Takin' It to the Fair with Michael McDonald

Doobie Brother infuses jazz and his husky voice into classic rock favorites

Sitting behind his center-stage keyboard, McDonald sounded like he did in 1976 when he joined the Doobies.
  • Sitting behind his center-stage keyboard, McDonald sounded like he did in 1976 when he joined the Doobies.

“Nothing says rock ’n’ roll like whipping up the crowd with a bingo game,” quipped Michael McDonald, referring to the pre-show entertainment at his San Diego County Fair appearance. Actually, one might argue that the former Doobie Brothers singer’s set was less yacht rock than jazz fusion. The reason why became clear when McDonald introduced his six-piece band, predominantly composed of jazz musicians, producers, and arrangers.

And rearrange the music they did. While the jazzed-up versions afforded many opportunities for band members to shine (guitarist Bernie Chiaravalle added nice licks to “Sweet Freedom” and saxophonist Mark Douthit stood out on “I Keep Forgettin’”), reimagining the Doobies’ staple “It Keeps You Runnin’” ran off with the melody.

Del Mar Fairgrounds

2260 Jimmy Durante Boulevard, Del Mar

Featuring a mix of Doobies hits (“What a Fool Believes,” “Takin’ It to the Streets”), solo successes (“Yah Mo B There”), and unexpected one-offs (a solid new song called “Hurt Me”), the show’s biggest surprise came from McDonald’s background singer with the five-octave voice, Ms. Monet, who gave Patti LaBelle a run for her money on the duet “On My Own.”

McDonald’s distinctive husky voice impressed throughout the 85-minute set. Sitting behind his center-stage keyboard the whole night, he sounded like he did in 1976 when he first joined the Doobies, and he capably hit all high notes. But his finest moment came during the tender treatment of the Eddy Arnold–penned “You Don’t Know Me,” reminding us yet again that you can always breathe new life into old songs.

  • Concert: Michael McDonald
  • Date: June 10
  • Venue: San Diego County Fair
  • Seats: GA

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