New York, NY
August 21, 2018
Photo by Timothy White
Soul music was in the air—literally—when singer/keyboardist Michael McDonald performed this past Thursday night on the rooftop of Pier 17 in downtown New York City. In the open-air, outdoor environment that included breathtaking views of the New York skyline, McDonald laid down some of those infectious jazzy grooves that he built his career for five-decades: first as a session musician for Steely Dan, then most notably as a member of the Doobie Brothers, and later as a successful solo artist.
And these days, it’s good to be McDonald, who’s been on a career resurgence of sorts in the 15 years beginning with the popularity of the Motown album, followed by a good-natured humorous portrayal of him by JD Ryznar in the Yacht Rock web series, and collaborations with Kenny Loggins and Thundercat on the latter’s song “Show You the Way” (And he’s showing no signs of slowing down: later this year, McDonald will be releasing a holiday album, Season of Peace: The Christmas Collection).
McDonald and his backing band were in town in support of the singer’s most recent effort, Wide Open, his first solo album of original material in nearly 20 years. The set list performed at Pier 17 balanced the new songs from that album and old favorites. He began the night with a slight reworking of his 1984 hit duet with James Ingram, “Yah Mo B There,” and from there it was a mixture of solo works and Doobie Brothers classics, such as “Here to Love You,” “I Keep Forgettin,” “Sweet Freedom,” and “On My Own.” The recent songs from Wide Open, such as “Half Truth,” “Hail Mary,” and “Find It in Your Heart” worked well into the set—they offered moments of heartfelt poignancy and emotional resonance, showcasing McDonald’s best work to date Also surprising to see during the show was McDonald getting up from his piano chair to play electric rhythm guitar on a few songs, since he’s always been associated with the ivories). Closing out the set were two Doobie favorites that got the crowd grooving and dancing, “Minute By Minute” and “What a Fool Believes.”
For the encore, McDonald and the band played a medley of Motown hits, including Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and Gaye’s signature “What’s Goin’ On.” In what may have been perfect timing, the singer performed the upbeat and funky Doobies classic “Takin’ to the Streets” just as a slight rain came down. But that didn’t bother the crowd, who were fired up upon hearing that closing song.
Among the touching moments during the evening was when McDonald paid tribute to the late great Aretha Franklin (whom he duetted with on the song “Ever Changing Times” from 1991) by performing “Ain’t No Way.” He also acknowledged Chuck Sabatino, a fellow collaborator and friend who has since passed on, before playing “Beautiful Child” (which the two of them co-wrote) from the new album.
The band – guitarist Bernie Chiaravalle, drummer Dan Needham, singer Drea Rhenee’, saxophonist Mark Douthit, keyboardist Pat Coil, and bassist Jacob Lowery–sounded first rate. As for McDonald, his signature husky vocals and keyboard playing have not diminished at all after many years in the business. And based on large crowd makeup of different age groups and backgrounds at Pier 17, it was clear how much McDonald’s work has appealed to generations, not just as a famous musician but a pop culture icon.
Yah Mo B There
Here to Love You
I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)
Find It in Your Heart
Just Strong Enough
Ain’t No Way
On My Own
Minute by Minute
What a Fool Believes
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing
What’s Going On
Takin’ It to the Streets