Watching a Dukes of September Rhythm Revue concert is like having a mix tape made by Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald, and Boz Scaggs, the principal members of this touring collective.
The show has some of the hits that made Fagen, McDonald, and Scaggs famous, plus several songs that inspired them to become musicians.
And just like a well-made mix, the flow of songs was impeccable at this super group's performance Wednesday night at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater. The music generated by the tight seven-piece backing band -- including three horns -- and two back-up singers swung effortlessly from Fagen's jazzy-rock to McDonald's heady pop to Scaggs' smooth blues.
The two-hour show opened to a funky jolt of James Brown's "Drive Your Funky Soul," as the band intro, followed by a Steely Dan-does-The-Isley-Brothers' "Who's That Lady" cover, with Scaggs initially handling lead vocals. Then a barely audible Fagen took over followed by McDonald and his still-booming voice.
Fagen's voice resonated well the rest of the night. He did justice to Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man," an unlikely assignment given the smooth soul of Gaye's original. But Fagen's quirky jazzy delivery doesn't invite comparisons to Gaye -- a vocal competition few, if any, could win.
Other oldies-soul-R&B covers included Arthur Conley's "Sweet Soul Music," Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell," "Love TKO," by Teddy Pendergrass, and "If You Don't Know Me By Now," by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes.
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As you would expect by a band fronted by three musicians steeped in contemporary music history, the choice of covers was about originality. So instead of echoing Gaye's cover of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," the Dukes honored the Gladys Knight & The Pips' original, and Janis Joplin's performance of "Piece of My Heart," was eschewed in favor of the original by Erma Franklin, Aretha's sister.
"Few people know it," Fagan said when introducing the song, "but musicians do because it was a great record."
While the older crowd of nearly 3,000 warmly remembered these blasts from their pasts, it was the trio's own hits they responded to most.
Fagen's Steely Dan partner Walter Becker wasn't there, but he was well represented with note-perfect studio renditions of classics: "Kid Charlemagne," "Hey Nineteen," "Reelin' in the Years," "Peg," and "Pretzel Logic."
McDonald showcased two of his better-known Doobie Brothers songs, "What a Fool Believes," which, perhaps under Fagen's influence, strayed slightly from pop to jazz, while "Takin' it to the Streets" lunged into a gospel revival by song's end. McDonald jumped back three decades to "I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)," from his first solo album. Scaggs, not to be outdone, reminded everyone of his brilliant chart run in the 1970s with "Lido Shuffle" and "Lowdown," as well as the more obscure "Miss Sun."
It was a grand concert by three of the most distinctive voices in classic rock, and a mix tape worth repeating.
Contact Kirk Baird at: email@example.com or 419-724-6734.