At the Birchmere – August 13, 2003
By Dawn! E. Robinson
It is just way too cool to hear a singer live in concert that you grew up listening to on record. The MICHAEL McDONALD show at the Birchmere (in Alexandria VA) felt more like a family reunion or homecoming than a concert. He sang a balanced mix of his hits - as member of THE DOOBIE BROTHERS and as a solo artist – along with pieces from his latest CD Motown. He didn’t talk much, preferring instead to let the music do the talking. That fared quite well with me and the rest of the very enthusiastic, sold-out audience of mixed races and ages.
McDONALD could do NO wrong on the night of August 13. Every soul-inspired note he sang was flawless. His falsetto was smooth, his natural voice dark and gutsy. His voice flowed, soared, hollered, growled and all with pristine clarity. And everything he sang was greeted with loud applause, screams, whistles, hoops and hollers from the audience. We were all just a happy bunch of people to see MICHAEL McDONALD live!
After his guitarist/backup singer opened the show with a couple of solo pieces, McDONALD and full band – Hammond B3, guitar, bass, sax and lady drummer - took the Birchmere stage to a rousing standing ovation and performed the MARVIN GAYE/TAMMI TERRELL duet, “Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Real Thing” which was videotaped on the spot for the MCI commercial you’ve probably seen on TV. Once he was assured that the camera crew was satisfied with the “take” (and they only taped it once, folks) McDONALD took off his suit coat, got comfortable, swigged back some Evian and played a piano solo which flowed into the intro for a VERY funky version of the DOOBIE BROTHERS’ hit “It Keeps You Running”. The lady drummer, guitarist, bassist & sax player sang backup all evening.
Probably the most talking McDONALD did that night was in tribute to singer/dancer/actor GREGORY HINES who had passed away earlier that week. He spoke about working with HINES and Billy Crystal on a music video for their film Running Scared. He described HINES as the most “un-Hollywood” actor in Hollywood; very real and down to earth and dedicated the next song, “Shine Sweet Freedom” to HINES.
McDONALD followed that with a very funky version of “I Keep Forgetting” with the drummer singing the girl part on the end vamp. Then he spoke a bit about his new CD Motown, a collection of Motown hits, on his new label, Motown, and performed THE STYLISTICS’ hit “You Are Everything” from the CD. This was followed by another duet with the drummer, “No Love To Be Found” from the Blue Obsession CD.
Just when I and the rest of the audience had settled in for a wonderful night of great music, McDONALD pulled a surprise on us: STEVIE WONDER’s “All in Love is Fair”, accompanied only by himself on piano and the Hammond B3 player. Although an ad nauseum number of singers have sung and/or recorded "All in Love is Fair", McDONALD’s version was just STUNNING!!! He stayed in the STEVIE WONDER songbook with “I Believe When I Fall In Love” before turning back to DOOBIE BROTHERS’ hit “You Belong To Me” which segued into a piano solo straight out of some throw-down storefront Baptist church and, from there, into the intro for “Minute By Minute”. I thought my friend, Karen, sitting next to me was gonna “run down the aisle”!!! Actually, I thought about “running the aisle” myself! In fact, there were a couple of ladies down front who DID! Before anyone could recover, McDONALD was doing “What a Fool Believes”! It really was too much for the heart to take at one time! (grin)
To settle things down a bit, McDONALD then did “Hey Girl” and “Yah Mo B There”, singing both his and JAMES INGRAM’s parts in the duet. This was followed by yet another piano solo, which he traded this time with the Hammond B3 player. When it was McDONALD’s final turn to solo, he took the piano back to church and brought the rest of the band in to jam on a pentacostal “happy dance” vamp which abruptly halted for the intro to “Takin’ It to the Streets”!!! At that point everyone was on their feet, dancing, jumping up and down, “running the aisle” – it was ON!!! People were still screaming and jumping when McDONALD said, “Goodnight,” and left the stage. After a few minutes, he and the band returned for the encore set.
McDONALD introduced the next song, "On My Own" by saying it was the duet he recorded with PATTI LaBELLE but that he had not performed it in a while because he didn’t have a singer in the band who could handle LaBELLE’s part. But now, he had the little lady on the drums with the very big voice. Unfortunately, “On My Own” didn’t work so well, despite the big build-up. Something had happened to the levels in drummer lady’s headphone monitor. So, while her drumming was in tempo, her singing was a few steps BELOW the key that McDONALD and the rest of the band were in and that wasn’t pretty at all!!! Someone finally signaled the monitor sound guy who had to come up onstage to see what was wrong. Eventually he made the necessary adjustment and she was back in the key with the rest of the band but, by then, damage to the song – and the moment - had already been done. McDONALD more than recovered though with MARVIN GAYE’s “What’s Goin’ On” and he closed the show with STEVIE WONDER’s “Signed Sealed Delivered” which left everybody happy.
On December 16, MICHAEL McDONALD was a special musical guest on "The Late Show with David Letterman", sitting-in with the Paul Shafer and the band. In introducing McDONALD, Letterman said, "If I had a voice like that guy's, everybody could just... kiss my ass." 'nuff said there!
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