me On” (don’t get me started on that title).

Wonder if Chapman, who produced, played and sang on the record, has been invited and will come along, standing onstage while “Shadows” and “Faithless Love” and other songs from the record that speak intimately of temptation, are rendered. But the real capper is that the local venue for the “Lead Me On” tour is a gambling casino. Is nothing sacred? (Pssst: When it comes to Amy Grant, I hope nothing is.)

Passing the torch

Bob Dylan
(Northrop Auditorium, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 8 p.m. $66-$86)

People can talk about Kennedy and Camelot, or Clinton, or the Beatles, but the defining socio-political voice for the baby-boomer generation is probably Bob Dylan. (Read my interview with Dylanologist Greil Marcus here.)

With the spectacular flame-out of the Bush presidency, boomers are, for the first time since Kennedy’s election, on the verge of losing our chokehold on the American identity. On Tuesday night, Dylan will perform for the first time on the campus of the school he attended more than 40 years ago, while, if the overwhelming consensus of the polls proves to be accurate, Barack Obama is elected to lead the nation. Technically, Obama was born at the tail end of the boom, a year after Kennedy’s election. Realistically, he is of a generation distinct from JFK, Clinton and, of course, Dylan.

As a grizzled boomer myself, I’ll applaud the transfer of power –and hope I’m not eating my words on Wednesday morning under President-elect McCain.

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