Dukes pay tribute to rock and soul
BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI
For two hours on Wednesday night, Oct. 24, the slick band headed by Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, Doobie Brothers’ Michael McDonald and silky bluesman Boz Scaggs put on a rock-and-soul show that took followers down memory lane, with hits from each frontman sprinkled among the classic and nostalgic tunes.
The three big names were accompanied by a seven-piece band and two backup singers, and were greeted by a warm, excited crowd that completely sold out the Blaisdell Concert Hall, right down to its standing-room-only tickets.
Between 1989 and 1993, Fagen, McDonald and Scaggs banded together with a group of other notables, including fellow Steely Dan honcho Walter Becker and Phoebe Snow, to create the New York Rock and Soul Review. This show was not as far-reaching as that, but harkened back to the same impulse: to honor songs from the pantheon that moved or rocked the bandleaders, and share their affection with a willing audience.
This time around, the set list was pretty straightforward, heavy on the smooth funk and funky soul, with a couple of ringers thrown in.
The night kicked in with a cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Who’s That Lady,” with each of the frontmen taking a verse. That segued into “Sweet Soul Music,” a song and title that set the theme for the night.
The music had a ’70s sheen, a feel of having been handled and admired and reworked like a repurposed aloha shirt. McDonald sat at keyboards, Fagen behind a baby grand and Boz Scaggs played primarily rhythm guitar, and all traded off vocals. A drummer played behind a glass partition; there were three horn players and an additional keyboardist in addition to the guitar and bass player.
McDonald was credibly romantic on “I Keep Forgettin” (“We’re Not in Love Any More”), a 1962 Lieber-Stoller song he popularized in 1982. And on Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man,” Fagen moved away from the piano to take lead vocals, waving then playing a melodica.
After that, Fagen said, “It’s about time to pull out one of these old Steely Dan tunes,” launching into “Kid Charlemagne” and sending the crowd into a joyful swoon.
There were points when the ensemble sound didn’t serve song choices best, in my book. Rockers like Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” (with McDonald on accordion) and Buck Owens’ heartfelt “Love’s Gonna Live Here” didn’t need a wall of sound.
But when the set list returned to songs that let the leads play to their strengths — McDonald’s soulful baritone, Scaggs’ bayou drawl and ringing guitar and Fagen’s cutting vision and orchestral command — the show zoomed back into focus.
And the covers could be entertaining, if not revelatory. When backup singer Catherine Russell took the lead to sing “Take Another Piece of My Heart,” I heard the way this ’60s R&B cross-pollinated reggae. The arrangement, Fagen informed us, harkened back to its original singer, Erma Franklin (Aretha’s sister). I never knew!
After that bittersweet tune, the show kicked into high gear for some great set pieces, right through the encore.
None of the frontmen have the vocal range they did in their heyday, but Scaggs hit the high and low notes in “Lowdown,” played some tasty guitar licks and had audience members shouting and jumping out of their seats in appreciation.
“Takin’ It to the Streets” featured passionate playing by the ensemble and passionate vocal verses by McDonald and Russell. Russell pulled out the gospel-music stops for her parts, and when she called out for “love, peace and understanding for your brother,” I do believe she got a witness or two.
And the final song of the show before the encore, “Reelin’ in the Years,” likely had a certain resonance in this crowd, most of whom were around when the song was first released in ’72.
As poignant as “Reelin’ in the Years” felt, I thought Fagen and band reached peak majesty on “Pretzel Logic.” By the time he sang, “Those days are gone forever, over a long time ago,” the stately rhythm and separated solo lines were washing over us in all the grandeur, bitterness and melancholy that made Steely Dan great back in the day.
The band was also in fine form for Scagg’s encore turn on “Lido,” and the audience reacted with a standing ovation. And with high energy achieved, a rendition of Sly Stone’s 1969 hit “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” topped off the night’s high points.
Posted: Saturday 27 October 2012