Concert Review – Michael McDonald – Lawrence, Kansas

 

REVIEW AND PHOTOS BY DAN LYBARGER

 

Michael McDonald

The Lied Center, Lawrence, Kansas

August 12, 2018

 

If there is a way to age gracefully, it might be to simply admit you’re no longer young.

Throughout his 90-minute set at the Lied Center at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., on August 12, Michael McDonald made no attempt to pass himself off as anything other than a 66-year-old man.

When he introduced vocalist Drea Rheneé, the former Doobie Brothers singer and keyboardist praised her chops and that she relieved the crowd from the “middle-aged ugliness” of the rest of the band. He added, “You’ll notice I said ‘middle-aged.’ Who am I kidding?”

With a crowd that was primarily within throwing distance of that number, that wasn’t a problem. Part of the reason McDonald can still put on a good show is that he and his tunes were always for grownups. In both his solo work and his songs with his former band, McDonald has always sung about heartbreak that’s long removed from the teenage experience. In “Real Love” and “What a Fool Believes,” McDonald softly laments he or someone else has broken up and that it has happened many times before.

This may explain why the songs still sounded good last Sunday night and why people who aren’t trying to recapture their youth can listen to him without embarrassment. McDonald’s smooth as marshmallows delivery doesn’t deserve the label of “yacht rock,” because his roots are in St. Louis where the river vessels look a little different.

As he performed new tunes from last year’s Wide Open album like “Hail Mary” and “Just Strong Enough,” McDonald’s voice cracked just enough to prevent his band from slipping into easy listening. For the latter he even stood up from his piano stool for a few seconds, giving the song a feeling of vitality that wouldn’t occur if he were sitting like the audience.

It also helps that McDonald still has his vocal chops and nimble fingers. When he broke into familiar tunes like “Minute by Minute,” he’d begin them by adding jazzy touches to keep the arrangements from seeming too robotic.

He also avoided hogging the spotlight. He’d usually leave the showiest solos to guitarist Bernie Chiaravalle, sax player Mark Douthit and keyboardist Pat Coil. The three put just enough of a sting in the arrangements to keep the songs from being mellow enough to induce napping.

Rheneé had the unenviable task of replicating Patti LaBelle’s verses during the Burt Bacharach/Carole Bayer Sager hit “On My Own,” which may be most ironically titled duet ever. Fortunately, she easily kept up with LaBelle’s vocal gymnastics.

McDonald’s midwestern drawl is surprisingly clearer than his singing voice, but his stage banter was remarkably sincere. Having grown up in the St. Louis suburb, Ferguson, Mo., his later performance of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” was expectedly moving, and he was clearly aware the issues Gaye lamented are sadly still with us.

Thankfully, so is McDonald, who helped open the Lied Center’s 25th anniversary on a high note.

Set list:

Yah Mo B There

Here To Love You

I Keep Forgettin’

Find It in Your Heart

Just Strong Enough

I Can Let Go Now

Sweet Freedom

On My Own

Hail Mary

Beautiful Child

Half Truth

Minute by Minute

What a Fool Believes

Encore

What’s Goin’ On

Taking It to the Streets

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