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Concert Reviews:
Dukes of September heat up a cool summer night at DTE
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- On a fall-like August night, the Dukes of September Rhythm Revue presented a musical equivalent of summer school.

The all-star trio of Steely Dan's Donald Fagen, Boz Scaggs and former Doobie Brothers/Steely Dan member Michael McDonald latched onto a winning concept when they launched the Dukes collaboration two years ago, mixing their own abundance of hits with songs from their collective pasts that influenced them, or that they just plain liked. The result on Friday, August 17, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre was an intriguing two-hour-plus jukebox that blended rock, R&B and blues from the 60s, 70s and the earliest parts of the 1980s.

And all of that went over well with the shockingly small DTE crowd of about 5,000, many of whom were upgraded from lawn tickets to pavilion seats.

The first stop on the accomplished if not particularly charismatic trio's tour of tunes was James Brown's "Drive Your Funky Soul," which gave the Dukes' seven-piece band and two backup singers a chance to warm up the crowd and provided some walk-on intro music for Fagen, Scaggs and McDonald's. And if the Isley Brothers' "That Lady (Part 1)" seemed like an incongruous selection for these three pop musos, it was a harbinger for a show that would feature plenty of surprising choices -- including a cushy rendering of Teddy Pendergrass' "Love TKO" and original arrangements of "Piece of My Heart" (Detroit singer Irma Franklin's rather than Big Brother & the Holding Company's) and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (Gladys Knight & the Pips' -- sung by Carolyn Escoffery -- rather than Marvin Gaye's).

Motown got even more due as Scaggs took lead vocals on Gaye's "Trouble Man," while the show also nodded to Arthur Conley ("Sweet Soul Music"), Chuck Berry ("You Never Can Tell"), Ray Charles ("Tell the Truth") and even Buck Owens with a soulified treatment of his "Love's Gonna Live Here." McDonald led a cushy version of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' "If You Don't Know Me By Now," while Scaggs tapped into the grit of Muddy Waters' "The Same Thing."

The DTE crowd certainly enjoyed history lesson, but it was primarily there for the hits -- hence the first standing ovation of the evening came for Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne," one of several songs that established guitarist John Herrington as the night's true star. Scaggs hit big with "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle," while McDonald had everyone up for the Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes" And "Takin' It to the Streets."

And even though Fagen -- who twice saluted DTE as Pine Knob -- seemed to have a bit of trouble keeping up with the tricky wordplay, the Steely Dan catalog was its usual fail-safe fallback. The local fans cheered for the Aretha Franklin name-check in "Hey Nineteen," while "Reelin' in the Years" brought the main set to a rocking end and "Peg"and the bluesy "Pretzel Logic" spiced the encore. The Dukes went back to covers -- Sly & the Family Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)" and Buddy Miles' "Them Changes" -- to finish the show, earning a better than merely passing grade for a bold and even occasionally brave night of music.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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