The passing of Walter Becker in September of 2017 was a major loss, not just to Steely Dan (the band Becker co-founded with Donald Fagan), but to Classic Rock in general (as the Steely Dan catalogue has always been one of the major part of the genre). Fagan is bravely continuing the bands legacy and is presently on a co-headlining tour with fellow Classic Rock icons, the Doobie Brothers, who performed on July 7, 2018 at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts.
One of Rocks most diverse ensembles, The Doobie Brothers are most known as a straight ahead rock band – but over the years (due to several lineup changes), their sound has employed elements of Jazz, R&B, Country, Folk and Gospel.
The current edition of The Doobie Brothers features original vocalists/guitarists’ Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons, alongside longtime member, and multi-instrumentalist, John McFee. Pleasing the hardcore listeners, the group opened up with “Natural Thing” (from 1973s “The Captain and Me” disc) and followed with the speed limit shattering road anthem, “Rockin' Down the Highway,” and kept the road-theme going with their ode of a gun toting lover, “Road Angel.”
“Jesus Is Just Alright” was evidence that the band is one of very few Rock bands who can crossover with a Gospel number (The Rascals also attained this goal with their Gospel-filled “People Got To Be Free”). While latter-day vocalist Michael McDonald is not on this current tour, the band pulled out, “Takin' It to the Streets,” the only song played this night from McDonalds tenure with the band. “The Doctor,” once labeled the groups “comeback single,” when the original band reformed in 1989, still resonates well live.
Covering a Motown song is extremely hard, and most who do try, make a good attempt, but rarely, if ever, outshine the original. The Doobies cover of, “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While),” is a remake of the Kim Weston classic. And, with no disrespect to Westons fantastic release, the Doobie Brothers own this song. With a feverish opening guitar riff by Johnson, and one that is impossible not to cavort too (it’s a mystery why this song does not get nearly the same amount of radio airplay as most of the standard Doobies hits have received over the years). Simmons also got to shine later in the night with the finger picking classic, “Black Water.” Their set ended perfectly with the iconic, “China Grove,” and the crowd sing-along friendly “Listen to the Music.”
During the evening, this writer overheard an audience member wondering out loud; “Why are the “Doobies and Steely Dan touring together?” Apparently this person was unaware that both McDonald, and mid-to-late 70s guitarist, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, had both done stints with Steely Dan prior to joining the Doobie Brothers.
After an instrumental, “Hallelujah Time,” Steely Dan took the stage and Fagan manned his keyboards for a frantically paced five song blast with, “Bodhisattva,” the smooth jazzy-pop of “Hey Nineteen” (containing its more relevant with each passing year line; “She thinks I’m crazy, but I’m just growing old”), “Black Friday,” the eclectic “Aja,” and, before churning out “FM (No Static at All),” Fagan referenced that the song was from a 1970s film (“FM”).
While Beckers absence leaves a massive hole on stage, Fagan has retained a trio of longtime group members; bassist Freddie Washington (a session musician who has played with a myriad of artists from Michael Jackson to BB King), guitarist Jon Herington (who has been with the band for nearly two decades now), and drummer Keith Carlock (who also toured with Toto in 2014, replacing longtime stick man, Simon Phillips).
Since Fagan did not originally sing lead on the groups 1972 tune, “Dirty Work,” the main vocal chores were turned over the backup singers (dubbed "The Danettes"), Carolyn Leonhart and La Tanya Hall. The set ending power-punch of "Josie" and "My Old School" brought the crowd, who were primarily in a lotus position most of the night, finally to their feet. After an encore of the radio staple, "Reelin' in the Years," Fagan exited the stage for the final time, while the band played an instrumental cover of Joe Williams', "A Man Ain't Supposed to Cry," ending a spectacular night of Classic Rock nirvana.