Review: The Dukes of September rock Ruth Eckerd Hall

click to enlarge Donald Fagen - Tracy May
Tracy May
Donald Fagen

Unless you lived in a cave or didn't own an FM radio in the 1970's, it's damn near impossible to be unfamiliar with the music of Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers or Boz Scaggs. Each had an enormous string of hits that penetrated radio playlists in just about every corner of the globe during that decade. Each has continued to post impressive sales of their respective back catalogs to date and their music still clogs airwaves albeit on "classic rock" stations nowadays. [Text by Gabe, photos by Tracy.]

And, for the sold-out crowd of 2,180 that jammed each and every seat of Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall on Tuesday night, the music of those artists has never died. An eager throng of mostly middle-aged fans filled the hall to check out the Dukes of September Rhythm Revue, a new supergroup of sorts made up of Doobie's lead singer Michael McDonald, Steely Dan crooner Donald Fagen and Boz Scaggs. The three have worked together before on various projects but seeing them, and hearing them, all together on one stage for one night was as nostalgic as it was totally entertaining.

After a solid nine-piece band that included a horn section and two sassy female backup singers took the stage at about 8:10 p.m. and got down to business with a smoking instrumental version of "Drive Your Funky Soul," the trio of heavyweights took the stage, strutting slowly single file to their spots. The white-haired and bearded McDonald took his place at his electric piano at stage left. Fagen, clad in dark sport jacket and even darker shades, nestled onto a bench at his massive grand piano center stage. And Boz, the long tall cool Texan, grabbed his huge hollow-body Gretsch guitar and got comfortable at his post stage right. The all-star lineup settled in and wasted no time showing off their chops and talents as they launched into a red hot version of the Isley Brothers' classic, "Who's That Lady" and took turns singing verses. The first of the evening's many standing ovations followed the opening number from the noisy, appreciative crowd.

Michael McDonald took the first solo spot of the evening as he launched into a cover of Arthur Conley's 1967 hit "Sweet Soul Music" that featured an altered set of new lyrics to suit the evening (i.e., "...spotlight on Boz Scaggs" as opposed to one of the original lyrics, "...spotlight on Wilson Pickett"). McDonald seemed to struggle a bit vocally as he began the familiar opening lines to his monster solo hit from 1982, "I Keep Forgettin'," but soon regained full control of his recognizable deep, smoky soulful vocal talents.

The comedic Fagan, who also doubled as witty emcee and spokesman for the evening, stepped away from his piano and took his place at a mic at the lip of the stage to perform Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man" and boy, did he ever nail it. And, for good measure, the Steely Dan nugget "Kid Charlemagne" followed and drew a roar that could have ripped the roof off the hall.

Last but not least, Boz took control and wowed the crowd with his own slick, silky baritone and his impressive guitar work, first by showing off his blues chops with an airtight version of the Muddy Waters number "The Same Thing" and then with his own jazz/soul hit from 1980, "Miss Sun."

The rest of the evening performance continued in this fashion, with each of the three gifted singers trading off solo spots and dusting off their own hits as well as paying homage to the likes of artists as diverse as Buck Owens, Teddy Pendergrass and Jimi Hendrix through inspired covers of their music.

Each backup singer even got their chance to shine in the solo spotlight; Carolyn Leonhart turned in a rousing version of "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" that more closely resembled Gladys Knight's arrangement of the hit and Catherine Russell wailed on her number, an inspired cover of "Take Another Piece of My Heart."

Two hours and four encores later, the crowd, which had come to see and hear three of the guys who've undoubtedly dominated their record collections for decades, seemed overjoyed and elated to get the rare opportunity to see this ensemble onstage together for one night, and The Dukes did not disappoint. The evening's closing number, The Jimi Hendrix/Buddy Miles rocker "Them Changes," wrapped the night up on a high note and left the crowd giddy and pumped as they joyously wandered out of the hall and (hopefully) headed home to dust off some old records to continue "Reelin' In The Years."

Set List:

Drive Your Funky Soul
Who's That Lady
Sweet Soul Music
I Keep Forgettin'
Trouble Man
Kid Charlemagne
The Same Thing
Miss Sun
I Heard It Through the Grapevine
You Never Can Tell
Love's Gonna Live Here
If You Don't Know Me by Now
What a Fool Believes
Hey 19
Love TKO
Take Another Piece of my Heart
Tell the Truth
Takin' it to the Streets
Reelin' in the Years

Pretzel Logic
Thank You (Fallettin Me Be Mice Elf Again)
Them Changes

About The Authors

Gabe Echazabal

I was born on a Sunday Morning.I soon received The Gift of loving music.Through music, I Found A Reason for living.It was when I discovered rock and roll that I Was Beginning To See The Light.Because through music, I'm Set Free.It's always helped me keep my Head Held High.When I started dancing to that fine, fine...
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