Dukes of September Rhythm Revue – Alpharetta, GA

7 comments
I attended this concert as a result of reading the news online.  I certainly didn’t go looking for it because I never would have recognized the name of “the band.”  A large banner ad popped up and several names of interest briefly appeared before the ad minimized.  For once, I actually clicked on a banner ad and found myself staring at third row tickets on the TicketfeeMaster site – notably, a month after tickets had been on sale.  I’m a sucker for a concert.

The Dukes of September are primarily three stars from yesteryear – Donald Fagen (Steely Dan, solo career), Boz Scaggs (Silk Degrees, anyone?), and Michael McDonald (who probably gained most notice the few years he was with the Doobie Brothers, followed by a solo career).

But first, the venue.  Even though it is in its third year, this was my first visit to Alpharetta’s Verizon Amphitheater.  Thankfully, parking and traffic arrangements were fully considered when it was built, a notable distinction above Atlanta’s two other major amphitheaters.  On the other hand, it loses this inherited goodwill due to sandwiched seats that require sitting at an angle to your neighbors.  Still, it remains the most convenient concert venue to where I live and work, and that will have to suffice.

Arriving crowd.

An ironic drawback is that the first 10 or so rows are not optimal for watching a concert… at least when the band plays 15’ or more behind the front edge of the stage.  The “Pit” seating area is a full 6’ below the stage level, and, well, here was my view of Michael McDonald playing piano.

Michael McDonald, white hair blazing in the spotlight.
I know.  3rd row and I’m whining.  Actually, were it not for the music stand, I guess it’s not so bad.

In any case, the music was not just about the three main stars – it was a celebration or, perhaps, a 21st century retrospective of R&B songs from years gone by, mixed with a sprinkling of their own songs.

The supporting band was expansive and included a three person brass section, drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, and two female backup singers – with enough recurring members to be considered the 2010 edition of Steely Dan’s road band.  They began the concert with an extended version of “Sookie Sookie,” an opening nod to the era of music that would be focused upon during the evening.  Whether those in attendance expected to hear songs mined as deeply in the category of "favorite songs by the artists" is doubtful, and even with a crowd primarily 50+ in age, many of these songs were simply obscure.
Stage. Fagen out of view to the right.

Like what? How about the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street?”  Sung by Fagen, it blended with the overall tone of the night.  McDonald’s cover of Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes?”  A definite winner.  The O’Jay’s “Love Train?”  A perfect fit for the band.  Willie Dixon’s “I Love the Life I Live” – perfect (and enlivened by a very enthusiastic Donald Fagen).

For those who favor music that never found the pop charts, a three song sampling from The Band were likely a great inclusion.  Each singer took a turn through     “King Harvest (Has Surely Come),” “Rag Mama Rag,” and another song I couldn’t place.

The misses?  Well, Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” was one.  Despite a very capable lead performance by backup singer Carolyn Escoffery, it didn’t get people off their feet (to be fair, despite the overall groove of the evening, very few songs did).  Still, the lyric is very repetitive, and it didn’t connect.  Another misfire was Scagg’s cover of  Mink Deville’s “Cadillac Walk.”  This may be one of his personal favorites, but it lacked any familiarity and seemed to have little traction.  Similarly, Teddy Pendergrass’ “Love TKO” certainly fit his voice and the mood, but, hey, what about “Lido Shuffle?”  That’s the song people really wanted to hear.

Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald covered a good sampling of his better known songs, including “Takin’ it to the Streets,” “I Keep Forgetting (We’re Not in Love Anymore)”, and “What a Fool Believes,” the last of which was a vocal challenge in the upper registers.  He was at his best on the older covers, such as the duet on “I’ve Got News For You” (Ray Charles) sung in a forceful, clenched fist delivery.
Boz Scaggs

Boz Scaggs, at age 66, remains as smooth in concert today as he did on vinyl in 1976.  I imagined him more as a vocalist or perhaps a pianist, but he proved himself a more than capable guitarist throughout the night.  “Lowdown” was awesome, but a major disappointment of the set list was their failure to include “Lido Shuffle.”  Still, he sang and played with great versatility.

Which leaves Donald Fagen, who took on the role of Master of Ceremonies, providing the introductions and a small amount of banter.  Other than his share of the cover songs, he sang only Donald Fagen“Reelin’ in the Years” and “Green Flower Street” from his personal repertoire.  He is a very animated artist, and it was obvious that he was fully enjoying the music and being part of this band.

There was a also a certain freshness to the evening as well.  While I would guess that there is a measure of joy in playing songs other than those they’ve been expected to play night after night (and year after year), it was obvious that not all of the songs were yet familiar.  Members of the band were checking the music from time to time, and even the headliners appeared to make certain of the words or music.  This isn’t to imply that the band sounded unrehearsed or were somehow flawed.  There was great energy around all the songs, and the musicians were all very good.

The encore began with a gushy cover of the Beach Boy’s “Help Me Rhonda,” which (strangely?) worked to get the audience involved and singing.  This was followed up by the aforementioned “Them Changes,” formidably delivered but misplaced at the end of the show.  "Lide Shuffle's" lyric “one more for the road…” would have been a more logical and appreciated cap to the evening.   Nevertheless, the crowd cheered as the singers exited with a final wave, and the band reprised “Sookie Sookie” as exit music.

All in all, it was a great performance and a quality departure from the annual “greatest hits” reruns coming to an amphitheater near you... as long as you knew what was coming.

7 comments :

  1. here's a list of the songs per:
    http://events.triangle.com/raleigh-nc/events/show/131531985-dukes-of-september-rhythm-revue

    Sookie Sookie (Grant Green)
    Heighty Hi (Cover)
    Don’t mess up a good thing (Gregg Alman)
    Shakedown Street (Grateful Dead)
    You Never Can Tell (Chuck Berry)
    I’ve Got News For You (Ray Charles)
    Green Flower Street (Steely Dan)
    Miss Sun (Boz Scaggs)
    I Keep Forgetting (M. McDonald)
    Rock Steady (Sung by one of the female back ups)
    Caledonia Mission (The Band)
    Rag Mama Rag (The Band)
    The Shape I’m In (The Band)
    Love TKO (Teddy Pendergrass)
    Cadillac Walk (Willie Deville)
    What a Fool Believes (M. McDonald)
    I love the life I live (Muddy Waters)
    Lowdown (Scaggs)
    Takin it to the streets (McDonald)
    Reelin in the Years (Steely Dan)
    Love Train (OJays)
    Help Me Rhonda (Beach Boys)
    Them Changes (Buddy Miles)
    Sookie Sookie (Grant Green)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great review of the GA show.
    I caught it in Raleigh and loved it! I don't see it in the Raleigh setlist, but I know Fagen sang "I.G.Y." (one of his best songs), as he referred to it by name afterward and, during the song, I turned to my 10 year old son and said, "Listen. You'll want to remember you heard this live."

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thx for the set list and comments! I've listened to Caledonia Mission, but I'm not convinced it was the third Band song they played here - though it could be. Other than the Band selections, it looks identical... to what I remember at this point!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for the set list! I will be going to the show at Red Rocks in Morrison, CO September 27th. I am bringing along my 9 year old daughter so I am glad to see some of MMcDs tunes we love are included! I will have to get out the Steely D CDs and get her familiar with those, too.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Saw The Dukes at Red Rocks last night. I agree that Cadillac Walk missed the mark. Too obscure. However, I thought Boz's Love TKO was great. Harrington's guitar work on Peg was nothing short of great! Excellent show. Seeing them at Red Rocks was icing on the cake!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Saw them in Vegas last night and Fagen also did "I.G.Y."; in the encore set they also did "Something In The Air" by Thunderclap Newman, which was quite excellent. Never have been a huge fan of that song, but I am now. Also enjoyed "Love TKO" but agree that "Cadillac Walk" was a miss. The crowd's energy was at a low point during that one.

    ReplyDelete
  7. We got IGY in Charlotte too.

    What a great show this was. Hoping upon hope there is a CD coming out of this like the New York Rock and Soul Revue

    ReplyDelete