Blue-eyed soulster Michael McDonald brought his immense talents to Northfield’s Hard Rock Rocksino this past Friday evening. The capacity crowd was on its feet for a good part of the ninety-minute offering as McDonald took us on a forty-five year journey through his career.
While best known as the front man for the iconic ’70s group The Doobie Brothers, he was, remarkably, only with that outfit from 1975 through 1982. Upon the band’s initial 1982 dissolution, he left amicably and still reunites with his former bandmates on occasion, most recently for 2014’s Doobies album Southbound.
His solo career peaked in the 1980s, but his voice, like a fine scotch, has only perfected with age.
Taking the stage after opener Marc Cohn (A Cleveland native who seemed to be in town for his 40th high school reunion this weekend), Mr. McDonald played the tunes for which people remember him as well as a few new songs from his latest album Wide Open.
Starting with his 1985 Grammy-winning collaboration with James Ingram, “Yah Mo B There,” the night only picked up steam from there. Primarily taking up residence behind a baby grand, McDonald rolled through “I Keep Forgettin’,” an audience fave, and then onto his 1986 smash “Sweet Freedom.” He segued into several new songs from Wide Open, such as “Hail Mary,” “Beautiful Child” and “Half Truth.”
Interestingly, he left the piano behind for awhile, picking up a six string and plunking out a few of the new album’s tunes. Saying his son Dylan prodded him into learning the new instrument, it was a little jarring seeing this old piano player with a new instrument at this stage in his long career.
Ending on a set of popular tunes, he closed out the evening with “Minute By Minute” and “What A Fool Believes.”
Returning for a three-song encore he dazzled with a spectacular cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”
He then proceeded to the finish line with a duet featuring backup singer Drea Rhenee’ (on Patti Labelle’s part) from the very successful “On My Own.”
Almost there, he brought Marc Cohn back onstage; the night finally came to a conclusion with a rousing wall-of-sound version of “Takin’ It To The Streets,” where the whole band really sparkled.
However, the crowd could have gone on for another hour based on the applause the band received.
Marc Cohn, a very-talented songwriter and singer, played a forty-five minute set prior to McDonald. He revved up the crowd with his many references to growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland’s east side. Relaying a heartfelt story about his father, the rumination culminated in a song he wrote, “Silver Thunderbird.”
Prior to singing “Don’t Talk To Her At Night,” he mentioned that he wrote this song for his first wife…and that she was in the audience tonight as a guest. He then implored us not to look around and try to guess who the song was about. He then, of course, finished the set with his two most well-known tunes, “Walking in Memphis” and “True Companion.”
Blue-eyed soul isn’t dead yet. While many of its practitioners are getting older and, perhaps a little out of tune, McDonald and Cohn both practiced the form in situ to this large crowd of disciples, proving that, like a fine double malt scotch, some voices only get better the longer they’ve been around.