Concert review and set list: Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs and Donald Fagen wow crowd as the Dukes of September at the Fabulous Fox, Wednesday, June 20
The Dukes of September Rhythm Revue kicked off its summer tour last night at the Fox, reviving the sounds of 1970s AM radio created by the group’s three principals, Boz Scaggs, Donald Fagen (Steely Dan) and hometowner Michael McDonald (Doobie Brothers).
The trio played in a music-in-the-round style, each singer drawing from their sizable catalogs while adding some key covers that inspired them early in their careers.
The large and talented backing band took the stage and set the night’s tone launching into James Brown’s “People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul.” The three titans of the night entered the stage to a standing ovation.
Fagen took the reins as emcee of the night, which was ironic given his struggles with stage fright early in his career. McDonald was placed at center stage but didn’t have as much crowd interaction as I would have expected. Fagen, however, did a great job engaging the crowd and moving the show along.
After McDonald sang backup on the Isley Brothers’ “That Lady,” Fagen introduced the Ferguson, Mo.-native and the crowd went nuts. McDonald’s first song on lead vocals was the horntastic Arthur Conley song, “Sweet Soul Music.”
McDonald boasts a long history of providing enthusiastic backing vocals dating back to his days with Steely Dan. But when this U-City Walk of Fame inductee is singing lead, it makes you feel like you’re drinking the expensive wine.
Next up was McDonald’s smooth groove, “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near).” McDonald, 60, labored through the high notes, yet it was still surreal to watch him sing this live. With the impossibly-elevated notes the song requires, the 1982 Michael McDonald perhaps set the bar too high for his future self. No matter though. Like many of his songs, McDonald had plenty of real estate to ad-lib and pull off many surprises.
McDonald’s powerful voice blew fans’ hair and drinks back like a 1979 Maxell ad, but Scaggs was the sleeper hit of this night.
Whether he was singing Muddy Waters’ “Same Thing” blues or his own “Lowdown,” Scaggs enraptured the crowd and shockingly garnered more and bigger standing ovations than McDonald. Overall, his steady voice has held up the best among the three, and he let his rootsy musical tastes do the talking.
The tour’s professional backing band deserves a shout out, made up of guitar extraordinaire Jon Herington, two female background singers, three horn players, a funky bass player (Freddie Washington) and a top notch drummer (Shannon Forrest). An extra keyboard player joined a full-frontal piano assault with McDonald on another keyboard and Fagen on a baby grand. Scaggs rounded out the group on guitar.
Backup singer and Steely Dan member Carolyn Escoffery did an excellent Gladys Knight version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” following it up with a duet with Boz of the early rock ‘n’ roll tune, “Love is Strange.” The other backup singer, Catherine Russell, also with Steely Dan of late, did show-stopping versions of “Piece of My Heart” and “Takin’ It to the Streets” — on the latter, McDonald let her take the reins. She did more of the same on Fagen’s “Reelin’ In the Years” to close the show.
McDonald’s cover of “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” was more in his current wheel house and the crowd responded well to his gospel leanings. But it was when the band kicked into the funky 1980s beat of “What a Fool Believes” that I realized why I was at the show in the first place. This was a band with serious yacht-rock credentials. McDonald’s passion and emotion shone through as he brought new inflections and soul to the now-ubiquitous song.
The encore set was largely forgettable except for the Steely Dan song, “Peg,” which got the nearly sold-out crowd swaying to the beat like no other song had done before.
People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul
Sweet Soul Music
I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)
I Heard It Through the Grapevine
Love is Strange
Summer in the City
If You Don’t Know Me by Now
What a Fool Believes
Piece of My Heart
Takin’ It to the Streets
Reelin’ In the Years
Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)
In the Midnight Hour
Don’t Cry No More