Once in a blue moon, a voice comes along that’s capable of stopping people in their tracks, one that’s instantly recognizable.
Michael McDonald has that voice.
When he and his band stepped onto the Northern Quest stage Friday, the audience (save for a few Chatty Cathys in my row) collectively stopped talking and turned toward the stage, ready to hear the voice that’s been captivating listeners for more than 40 years.
McDonald waved to the crowd as he walked toward the piano, then thanked the audience for coming to the show.
“It’s brave of you to be out here on a night like this with all this smoke,” he said.
But the smoke didn’t dampen the audience’s spirit as McDonald and the band launched into “Yah Mo B There,” which McDonald recorded with James Ingram, and “I Keep Forgettin’,” which featured the first of many incredible solos from saxophone/keyboard player Mark Douthit.
Here, McDonald took a break from the classics and performed “Find It In Your Heart,” an upbeat, soulful tune from his upcoming album “Wide Open,” which is scheduled for release next month.
McDonald then slowed things down with the ballad “I Can Let Go Now” before introducing another new song, “Just Strong Enough.”
There was a wonderful build to the peak of the song, and a fantastic solo from guitarist Bernie Chiaravalle.
Douthit and keyboard player Pat Coil shined during the next tune, “Sweet Freedom,” then McDonald traded the piano for the guitar to introduce “Hail Mary,” a new song about wanting to give things with a loved one one more try, which features singer and McDonald’s wife Amy Holland.
“When we met, I was her piano player,” McDonald said. “She’s still the boss.”
McDonald kept the family affair going by then performing “Half Truth,” a bluesy-rock song he wrote with the couple’s son, Dylan, and his brother-in-law, Grady Walker.
McDonald then paid tribute to former bandmate Chuck Sabatino, who died in 1996, with “Beautiful Child,” a song from “Wide Open” that he wrote with Chiaravalle and features the golden voiced Drea Rheneé, McDonald’s longtime backup singer.
The singer then took it back to his time with the legendary Doobie Brothers and played “Minute by Minute,” which brought the crowd to their feet.
Classics “What A Fool Believes” and “On My Own,” with Rheneé filling in for Patti LaBelle, followed before McDonald closed with the song no doubt many in the audience were hoping to hear, “Takin’ It To the Streets,” with Rheneé again covering lead vocals.
With a few thank yous and another wave to the crowd, McDonald and the band left the stage.
Age has turned McDonald’s once dark hair white, but it hasn’t dulled the emotion in his voice when he sings; it meant as much for McDonald and the band to play each song as it did for the audience to hear them.
Artists with star power like McDonald’s come few and far between, and with his consistently solid performance, it’s clear McDonald and his music continues to stand the test of time.