July 20, 2011
The Filene Center at Wolf Trap
Vienna, VA USA
Review by Craig Hunter Ross
Photos by Craig Hunter Ross
Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald
It was quite an interesting sight to behold. With over an hour to go before the evening’s entertainment was to begin, crowds with picnic baskets and blankets in hand, had covered almost every visible plot of grass on the expansive lawn in the Filene Center at Wolf Trap. Undaunted by record setting heat and humidity, groups of friends, couples, and families ranging from teens to grandparents, were laughing and lounging about, enjoying their food and drinks. Meanwhile, deep lines of hearty souls patiently stood outside the entrance to the seating areas in the overpowering twilight sun, waiting for a signal to go inside. The two-part question on everyone’s mind was an easy one. Would the trip to the majestic amphitheater be worth the obvious discomfort? For the thousands at hand, the answer was already a resounding, “You bet!”
It’s not often that artists the caliber of Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs, each with 40-plus years in the business between them, join forces to go on the road. These two have legendary resumes stockpiled with studio, band and solo recording successes. The songwriters have both earned ‘trifectas’ in their vaunted careers, placing hits on the pop, R&B and adult contemporary charts. Before the night was over, these icons of the American musical lexicon, would share a band, the stage and the undying gratitude of loyal fans who bravely withstood the elements to see them perform.
The audience was buzzing with discussions and debate on just what kind of intensity these two Grammy Award winning artists would bring to the stage. The first artist to answer his part of the equation was Boz Scaggs. Supported by an outstanding five-piece band, along with two powerful backing vocalists, he opened his set appropriately with “What Can I Say”. The response to the hit single from the musician’s legendary Silk Degrees album was immediate. The singer followed that gem up with another, the all too familiar “JoJo”. The scorching number raised the temperatures on stage, and the welcoming crowd soaked in every second of it.
Scaggs would provide close to an hour and a half of solid entertainment. Not only did he showcase his considerable guitar skills, members of his talented backing band were also given their moments in the sun to shine as well. They wasted little time in putting their own musical signatures on many of the hits performed throughout the evening. Guitarist Drew Zingg, and Michael Logan’s keyboard work were exceptionally sharp, especially when they traded licks on a cover of the Fats Domino classic “Sick and Tired”. After Scaggs ceded the microphone over to backing vocalist Monet Owens, the singer brought the house down with her magnificent rendition of the Bonnie Raitt hit, “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About”. Owens is a dynamic and powerful artist in her own right. Her soulful and soaring presence behind the mic often allowed Scaggs to nimbly tackle intricate guitar work in various songs. The vocal prowess she displayed proved to be the perfect counterbalance to the Boz man’s silky smooth, relaxed style of singing.
Mandatory Boz Scaggs hits like “Lowdown” and “Look What You’ve Done to Me” (from the Urban Cowboy soundtrack), had the crowd up and singing along, as they fanned themselves from the bothersome high temperatures. However, when the familiar opening guitar and bass charge to the hit “Lido Shuffle” oozed through the sound system, a heat index of a different nature took over. Everyone started their own little foot shuffles as they danced and sang along to the classic. Before Scaggs and company exited the stage, he promised he’d come back to say goodnight.
With the sun comfortably hidden on the western horizon, the Scaggs back-up band returned once again, only this time they were followed by the venerable Michael McDonald. As the musician settled in behind his keyboards to face the audience, (a welcome change from the typical player who sits sideways), the former Doobie Brother mainstay wasted no time reminding the crowd of his past. The singer / songwriter started the show with two songs he made famous with the group, "You Belong to Me" and "It Keeps You Running". With a crisp voice and fingers not missing a note, the artist rounded out the opening segment of his show with his solo hits "Sweet Freedom" (including more shining guitar work by Zingg) and "I Keep Forgettin'."
The next part of the St. Louis native’s show was somewhat of a “blue-eyed soul” review. McDonald performed multiple numbers from his Motown tribute recordings including “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”, “Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Real Thing”, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “Stop, Look, Listen” and “Living for the City.” He wrapped up this stirring set of songs with his masterpiece, “What a Fool Believes.”
Audience calls for the proverbial encore resulted with both Scaggs and McDonald returning, sans band, for a beautiful version of Leonard Cohen's stirring ballad, "Hallelujah". The band then rejoined the two legends and McDonald donned an accordion. The assembled group launched into a crowd pleasing, raucous version of Chuck Berry's "C'est La Vie (You Never Can Tell)" that had fans jumping about like they were at a Louisiana "swamp romp". Add the cover of Curtis Mayfield's "It's All Right", then end the evening's festivities with McDonald's signature Doobie's hit "Takin' it to the Streets", and you had the perfect ending for a sizzling night of summer entertainment.
* Donald Gehl contributed to this review.