Review and photography by Craig Hunter Ross
It’s 8pm sharp on an unseasonably cool summer night at The Filene Center at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia, and a large audience is on hand expecting to hear their favorites from three musical icons of the classic/adult contemporary rock genre, The Dukes of September.
A seven piece backing band gets things underway with a soulful instrumental intro, as one by one the three featured players of the evening enter the stage, each to a roaring ovation. Taking his place stage right on electric piano and keyboard would be Michael McDonald, former lead vocalist and piano player for the Doobie Brothers; settling at stage left on guitar and vocals is blues and jazz favorite Boz Scaggs; and the ringmaster of this classic rock three ring circus is Donald Fagan, the familiar voice and piano player of Steely Dan, taking his seat center stage behind the grand piano.
Everyone is in their place and the players are at this point all fully engaged in what has morphed into James Brown’s “Drive Your Funky Soul”, as the crowd is anxiously anticipating where the evening’s musical journey will lead. The James Brown opening number would lead to covers of classics by the likes of The Isley Brothers and Wilson Pickett. The set was four songs deep before the appearance of a familiar hit by one of the maestros with McDonald leading the way on “I Keep Forgetting”.
“We’re going to play the songs we love and songs that inspire us”, said Fagan as he addressed the crowd for the first time of the evening. The band then proceeded to go into “Trouble Man” by Marvin Gaye before tearing into an incredible version of the Steely Dan standard “Kid Charlemagne”. The audience demonstrated their appreciation by rising to their feet for the first time of the evening at the conclusion, anticipating a run of the hits they came to hear would follow, but their enthusiasm quickly diminished as the band reverted back to soul covers.
Within the first dozen songs of the set, only three would be attributed to the respective catalogs of the show’s stars. For the entirety of the pre-encore set (twenty songs in all), only eight were Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan or Boz Scaggs recordings. While this trio had such a deep well of fan favorites to draw from, they chose to perform selections more suited to their personal affinities and tastes. There were also several numbers that featured the two female backing vocalists taking the lead, which seemed to perplex many audience members. The evening was not without several special moments though, namely “What a Fool Believes”, “Lowdown” and, of course, “Peg”, on which McDonald had sung backing vocals on the original Steely Dan recording.
The distinctively more mature audience was undoubtedly on hand for the well known chart toppers that each of these three stars had to offer from their own vast individual catalogs, as well as past collaborations. But, what they received was more of a “Motown and soul revue” than greatest hits celebration. Though still entertaining, perhaps the next time The Dukes of September roll out the trucks for a summer tour, they should consider packing lightly with the Motown tunes and loading up on their own hits.
Editor Note: Donald Gehl contributed to this review.