Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs brought a tractor-trailer’s worth of hits — both as solo artists and with Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers, respectively — to this setlist. More important, however, was their simpatico sense of musical camaraderie.
The Dukes of September: Live in Lincoln Center (due for home viewing on March 18, 2014 via 429 Records) will air on March 13 as part of the PBS television network’s Great Performances concert series. What you’ll find is Fagen, performing with a hunched lean, has grown into the old-man pissed-offed-ness of classic Steely Dan tracks like “Peg” and “Reelin’ in the Years” — even as he seems to find new depths of meaning in a muscular take on “Kid Charlemagne” and within a saloony piano intro for “Hey Nineteen.”
McDonald, perhaps as expected, attacks 1982’s “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” with a pained desperation, and happily jousts with Monet Owens on a gospel-tinged “Takin’ It To the Streets” — though he struggles, unfortunately, to some of the highest reaches of 1982’s “What A Fool Believes.”
Then there’s Scaggs, this all-star amalgam’s ace in the hole. From the silky sophistication (not to mention a nasty little wah) that he brings to 1980’s “Miss Sun” to the unrepentant funk of “Lowdown,” from the rumbling R&B-rock of “Lido Shuffle” to the sense of knowing worldiness that he brings to a vocal on the 1974 “Pretzel Logic” single from Steely Dan, Scaggs is as smooth as he is essential. The only thing missing was — no offense to the versatile Steely Dan sideman Jon Herington — a bit more of Scaggs’ always-tasty guitar work.
Much of the rest of the concert is given over to covers of R&B classics like the Isley Brothers’ “Who’s That Lady,” and Teddy Pendergrass’ “Love T.K.O.,” with Scaggs, Fagen and McDonald often taking a verse a piece. Even there, these three perform as if part of a brotherhood of music.
“We already have a pretty defined individual style, and coming together as we have after covering so much of our own ground is about the commonality that we share,” Scaggs told me, in an exclusive SER Sitdown. “It’s just a joy. We don’t have to convince each other of anything. There’s so much material that we have in common that’s it’s just a joy to choose it, and rehearse it and see what works. It’s almost like any number can win. It’s great musical territory. I think I can speak for the three of us when I say: We wouldn’t do it, if it became anything less than a joy.”
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Boz Scaggs joined Steely Dan Svengali Donald Fagen and former Doobie Brothers frontman Michael McDonald for 2012 date in Dallas, Texas, that turned into a baby boomer rave up.]
Whether it be McDonald — now, of course, sporting a shock of completely gray hair — adding a fun accordion to a rollicking, Scaggs-sung version of Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell,” or Fagen tossing off a fizzy little piano flourish to “Miss Sun,” or Scaggs carefully working the secondary guitar riff for “Reelin’ in the Years,” they perform not as perfunctory sidemen but as fully engaged friends.