Monday, September 20, 2010

The Dukes

My wife and I saw this show on September 6th at the St. Paul Fairgrounds. I have been marinating on writing about the Dukes' performance for a long while. The Dukes of September is a road band highlighting the music of Donald Fagan (62), Boz Scaggs (66), and Michael McDonald (58). The rest of the band was made up of younger studio session players: Jon Herington (guitar), Freddie Washington (bass), Michael White (drums), Michael Leonhart, Walt Weiskopf and Jay Collins (horns), Jim Beard (keys), and background singers Carolyn Escoffery and Catherine Russel.

As a hint toward the oddness of this set, Fagan does a Dan-influenced version of the Dead's "Shakedown Street" that put most of the geriatric audience on its feet dancing. We were an old crowd, too. The (real) Donald hinted at that when he continually called the audience "you kids." The band did covers of the O'Jay's "Love Train," several Motown/Stax R&B favorites, Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, Muddy Waters, a few hits from all three of the stars, and what seemed to be a random assortment of fun tunes from the 50's & 60's. The trio shared songs from The Band and each picked a tune that closely fit their style and tastes; Fagan - King Harvest, Scaggs - Rag Mama Rag, and McDonald - The Shape I'm In. I had Richard Danko flashbacks, seeing him wrestling his bass into submission in the backline and hearing his strained voice in the harmonies.

Fagan, McDonald, and Scaggs go a long way back personally and professionally. Before his stint with the Doobies, McDonald was a Steely Dan "member," if such a thing exists other than Becker and Fagan. When Scaggs Lido Shuffle came out, I first thought it was a Steely Dan hit. The three headliners hit the stage together after a brief classic 60's R&B-style introduction by the backup band. They sing harmonies on each other's tunes and swapped leads on every song. It was obvious that they were having a great time, especially Donald who channels Ray Charles when he really gets into a show.

"This is so much fun that there's the danger that the music will be like what they say about sex: We may be the only ones enjoying it," says McDonald, 58. From reading some reviews, Michael was right. A lot of people expected a night of predictable hits reproduction. Instead, they got a loose R&B band that locked into a groove and pounded it into submission on every one of their unpredictable song selections.

I can't say enough about the sound company and FOH engineer for this show. It was as close to a perfect job as I've ever heard in my life. There is some evidence that Michigan's Thunder Audio did the sound for the tour and, if so, they absolutely deserve their nomination as "Sound Company of the Year" and a Parnelli award. There wasn't a moment in the show that got out of control and the mix was as close to record-perfect as possible.

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Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.