Boz Scaggs & Michael McDonald Verizon Wireless Theater October 1, 2011
Now, Classic Rock Bob doesn't want to come off as some sort of out-of-touch curmudgeon ("What do you mean you don't sell cassettes anymore? Hey! You kids get off my lawn!"), but one of the reasons to love classic rock is very simple: Much of it is performed by real, living, breathing musicians who have spent years - and in many cases, decades - honing their songwriting skills and playing on real instruments.
So it was a pleasure to see a Master Class in the subtler side of classic rock, with side trips into balladry, blues, R&B, gospel, and even zydeco, with Saturday's double-header featuring almost three hours of incredible music.
Opening the Houston date was Scaggs (above), for whom the word "tasteful" is tailor-made. His distinctive vocal tone - still hitting the high falsettos at age 67 - and compact, never extraneous guitar playing were on full display, along with a personable playfulness absent from his Stafford Centre gig this past February.
That the set list contained exactly half of the tracks on his best known record, 1976's Silk Degrees, plus the disco-tinged hit "JoJo" and Urban Cowboy soundtrack ballad "Look What You've Done to Me" showed that he wanted to stick to more audience-familiar material, with "Harbor Lights" a particular standout.
But he did pull out the lush & sexy "Desire" from his last all-original studio release, Dig. "Here's an album that we put out, but it got kind of lost because of other, more important events," Scaggs said. Left unsaid was the work's release date - September 11, 2001.
Nestled on a seat behind his electric piano, Michael McDonald combined the big hits from his years with the Doobie Brothers, solo material, and classic songs from his three records of Motown covers. And that distinctive, sexual bear voice of his brought forth actual squeals from some women in the audience.
However, an MOR ish, ballad-heavy middle portion of his set halted an early momentum built with "It Keeps You Runnin'" and "I Keep Forgettin'" before things picked up again. Of the Motown material, his take on the overplayed "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," was still nothing short of revelatory.
While audiences are used to Marvin Gaye's uptempo or Creedence Clearwater Revival's swamp rock stomp versions, McDonald chose to emphasize the lyrics' inherent sadness, proving one thing: "Grapevine" is actually one helluva depressing song.
A gospel-fired "What a Fool Believes" helped wrap things up. But those who streamed for the exits after the last chord of "Takin' It to the Streets" missed something really special when both Scaggs and McDonald (along with the crack seven-piece band that backed both artists all night) returned for a mini-set of covers.
A stark take on Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" - with just the two co-headliners onstage - segued into Joe Simon's R&B chestnut "Drowning in the Sea of Love" to a zydeco-fueled take on Chuck Berry's Pulp Fiction-hijacked "You Never Can Tell" (with McDonald strapping on an accordion). The evening came to a close with a joyous performance of Curtis Mayfield's "It's Alright."
Clearly cutting loose a bit and free of expectations, Scaggs (who danced off stage!) and McDonald's short trip through these personal favorites capped off an evening of fine, expertly played, and - yes - smooth classic rock.
Personal Bias: I had to fight getting a hard-on when I heard this concert announcement.
The Crowd: Fifty- and sixtysomethings who have vinyl copies of Silk Degrees and Minute by Minute somewhere in a closet.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Can you find out if Michael McDonald is married? I can drop a few pounds off of him!"
Random Notebook Dump: White hair? Portly countenance? Doesn't matter - Ladies Love Michael McDonald. Still.
What Can I Say? JoJo Some Change Desire Sick and Tired Georgia Harbor Lights Lowdown Miss Sun Let's Give Them Something to Talk About (Miss Monet featured) Look What You've Done to Me Lido Shuffle
You Belong to Me It Keeps You Runnin' Sweet Freedom I Keep Forgettin' I Heard it Through the Grapevine I Just Can't Let Go Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart) Ain't No Love to Be Found Yah Mo Be There Minute by Minute Ain't No Mountain High Enough Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing What a Fool Believes Takin' It to the Streets
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Hallelujah Drowning in the Sea of Love You Never Can Tell It's Alright