all words AND photos: Julian Vu
Recently, bands like Grizzly Bear and Holy Ghost! have sought out Michael McDonald’s golden voice to add a certain magic touch to their tracks. Admittedly, we’ve all heard Michael McDonald’s voice, but many have failed to connect the name with the sound. Also, at the mere mention of the term “Doobie Brothers” thoughts of moms and dads awkwardly and non-hilariously dancing along to a style that must have been fathered by Jimmy Buffett come to mind. There is an inherent difference in the soft rock that is played on the radio or listened to by parents today, compared to the real soft rock, that was not only catchy, but smooth and in and of itself an aphrodisiac of some sort.
Just look up any Michael McDonald or Boz Scaggs video pre-1984 and you’ll see what I mean. better yet, look up the hilarious web series, “Yacht Rock” by JD Ryznar on youtube. Ryznar paints a much better picture of what it must have been like to run in McDonald’s circles back in the mid-to-late 70’s
Of course, that was then, and this is now. Fast-forward 30 years; the once dashing McDonald, now perhaps less of a silver fox than his earlier years, still has the golden pipes that made his name. The problem with all this of course, is that McDonald has completely pandered to his primary demographic; baby-boomer parents.
The set started out with what was to many a disappointing set by Boz Scaggs.
Scaggs, known for the killer jam “Lowdown”, is perhaps better known as “that white guy with a lot of soul” from back in the 80’s. I’m not trying to make any generalizations about race. Facts are facts; Scagg’s ‘Silk Degrees’ is one of the smoothest borderline R&B albums I have that still manage to fit in with the soft rock crowd. It even fits into that small genre of rare groove, despite experiencing mainstream success; hell, James Murphy has dropped a Scaggs track or two in his Beats in Space playlists. Unfortunately the theme for the night seemed to be “Hey, let’s only play two of my really good songs, and like eight extremely mediocre songs.” Scaggs even covered the best song to ever exist (not really the best); Bonnie Raitt’s “Let’s give ‘em something to talk about.” While the backup singer certainly “worked it”, the cover fell flat, and was admittedly not something to talk about. All in all, I have to give it to Scaggs for still doing what he loves best.
Michael McDonald’s set suffered from the same issues that Scaggs experienced. Maybe it’s a consequence of old age; as McDonald ages, so does his demographic, and subsequently so does his (diminishing) level of taste.
McDonald’s set was surprisingly not heavy on hits of his own, instead focusing on Motown covers which truly allow his voice to shine, however leave much to be desired on the end of the backing band and backup singers. McDonald did however touch on his absolute hits such as “I keep forgetting (we’re not in love anymore)” that is perhaps best known as the sample for Warren G’s “Regulate”. Additionally after boring the audience with a few slow jams, McDonald picked things up with a slightly faster, but still slow, jam; the Doobie Brother’s smooth “Minute by Minute.” Finally, McDonald closed with the hit everyone knows; “What a fool believes”, which I must admit still sounds completely badass 30 years after the fact. Unlike other songs of his set, little was changed to the execution of this song, and in staying true to the original, McDonald and his band put out a great closer to what would otherwise be a less than stellar set.
Let’s face the truth. There is a very high probability that you yourself exist because of Michael McDonald. The man of perhaps higher being makes some of the sweetest and smoothest babymaking music there is, and it surprises me in no way to hear just how much his music can put anyone between the ages of 18 and 80 in the mood for sweet sweet loving.