In recent years, standards have become the last refuge of the aging rocker, but it’s a match generally not made in heaven. Boz Scaggs, however, has made the segue more effectively than most, in part because it wasn’t a quantum leap for the singer, who’s always been more velvet glove than iron fist in his approach.
Tuesday, the first night of a weeklong stint at Joe’s Pub, an intimate Gotham lounge, Scaggs cut a pleasant, unassuming figure from the set’s beginning. Ambling onto the stage sans fanfare, the casually clad vocalist leaned languidly against Paul Nagel’s piano — a stance that underscored his casual delivery on soothingly arranged renditions of “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” and “It Could Happen to You.”
While most of the set was culled from his recently released standards set, “But Beautiful” (Gray Cat Records), Scaggs offered a few nods to his past incarnations. An early set take on “Lowdown” rebuilt the song virtually from the ground up, replacing the L.A freeway groove with a more urbane vibe, the lazy drawl with a focused panache.
Songs that required him to summon up a little extra grit left something to be desired. His take on “Your Good Thing (Is About to End)” carried none of the nasty edge that Mabel John imparted to her version, which Scaggs used as a template for his rendition. He fared a bit better on a version of Fats Domino’s “Sick and Tired,” which came across with a fine balance of frustration and bemusement.
Quartet offered subtly teasing solos here and there, but largely laid back to let Scaggs — and sassy backing vocalist Monet, who took over lead chores on a bright “What’s New” — hold sway. By and large, Scaggs acquitted himself well, not taking all that many chances with arrangements but lacing the set with enough out-of-the-ordinary selections to make up for that conservatism.