Blue eyes, gray hair & a whole lot of soul
Tinnie P. Esguerra (The Philippine Star) - March 15, 2010 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - On paper, the tandem seemed downright irresistible. Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald, legendary Grammy-winning R&B performers, back to back, reprising vivid memories of the analog age.

The bluesome twosome performed separately last Tuesday night to a packed crowd at the Araneta Coliseum, with McDonald and his cohorts taking the first set. The burly, white-maned ex-Doobie Brother singer, songwriter and keyboard player opened the show with a short spiel, dedicating his first song (Our Love) to RJ 100.3 FM station manager Ronnie de Asis (a.k.a. “Baby John”).

Their set list leaned heavily on Motown remakes (Stop, Look, Listen, I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing) and the obligatory Doobie Brothers staples (You Belong To Me, Minute by Minute, What A Fool Believes, Taking it to the Streets).

McDonald paid homage to Ray Charles on You Don’t Know Me, igniting the ballad with the slow, steady burn of a dazzling gospel-tinged solo piano intro that would’ve made his hero flash his trademark smile.

His subsequent songs also showcased the understated brilliance of his regular touring band. Pat Coil (of the ‘80s fusion group, Recoil) complemented McDonald’s fleet-fingered blues riffs with his pulsating Hammond B3 lines and chordal stabs. Guitarist Bernie Chiaravelle, sporting a Gibson SG, spun sweet, lyrical solos on cue. Drea Rhenee shone in her duets with Michael, revving up the oomph in the anthemic Motown hit, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.

The clear standout, however, was drummer Yvette Preyer, who, aside from keeping the funk, also turned a few heads with her equally soulful back-up vocal chores on Ain’t No Love To Be Found and Yah Mo B There.

From the start until about halfway through their set, McDonald seemed to be straining with his high notes and falsettos — a minor setback overshadowed by the band’s impeccably tight groove. And while his gruff, mumble-mouthed enunciation (or is it his Southern drawl?) may have conveyed the perfect soulful tone for his earlier recording output, his garbled lyrics somehow mucked up the message, especially in the more upbeat Motown tunes that needed a bit of an edge.

Naturally, true blue Michael McDonald fans (this one included) could easily overlook such a stylistic quirk. But then again, maybe only until they run out of patience trying to repeat his lyrics to a first-time listener.

In contrast, Boz Scaggs silky, crystalline voice made it sound like a blanket was lifted off the house mix. Now in his mid-60s, the well-coifed R&B crooner has obviously mellowed with age, defying the ravages of a rock ‘n roll lifestyle and the rigors of a grueling touring schedule.

While McDonald’s raw, gritty foghorn voice sounds rightfully at home in an arena-type rock concert setting, Scaggs’ slick, suave tenor covers a wider stylistic terrain, be it a roughhouse blues shuffle or a radio-friendly pop ditty like We’re All Alone.

A tasteful guitar player, Scaggs coaxed heavenly tones from his wide arsenal — a semi-hollow 335, a Strat and a dreadnought acoustic — and occasionally employed a Mutron-inspired envelope filter for funky riffing.

Speaking of guitars, it came as a pleasant surprise when Scaggs introduced his guitarist: New York-based fusion wiz Drew Zingg, ex-Steely Dan sideman. No wonder the Lowdown solo sounded downright badass!

Scaggs didn’t scrimp on the hits, as he opened with the perennial crowd favorite, Jojo, paced himself for the long haul with Payday, Sick and Tired of Fooling Around With You, Harbor Lights, Miss Sun, Look What You’ve Done To Me, and finally winded down with We’re All Alone and Georgia as his encore numbers.

A highlight of Scaggs’ set was a solo spot from back-up singer Monet Owens, whose all-out performance nearly stole the show from her Boz. Part-Aretha Franklin, part-Tina Turner, Owens’ voice screams pure, unadulterated soul, whether scatting along to Scaggs’ guitar lines in Miss Sun or soaring effortlessly through the vocal stratosphere in the uptempo Til You Come Back To Me.

All in all, it was a show well worth the ticket, a memorable evening brimming with blue-eyed, gray-haired analog soul.

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