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Dukes of September at the Orpheum Theatre

Dukes of September featuring Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs.

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Review – Dukes of September at the Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver, July 7 2012

– by Shawn Conner

Yes, it was an older crowd last night (July 7, 2012) at the Orpheum. But what would you expect at a show by the (self-deprecatingly named) Dukes of September Rhythm Revue?

Featuring Michael McDonald (the Doobie Brothers), Donald Fagen (Steely Dan) and Boz Scaggs(Boz Scaggs), the Dukes are/is a yacht-rock super-mega-group. All that’s missing is someone from Pablo Cruise or Hall & Oates.

The setlist unapologetically reflected the average age (64) of the frontmen. As Fagen put it early on in the show, they were going to play “songs we loved growing up, as well as some of our own compositions.”

The latter were a little predictable, since a radio commercial features snippets of some of those tunes (including “Reeling In the Years”, “Lowdown” and “Takin’ It to the Streets”), though there were some surprises, chiefly from the Steely Dan catalogue.  I never thought I’d get to hear “Kid Charlemagne” and “Pretzel Logic” (on which the three frontmen traded verses) live, and I’m grateful for the chance.

Also: “Hey Nineteen”, sounding terrifically decadent as the two backup singers, Carolyn Leonhart and Catherine Russell, chimed in with Fagen on the bridge: “The Cuervo Gold/the fine Colombian/make tonight a wonderful thing.” Ah, the ’80s! (For the record, “Peg”, off the classic Steely Dan album Aja, was thrown in there as well as part of the encore – a sensible choice, since McDonald sings backups on the original.)

Fagen, hunched over his piano like Sid Dithers (a Eugene Levy character from SCTV) and mugging along to the tunes, seemed in fine spirits, while McDonald basically just sang his parts and took lead on a few Doobie Brothers tracks (most notably, “What a Fool Believes”). Scaggs, despite some tasty leads, seemed stoic if not disinterested, although this could be his standard stage demeanour. He certainly didn’t seem to be pissed off at the prospect of earning a paycheck.

Without a doubt, the nine-piece band, including bassist Freddie Washington, drummer Shannon Forest, keyboardist Jim Beard and a three-piece horn section (Michael Leonhart, Walt Weiskopf and Jay Collins), was as much the star of the show as its leaders.

Special kudos go to Leonhart and Russell, who each got their turns to shine with “Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Take Another Piece of My Heart” (the Gladys Knight and Irma Franklin versions of those tunes, as Fagen pointed out). Guitarist Jon Herington rose to the occasion as well, particularly on the classic “Reeling In the Years”, a six-string showcase if ever there was one.

By the finale, a lengthy jam on the Sly Stone classic “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”, everyone in the audience – admittedly, nearly all of us a few decades older than the average Skrillex fan- was on our feet, aches and pains (at least temporarily) forgotten.

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