Even if you think you don't know Michael McDonald, you probably do. If you don't recognize his familiar voice right away, you've probably seen him in recent years on American Idol or 30 Rock or performing the National Anthem prior to game one of this year's NBA Finals in Miami.
McDonald – a five time Grammy winner and former member of 70s stalwarts the Doobie Brothers – bought his solo tour to the Union County Performing Arts Center Sunday night, performing over a dozen hits and cover songs for the nearly sold-out crowd in Rahway.
Taking the stage shortly after 8 PM, McDonald and his six-piece backing band kicked off the show with the sparse ballad “Peace,” McDonald explained that the song was originally written for a Christmas album, but added that “it seems relevant for the times we live in,” explaining that he and his band have performed the song at nearly every post-9/11 show they've played.
“We're going to do a Doobie Brothers song for you,” McDonald announced at the conclusion of “Peace,” drawing cheers and clapping from the audience as the band launched into “It Keeps You Runnin',” featuring the first of many saxophone solos throughout the evening by McDonald's long time saxophone player Vince Denhem. “I've known him the longest, I've played with him the longest,” said McDonald while introducing the band. “We became card-carrying members of AARP together.”
McDonald – sporting white hair and a white goatee to do with his black shirt and jeans – joked about his age throughout the night. “Here's a song I hope you remember,” he said of the song “I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near).” “I hope we remember it, too.”
McDonald and his band's “blue-eyed soul” sound was best exemplified drummer Yvette “Baby Girl” Preyer's rich vocals during “You Belong To Me,” making for a suitable jumping-off point for the show's soul-heavy second half. McDonald and band – Preyer, Denhem, guitarist Bernie Chiaravalle, bassist Lance Marrison, keyboardist Pat Coil, and vocalist Drea Rhenee – ripped through covers of Teddy Pendergrass's “Love T.K.O.” and Smokey Robinson's “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” as well as an excellent medley of Marvin Gaye's “Ain't No Mountain High Enough” and “Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing,” bringing the majority of the crowd to it's feet, clapping and dancing in front of their seats and in the aisles.
McDonald closed out the main set with the Doobie Brothers classic “What a Fool Believes,” the song that earned him a Grammy for both Song and Record of the Year in 1979, two of four Grammys he'd win that year (adding another five years later as a solo artist). After a very brief pause, the band returned to the stage to close out the show with another Doobies hit, “Takin' It To The Streets,” drawing the audience to it's collective feet once again in a clapping, singing, dancing storm of nostalgic energy.
Not bad for a card-carrying member of AARP.