Old McDonald, Ronald McDonald, Michael McDonald. They all mean about the same to me. Yet last night I found myself–in a freakin' VIP box, no less!–watching Michael McDonald upchuck his hits and tickle the ivories in Denver's stately Paramount Theater. It fucking sucked. It was fucking sublime. But let's check in with the authority: my mom, a woman who's seen everyone from Neil Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Who to Alice Cooper, Def Leppard, and (of course) McDonald's old band The Doobie Brothers in her many years of concertgoing. Sez ma of last night's performance:
"There's a lot of talent up there onstage."
"He's one of those guys who just never loses it."
"He has a special on PBS where he does all Motown covers. I love his Motown covers!"
"I like when he told that joke about joining AARP."
And so on. For those of you under the age of 28 who are wondering why I'm writing about that annoying, unhilarious hack from MadTV, let me reiterate: The Michael McDonald of whom I speak is a great blue-eyed billygoat of a man best known for playing in Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers, singing backups for Christopher Cross, and perpetrating such '70s and '80s radio monsters as "Takin' It To The Streets," "Minute By Minute," "It Keeps You Runnin'," and "I Keep Forgettin'." (Speaking of that last song: I was hoping McDonald would kick it off onstage with a hearty cry of "Regulators… mount up!" He didn't.) However: Even while subjected to some achingly corny Christmas tunes and enough soft rock to float an armada of yachts, last night I found myself once again forced to agree with maternal wisdom. Michael McDonald kicked ass.
Say what will about McDonald–he's already heard it all. Everything from SCTV to The 40 year Old Virgin has used the man's sac as a punching bag over the years. But he doesn't care. He still gets paid. He's 55 and rocks a full head of hair and gets laid more than you. Better yet, good lord, his voice. Even when sleepwalking through the most threadbare Marvin Gaye songs last night ("I Heard It Through The Grapevine," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing"), McDonald's pipes were on fire. Granted, if my ass tried to croon "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" while passing clumps of undigested oatmeal, it would sound an awful lot like Michael McDonald. But there was some undeniable mojo at work in his voice, a gluey majesty that turned everything it touched to perfectly plastic, bittersweet syrup.
Perhaps it was the Yuletide vibe, the sexagenarian screams of "MIIICCCHHAAAEEEEELLLL!!!," and his repeated pleas for peace in Iraq. Maybe it was the fact that, unlike usual, I was seeing a concert in a classy venue boasting comfy seats, clean bathrooms, and real musicians who could play the fuck out of any jazz, soul, or rock riff McDonald threw their way. Hell, it might have even been nostalgia–nostalgia for decades past when you could be an unabashed rock star free from crippling self-awareness or whiney indie-rock polemics. Makes me think of a joking conversation I had with an acquaintance the other night: He snidely asked me where the hell I was in 1986 while he was going to Black Flag shows. I answered with both an embarrassing truth and a wise-ass lie: "I was at a Duran Duran concert in 1986," I told him. "Cause I like winners." Michael McDonald is a winner. Even when he's playing for 400 post-menopausal Oprah fans, a dozen baldspot-bopping hubbies, and one jaded hipster who's just happy not to be catching a disease off the urinal.