Blue Eyes, Gray Hair
This is all a preface for the fact that among my many musical weaknesses, some wildly egregious, others more forgivable, I spent last night at the always glorious Beacon Theatre watching the two grand old men of blueeyed soul hold court. Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs rocked the house. Or at least made it sway. I’m aware that on some levels it’s completely indefensible. Both are cheeseballs. McDonald’s foray into covering the Motown catalog makes some queasy. And former Stereophile managing editor Debbie Starr had a sort of involuntary physical revulsion to McDonald that she could never quite explain. It may have had something to do with the hair. Or the twinkly 80’s keyboards. I alas never had that problem. What can I say other than for one night, it was 1980 all over again, and I didn’t mind paying the Beacon ten bucks a drink. I did notice quite a few sheepish 50 somethings milling around during intermission. The whole experience fulfilled some unnamable, unrequited desire deep within my twisted psyche to be a bit player in the cast of Urban Cowboy. That or I wanted to hear “Lowdown” and “Here to Love You” one more time.
McDonald, who is 57 [Boz is 65] acknowledged that he was a little long in the tooth by admitting at one point between songs that he was a card carrying member of AARP.
“You get these things in the mail from them when you’re like 40, 45 and you’re like what the hell is this. And then after awhile you go, hmmmm, that’s a pretty good deal.”
He also did a fine job delivering the key punch line to this obviously rehearsed bit about age when he mentioned that he and his longtime saxophone player Vince Denham, who he said has been with him 20 years, were once “pretty good looking guys” but had now begun to look like “Popeye and Bea Arthur.” Guess which one was Maude.
As for the man with the white mane’s music, I don’t care what anyone says. This man who came up with Steely Dan, first singing and playing with them on what is arguably their best record, Katy Lied, can still sing his ass off. His Doobie Brothers era stuff still sounds great although he did not play enough of it last nite. No “Here To Love You” though the well-oiled crowd loved “Minute by Minute” and “What a Fool Believes.” And despite his vaguely smarmy move into the Motown catalog, few have ever sung “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” since Marvin’s original, better than the very white McDonald. And oh by the way: he has recorded a new seven inch with Grizzly Bear.
Boz, who headlined, is a different case. For me that tale, and Boz’ credibility, begins when he recorded “Loan Me a Dime” with Duane Allman for his second record in 1969. It’s one of those moments that makes you remember again what a truly brilliant instrumentalist the other, the genuinely great Allman really was. Gregg had Cher and Duane, well, he got all the musical talent.
From there of course Scaggs story shoots into the stratosphere with Silk Degrees, the unjustly underappreciated Down Two Then Left and finally 1980’s harderedged Middle Man. The band on Middle Man was the kind of ensemble that either defines all the cool, precise LA studio scene of the late 70’s [that’s bad] or embodies a whole bunch of talent and muscular playing [that’s good]. Steve Lukather and Ray Parker Jr. on guitars, Jeff Porcaro on drums, David Hungate on bass and the kingpin/antichrist of that scene, David Foster on keys. Like or hate `em, those boyz had chops.
Not surprisingly both singers had full on monster bands full of old pros on Saturday, both keyed by young black women. In McDonald’s case it was Memphis native, drummer Yvette "Baby Girl" Preyer. In Scaggs case, it was vocalist Monet Owens, who can wail. Scaggs emotionally cooler music, and his more taciturn stage demeanor was a change from McDonald’s sweaty seated gyrations, but the blueeyed soul vibe was the same. Boz may be pushing just how long he can be out on tour these days, because his voice painfully cracked during “Georgia” and his drummer played behind a pretty extensive Plexiglas shield. “Lowdown,” “Lido Shuffle,” and “Breakdown Dead Ahead” with a sweet guitar solo from New Yorker Drew Zingg all sounded wonderfully in the groove. A newer tune, “Desire” from his 2001 Dig that was released on 9/11/01 also came off well.
One thing has changed since those two were young: cellphone cameras make the old ‘No cameras, no recording” warning that used to be printed on tickets completely moot. I watched all nite as security personnel played hide and go seek with various members of the crowd who were using iPhones mostly to record video of the event.