Concert: The Dukes of September in Danbury, CT
Surrounding themselves with a court of crack musical support, the Dukes of September -- Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs and Steely Dan's Donald Fagan -- kicked off a national tour Thursday (8/19), bringing their Rhythm Review to the Ives Concert Park in Danbury, CT.
The trio of frontmen played it smart, opting to run the more than two-dozen songs they performed in a non-stop, two-hour set. The continuity and quick transition between songs also helped to energize the predominantly over-40 audience, even when individual selections downshifted into slower or bluesier arrangements.
In a national teleconference attended by SoundSpike ahead of the tour, Fagan said the trio settled on the intriguing name for their supergroup after determining the bulk of their shows were going to be played in September -- and perhaps as a subtle reference to the age of the frontmen.
"We had a little trouble finding a name, actually," he said. "We actually started out with 'The Theme from Sea Hunt Rhythm Review,' but that did not get universal acclaim. The Dukes is a sort of name that harkens back to those '50s do-wop bands with royalty names."
Fagan explained the genesis of the tour occurred in the early '90s, when his wife, Libby Titus, was producing little shows in Manhattan restaurants featuring mostly friends that included musicians, comedians and other performers.
"This grew into The New York Rock and Soul Revue, which toured nationally for two years and produced an album, 'Live at the Beacon Theater,' Fagan said. "The 1993 show featured, among others, Mike McDonald, Boz Scaggs and myself. The shows were such a blast that we decided to tour together again this year as the mighty Dukes of September."
Based on the opening night's offerings, Fagen, McDonald and Scaggs are delving into their individual classic catalogs of music, while mixing in selected hits and tributes to their influences. They're accompanied by top-echelon players including Jon Herington (guitar); Freddie Washington (bass); Michael White (drums); Michael Leonhart; Walt Weiskopf and Jay Collins (horns); Jim Beard (organ); and background singers Carolyn Escoffery and Catherine Russell.
Scaggs said during the press avail that the final setlist was refined "out of hundreds of songs we've picked out of the hat."
While some of the classic covers -- like Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell" and "Love Train" -- were delivered with requisite energy, many in the audience who may have come to hear material from each member's individual catalog instead got to check out alternate and intriguing choices like the Grateful Dead's "Shakedown Street," The Beach Boys' "Help Me Rhonda" and a tribute set to The Band.
Contrary to the heavy, overdriving bottom end that marked the Dead's performances of "Shakedown Street," the Dukes stripped the song into a funkier vehicle that put the spotlight on the horn section and backup singers as much as on Fagan, who handled the lead vocals.
The pivotal midpoint of Thursday's set gave each of the Dukes a chance to perform one favorite from The Band's catalog.
Leading in, Fagan said he wanted to highlight a more obscure track off "Music from Big Pink," pulling out "Caledonia Mission," which worked well with his higher pitched voice and somewhat breathy delivery. Conversely, Scaggs' take on "Rag Mama Rag" was a spot-on reproduction of the original, mimicking the brash and spirited vocal style of Levon Helm.
McDonald brought the whole package to a rousing close, belting out "The Shape I'm In," with Beard capturing the swirling organ fills with precision.
Scaggs' classic hit "Lowdown," was among the most enthusiastically received numbers of the evening. And immediately following up with the obscure "Love TKO" by Teddy Pendergrass really gave the crowd a chance to see how well the Midwestern-born singer and guitar player could stretch.
Fagan had a few familiar tunes, seemingly inserted as tent posts throughout the evening, to keep his and the Steely Dan fans appeased. Early in the show, he jammed on "I Got The News." "Green Flower Street" came a few songs later, and the pre-encore "Reelin' in the Years" brought the audience to its feet. But Fagan's highpoint was "IGY," from his first solo album, "The Nightfly."
McDonald sprinkled the set with a combination of solo and Doobie Brothers hits including "I Keep Forgettin'," "What a Fool Believes," and "Takin' It To The Streets." His duet with Campbell on "Don't Mess Up a Good Thing" and her fantastic contribution to "Takin' It To The Streets" gave this capable backup singer a few minutes in the spotlight.
Escoffery also had two opportunities to come up front, at one point providing blistering vocals to "Rock Steady," one of the songs Fagan said he first heard on a jukebox at one of his old college hangouts.
While the Dukes of September Rhythm Review is certainly a vehicle for the three Dukes, audiences coming to one of the many shows scheduled through early October should enjoy the entire package of great overall musicianship, and a songbook of material that sets this tour up as perhaps one of the most eclectic of the year.
20 - Atlantic City, NJ - The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa
22 - Loudoun, VA - Belmont Country Club
25 - Charlotte, NC - Roadrunner Mobile Amphitheatre
26 - Atlanta, GA - Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park
28 - Raleigh, NC - Raleigh Amphitheatre
29 - Richmond, VA - Innsbrook Pavilion
31 - Boston, MA - Wang Theatre
2 - Holmdel, NJ - PNC Bank Arts Center
3 - Wantagh, NY - Jones Beach Theatre
6 - St. Paul, MN - Minnesota State Fair
8 - Detroit, MI - Fox Theatre
10 - Cincinnati, OH - PNC Pavilion
11 - Chicago, IL - Chicago Theatre
14 - Council Bluffs, IA - Mid-America Center
15 - Milwaukee, WI - Riverside Theater
17 - Tunica, MS - Harrah's Tunica
18 - Kansas City, MO - Starlight Theatre
27 - Denver, CO - Red Rocks Amphitheatre
29 - Los Angeles, CA - Greek Theatre
1 - San Francisco, CA - Golden Gate Park
2 - Las Vegas, NV - The Joint