Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Doobie on Grass: Michael McDonald Delivers a Fine Free Show on the Elk Grove Village Green -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Michael McDonald and band
Village Green, Elk Grove Village, IL
July 26, 2016

If asked to name a male rock singer with a really beautiful voice, likely coming first to mind--since the late 1970s--would be Michael McDonald, who sang with The Doobie Brothers from 1976-82.

Though I was just 10 years old when "What a Fool Believes" hit #1 in April 1979--and thus too young to closely identify with it as I have on occasion over the years--it was a song I loved back then, and still do, in large part due to the splendor of McDonald's higher octave singing.

The Doobies were one of the first bands I ever saw in concert, with my family at the 1982 edition of ChicagoFest on Navy Pier, but though throughout McDonald's long solo career I've long considered him someone I wouldn't mind seeing if the right opportunity presented itself, I obviously haven't steadfastly tried to make that happen.

But thanks to the wonderful Pollstar website, which lists tour dates for pretty much everyone everywhere, I became aware that Michael McDonald would be doing a free show in Elk Grove Village on Tuesday night.

Previous setlists suggested he would be playing a good number of songs I knew and liked--including some Doobie Brothers' classics, a few solo hits, notable collaborations and a couple Marvin Gaye songs that McDonald had recorded for a pair of Motown covers albums--and he hewed to a well-paced, 95-minute selection.

You can see the full setlist here, which delineates the origins of each song, but with a band of clearly first-rate musicians and a talented backup singer, the highlights were many.

Given that McDonald was playing a free concert in a suburban park filled with sling chairs largely before sundown, while quite understandably seated at his keyboard throughout, the evening didn't exactly burn with tenacity nor excitement.

But at 64--which means he wasn't even 30 during his run with the Doobies--his voice still sounds great (if occasionally a bit deeper) and I relished hearing songs like "Sweet Freedom," "It Keeps You Runnin'," "I Keep Forgettin'," "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "Minute By Minute," "This Is It," "What a Fool Believes," "Yah Mo Be There," "Takin' It to the Streets" and others, delivered about as well as I could have hoped.

Arriving too late for a prime spot on the Village Green--though fortunately able to set my chair on a sidewalk along the left side of the large park allowing for a fairly good vantage point--I can't say I got a great read on the makeup of the crowd, but older, white and comfortably suburbanite would seem an apt generalization.

So I can't be sure how much of the crowd--or to what extent--embraced several rather humanistic (possibly, though not overtly, read as left or liberal leaning) comments from McDonald about respecting your fellow man, ending all the violence and murder in our midst, ensuring and furthering civil rights, etc. (including quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.).

But I appreciated his remarks and the social bent he brought by opening with a song called "Peace" and performing covers of Burt Bacharach's ode to communal benevolence, "What the World Needs Now is Love" and Marvin Gaye's rebuke of injustice, "What's Going On?"

His statements were well-short of strident, let alone approaching radical or revolutionary, but they did dovetail well with the evening's closing song--which got everyone up off their duffs--"Takin' It To the Streets," a call to action McDonald wrote for the Doobie Brothers' 1976 album of the same name. (The song was the band's first single with McDonald on vocals, the singer/songwriter having joined an act dating back to 1969.)

Though I don't think it prompted anyone to take to the streets, it was a rousing end to a satisfying showcase for one of the best singers of his era.

And a voice that still demands being heard.

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