in performance: michael mcdonald

michael mcdonald.

michael mcdonald.

“Let me just go down as saying that I’m glad to be here,” sang Michael McDonald last night near the onset of an especially jubilant and involving performance at the Opera House. “Here with all the same pain and laughs everybody knows.”

That especially telling verse came from Here to Love You, the leadoff track to the 1978 album that cemented the singer/keyboardist’s place in pop-soul stardom – the Doobie Brothers’ Minute By Minute. But at age 63, the lyrics eschewed a level of performance maturity that seemed to dominate the 85 minute concert.

From a technical standpoint, McDonald’s husky tenor was in fine shape. The very upper level of his falsetto surges seemed a touch muted, but that was the only visible hint of aging. Otherwise, his vocals meshed nicely with a proficient six member band. Of course, the fact the group was built around McDonald’s keyboard sound insured he was showcased prominently as both instrumentalist (from the clavinet funk supplied to a encore medley of Stevie Wonder tunes to the calliope like runs that underscored his Doobies gem It Keeps You Runnin’) and singer.

The song selection was a crowd pleaser, as well. Roughly one-third of the set list was devoted to his Doobies hits of the late ‘70s. But the show also reached into the ‘80s for the James Ingram duet funk hit Yah Mo B There (which opened the performance) and the movie hit Sweet Freedom as well as into comparatively recent years when McDonald’s recorded output focused more on his prowess as interpreter as opposed to songwriter. A standout from the later column was You Don’t Know Me, a Ray Charles classic by way of Eddy Arnold that peeled the band down to an intimate sax/piano/keyboard trio.

But the real surprise was McDonald’s seriously physical investment in this material. This was not some dialed in nostalgia ride. Though seated at his keyboard for the duration of the set, the singer was heaving his muscular tenor around like a wrecking ball. Even the few relaxed pop detours (What a Fool Believes and his co-written Kenny Loggins hit This is It) possessed a physical bravado that provided the performance with rugged immediacy and awarded McDonald with a sweat soaked shirt well before the end of the show.

The Doobies staple Takin’ It to the Streets, the song that largely introduced the singer to the pop mainstream nearly 40 years ago closed this celebration with the band in a joyous groove and McDonald howling like an in-his-prime Joe Cocker. How fitting that what began on the streets for the singer so long ago wound up there again last night in such vibrant form.

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