Last year, Michael McDonald sat in with Paul Schaeffer and the CBS Orchestra during The Late Show. About Michael’s performance, Letterman remarked, “Man, if I could sing like that, everybody could just kiss my ass.”
I’ve seen Michael McDonald in concert twice and they were two of the most rockin’, good-time concerts I have ever experienced.
The first time was at Kautz Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys, California. The winery and surrounding grounds are beautiful. First, we enjoyed a delicious meal. Then we strolled outside to the large amphitheater. Michael played nonstop for more than two hours, performing all of his classic tunes from his days with the Doobies and early solo career, followed by many of the cuts from Motown. (Michael joked that he had actually played Ironstone once many years earlier when he as still with the Doobies, but didn’t remember much about that evening!)
Nobody could stay in their seats, much less be still. The whole crowd was dancing in the aisles, on the lawn, on the tables . . . it was a giant party!
Michael’s band was tight. The stand-outs were clearly Vince Denham on sax and flute, and Yvette “Baby Girl” Preyer on drums and vocals. To say that the woman is a powerhouse is a major understatement. However, Lance Morrison is a talented bassist, Bernie Chiaravalle wailed on lead and is also a very good vocalist. Last but not least was Pat Coil on B3 and keys.
Although he seems to be way too much of a gentleman to ever do so, McDonald has so much talent and is such a consummate performer, that he easily could just tell everyone else in the music business to kiss his ass. And if they were smart, they would in order to have the opportunity to perform with him.
More recently, I saw Michael at the Jackson Rancheria in Jackson, California. It was a more subdued crowd since it was an indoor venue (in a casino). Although the audience was prohibited from dancing in the aisles, everyone danced in their seats.
From the third row center I had a great view and loved every single minute of the concert which included selections from Motown I and II.
Without fanfare, Michael just strolls nonchalantly on stage, sits down, and starts playing and singing. His first selection was “Peace” from his 2001 Christmas Album. No band. Just Michael’s fabulous vocals and keys. It is a breathtakingly beautiful song, the lyrics to which are, as he pointed out, timely and relevant any time of the year:
Wondrous child of whom the angels sing
Know my joy, feel my suffering
Shining star make this love you bring
So bright that I may believe
That my way will not be lost
From now on, ’til that river’s crossed
My soul renewed, and my spirit free
In you I’ll find my peace
The most amazing part was near the end of the show when he explained that he was suffering from a cold. No one could have discerned that fact because his performance was, to that point, flawless. He next sings “What’s Goin’ On,” but wasn’t sure if he could hit the beginning notes, although he said he would give it a whirl. The song begins with an outstanding keyboard improvisation that absolutely defies description, with Michael’s vocal sneaking in on an extremely high, sustained note. He nailed it and the entire crowd was on its feet and remained there for the remainder of the show, dancing and grooving on Michael’s interpretation of Marvin Gaye’s classic hit.
Michael McDonald is the gold standard when it comes to classic “white soul.” There is no better rock/gospel/soul/r&b/jazz keyboardist on the planet. Period. Like fine wine, his vocals just get richer and fuller as the years unfold.
Michael is touring this summer. If he is in concert at a venue near you, don’t pass up an opportunity to experience his musical mastery in person.