Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs Stage a Master Class in Blue-Eyed Soul
By: Jesse Sandejas Jr, Houston Press
June 13, 2017
At least one person who saw At The Drive-In on Saturday night felt the band no longer exuded its youthful vigor. Surely some audience members at Sunday’s Metallica show told the unfortunate strangers seated near them that the band’s 1992 gig at the Astrodome was waaaay better because, back then, Metallica was waaay younger. So, one might assume the same sort of pollution would be choking the air around Monday’s Boz Scaggs/Michael McDonald show at Smart Financial Centre. After all, these rock and soul crooners had some of their biggest hits in the 1970s, years before anyone could mean-spiritedly meme about Lars Ulrich or marvel over Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s hair.
In all likelihood, some of the crowd gathered for the show had seen these artists in their prime. They might have boasted about it. Instead, the audience accepted the show for what it was — more than three hours of recognizable hits that were performed competently, even thrillingly at times, by two beloved musicians. No one was there to bestow any awards to these veteran players for their 2017 concert prowess. We were just there to sing, dance and have a good time.
We were also punctual, which was a good thing since McDonald began his set nine minutes after 8 o’clock. He shambled to his piano, a familiar shock of silver hair up top and blue jeans and flip-flops below, and opened his 90-minute set with “It Keeps You Runnin’” from his days as vocalist with The Doobie Brothers. It took that song, “Yah Mo B There” and “Sweet Freedom” to get McDonald’s trademark husky pipes right, and just in time, as “I Keep Forgettin’” was fourth on his set list. The crowd showed approval with their first dance moves of the night.
Last night’s show was the first of about 20 dates McDonald and Scaggs are sharing this month and next. It was also a first chance for McDonald to deliver songs from Wide Open, his first album in nine years, which is due in September. The best-received of these songs was “Strong Enough.” The song opens with some bluesy piano runs and when McDonald sang the first lines in a clear baritone, that sent an assortment of "yeahs" and "alright nows" rippling across the auditorium.
McDonald chatted between the hits, sharing stories about writing songs as a 14 year-old in St. Louis, thanking his road crew for working tirelessly night in and out and dedicating a song to his former band mate, the late Chuck Sabatino. But mostly he sang. By the time he reached “What a Fool Believes” the entire audience was on its feet swaying to the song. He closed the set with “Takin’ It To Streets,” which was more like takin’ it to the church, blessed as it was with some gospel undertones and a final hope that when he returns to Houston the world will be enjoying a more peaceful moment.
Following a half-hour intermission, Scaggs and his band opened with “What Can I Say” around 10 o’clock. While McDonald came with new songs to promote, Scaggs used his time to honor some of music’s recent departures. His set, otherwise heavy on tracks from his biggest album, Silk Degrees, also included “You Never Can Tell” in homage to the late Chuck Berry. That one prompted a woman in the good seats to get up and do her best Uma Thurman. A highlight was “Loan Me a Dime,” a cut from Scaggs’ 1969 eponymous album. On record, the track features Duane Allman. Last night, he dedicated it to Duane’s brother, Gregg, who died last month. Then the band ripped into the blues jam with workmanlike zeal.
They played the hits, too. Scaggs introduced “Look What You’ve Done to Me,” his notable track from the Urban Cowboy soundtrack, by saying the song always reminds him of Houston. A pair of Silk Degrees tracks — “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle” — closed the pre-encore set and had people literally dancing in the aisles. The latter spurred a mass sing-along. Yeah, maybe there was a time when McDonald and Scaggs did it better, but last night the Smart crowd was living in and appreciating the moment.
Personal Bias: Silk Degrees was the soundtrack of 1976 at my house. My mother played it so often that year she wore the grooves smooth on the album. Seriously. By the time she’d grown weary of it, you could put the needle on the vinyl’s edge and the thing would just glide over to the red Columbia label in the center.
I hadn’t heard songs like “It’s Over” and “Georgia” in actual decades, but they sounded fantastic and not antiquated because they are well-written compositions. The album has endured, which is no small thing considering it was released during the disco era and includes at least a tinge of that genre, one to which time has been especially unkind. Since its release more than 40 years ago, Silk Degrees has gone platinum more times than a Hollywood brunette (okay, five times to be exact). My only quibble was Scaggs omitting “We’re All Alone” from Monday’s set. I can still picture Mom and Dad slow-dancing across the orange shag carpet of our living room to that one.
The Crowd: C’mon. You already know.
Random Notebook Dump: The fellow sitting next to me on Row Q was visiting Smart Financial Centre for the first time, just as I was. We traded notes about the space during the night’s intermission. He said it felt like an outer-loop version of The Wortham and I tried to “out-old” him by likening it to a nicer, modern version of the Houston Music Hall. He said he’d be returning for ZZ Top in September and I’m wondering how to finagle my way back for the Boston-Joan Jett show in a couple of weeks. The place has that new-car smell, it’s sleek, the acoustics are exceptional, the staff is pleasant, it’s air-conditioned, they serve Saint Arnold beer and it was a 10-minute drive home for me after the show. Of course I want to go back in two weeks for Joan Jett. I love rock and roll.
Michael McDonald Set List
It Keeps You Runnin’
Yah Mo B There
I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)
Find It In Your Heart
If You Wanted To Hurt Me
Here To Love You
I Can Let Go Now
Minute By Minute
On My Own
What a Fool Believes
Takin’ It To the Streets
Boz Scaggs Set List
What Can I Say
Drowning In the Sea of Love (Joe Simon cover)
You Never Can Tell (Chuck Berry cover)
Look What You’ve Done to Me
Cadillac Walk (Mink DeVille cover)
Loan Me a Dime
Sick and Tired (Fats Domino cover)