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Singer-songwriter, keyboardist and record producer Michael McDonald, seen here with vocalist Drea Rhenee', perform on the City Stage Saturday night. Photo: Terry Steeves/Apt613

Concert Review: Michael McDonald gives a taste of his many musical avenues

By Terry Steeves on September 16, 2018

The Great Lawn at CityFolk was the site of some blockbuster artists Saturday night including headliner Hozier, whose stellar performance drew the largest numbers during the festival so far. However, the other stellar performance which preceded was that of legendary singer-songwriter, keyboardist, and record producer, Michael McDonald, whose 75-minute set served to highlight but a small fraction of this man’s 45-year musical career. The set included a selection of tracks from his current album, Wide Open (2017), past solo and collaborative material, some masterfully arranged covers, and of course some essential Doobie Brothers.

Michael McDonald and his powerhouse unit of 6 insanely talented musicians delivered a variety of songs plucked from his 45 year musical career, including some essential Doobie Brothers. Photo: Terry Steeves/Apt613

The show got off to an energetic start with the dance heavy vibe of “Yah Mo B There”, a song he co-wrote with James Ingram in 1983, and for which the two would win a Grammy in 1985. Seated at a grand piano, the silver-haired 66-year old pounded out the first of Doobie Brothers numbers in the set, “Here To Love You” (1983). His smoky soulful voice was as crisp and strong as it was then, and the song’s cool jazz groove kept the audience in dance mode.

His smoky soulful voice was as crisp and strong as it was then, and the song’s cool jazz groove kept the audience in dance mode.

From his new album came the smouldering sexy blues number, “Just Strong Enough”, complete with organ fills by Pat Coil on the Hammond B3, a beautiful bending note solo by guitarist Bernie Chiaravalle, and some soaring sax by Mark Douthit which garnered immediate applause from the crowd. Others included the great walking beat of “Hail Mary”, and a flowing gospel-driven piece entitled, “Beautiful Child”, both of which had McDonald strapping on an electric hollow body and moving to the front of the stage. In fact, every song he played from the album was an amazing piece of work, which showcased his ongoing signature injections of jazz, soul, and blues.

McDonald’s vocal co-pilot, the amazingly talented Drea Rhenee’, was a constant fixture on every song, and would wow the crowd in their arrangement of Patti LaBelle’s “On My Own”. But it was her performance segment during Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way”, that went straight to my heart, and left me fumbling for the kleenex. The song, penned by younger sister Carolyn Franklin, was played in tribute to Aretha, with whom McDonald had the pleasure of working with in the past.

Michael McDonald, seen here with Drea Rhenee’, deliver a powerful rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way”, in tribute to her recent passing. Photo: Terry Steeves/Apt613

Near the end of the set, more Doobie goodness came with the title track to their 1978 album, Minute By Minute, which would mark a distinct change in the band’s sound for several years to come, due to the songwriting influence and vocal stylings of Michael McDonald. A double shot from the same record followed with Grammy award winning hit, “What A Fool Believes”, and more of those iconic harmonies and dance-inducing grooves. The encore song was a glorious rendition of Marvin Gaye’s classic hit, “What’s Going On”, about which McDonald commented, “…is still portraying a relevant message today as it did when Marvin Gaye wrote it in the sixties.” Still reeling from the song’s magic, a completely revved up audience now had to say goodbye to this talented living legend, who gave us a taste of the many musical avenues he’s travelled.


CityFolk runs from September 12–16, 2018 at Lansdowne Park. Visit cityfolkfestival.com for the lineup and schedule. Keep checking back for more Apt613 coverage and follow us on Instagram for the latest photos.