REVIEW: ‘Michael McDonald – This Christmas: A Soundstage Special Event’

REVIEW: ‘Michael McDonald – This Christmas: A Soundstage Special Event’

Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Michael McDonald‘s leonine mane has morphed with his career arc, from Doobie Brothers hit machine/jet black, through ’80s chart-topping duets/salt-and-pepper, to eminent solo artist/silver-white, without a hair or beat out of place. Unlike the sad showings of other acts whose best days are clearly behind them, This Christmas shows no lion in winter, but an artist at the very top of his game.

The show opens on point; no rambling introduction, just a brief appreciation to the audience and a reminiscence of McDonald’s early Soundstage appearances with the Doobie Brothers that nicely transitions into the group’s classic “It Keeps You Running.” From the opening notes, it’s clear McDonald hasn’t lost a step, and his high energy vocals, well supported by Vince Denham‘s stellar saxophone work, brings the crowd immediately to its feet. From here it’s a fast, successful hop to the familiar “I Keep Forgetting,” nicely embellished by Bernie Chiaravalle‘s well-considered guitar accents and more exceptional sax tones. Both Chiaravalle and Denham are 20-year touring companions of McDonald’s, and it shows in the respectful reinvention they bring to these iconic hits.

With the audience now well warmed up, McDonald moves to the Christmas parts of the program – with jacket off, the original composition “Everytime Christmas Comes Around” starts it off. It’s not clear who’s having more fun with this infectious homage to Motown, the band or the enthusiastic crowd, but McDonald is right in his wheelhouse with this fast-paced number. The next song, “On this Night,” showcases how the years have mellowed McDonald’s powerhouse voice. This is just a lovely, haunting song, surprisingly frank in its faith, and well-received by the audience, all to the delight of a clearly touched McDonald.

From this point on, it’s a master class by a supremely confident, supremely gifted entertainer. McDonald moves from a jaunty cover of Stevie Wonder‘s “What Christmas Means to Me,” featuring an Afro-Caribbean flavor and – no joke – a ukulele, to a ballads trifecta: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (simply elegant supported by violin, cello and ukulele), “Peace” (with just piano and strings showcasing McDonald’s post-9/11 plea for a world where “love won’t compromise”) and, finally, a restrained “This Christmas,” with full band.

The final bit of This Christmas is a mash-up of “White Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland” that moves from strength to strength. “White Christmas” is a poignant ballad, just McDonald and his piano, and then he seamlessly transitions to a rollicking, bluesy barn-burner edition of “Winter Wonderland,” sprinkled with soul.

The Doobie classics that close the show – a quick-tempo “Minute by Minute,” his wistfully amused, middle-aged perspective on “What a Fool Believes” and “Takin’ It to the Streets” as a call to love thy neighbor – are the perfect cap to a thoroughly memorable performance.

File this under “Must-See-Christmas-TV” in your viewing schedule.

Michael McDonald – This Christmas: A Soundstage Special Event airs on PBS stations throughout December; check local listings for date, time and channel

    • PeggyM. Spates-Johnson said at December 11, 2009 at 1:22 pm
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    His xmas shows are great….sweet, enthusiastic and with the voice that could sing a phone book and be well accepted…love that man his music andhis great band. Although I might not be able to get to his California Xmas shows this year….as a secondary teacher, my grades are due MONDAY….I did enjoy his Christmas show in Des Moines Iowa in December 2007 when I was visiting back home…wow!!!! P Spates

    • Valli said at December 13, 2009 at 6:02 pm
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    Just wanted to say, that I love this review. I am looking forward to seeing it when it comes on in my area. I have been to Michael’s Christmas shows before as well as many other shows throughout the year. I can honestly say that Michael and his band sound better everytime I am fortunate enough to attend a show. They NEVER disappoint. Michael sounds and looks sexier every year!!!

    • Micky Kostiw said at December 15, 2009 at 8:18 pm
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    I am so glad there is a Sound Stage production of Michael’s Christmas show ! I hope everyone enjoys these talented musicians as much as I do ! This year I could not make it to a live Christmas concert, so I will look forward to the broadcast of one of my favorites shows, by some of my favorite people ! Merry Christmas, and a Blessed New Year !

    • Deb Bielik said at December 18, 2009 at 5:21 pm
    • Reply

    The thought of a Michael McDonald show on tv always brings a smile to my face and lifts my spirits. Even an occasional song at the grocery store makes me smile as did this Soundstage special. It was a great mixture of songs always performed well. From the uptempo Christmas songs to the standards – it’s all good. I never get tired of hearing the song Peace. This was a great concert review. Glad I got a chance to read it.

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