Michael McDonald: Live: Michael McDonald is joined by Doobie Brothers Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons for an evening performing his solo hits, including songs from his hit Motown album as well as Doobie classics What a Fool Believes and Taking It to the Streets. Special guests Ashford and Simpson appear to perform their hits Aint No Mountain High Enough and Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing. Songs: It Keeps You Runnin', Sweet Freedom, I Keep Forgettin', I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Ain't No Mountain High Enough, Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing, Black Water, Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While), Minute by Minute, What a Fool Believes, Takin' It to the Streets.
The most I'd been subjected to Michael McDonald's solo career prior to reviewing this Blu-ray was watching Paul Rudd make fun of him in 'The 40-Year-Old Virgin.' In the film, Rudd works as a floors salesman in an electronics store that constantly has a Michael McDonald concert playing on repeat. He says, "I would rather watch 'The Beautician and the Beast' - I would rather listen to Fran Drescher for eight hours than have to listen to Michael McDonald. Nothing against him, but if I hear "Yah Mo B There" one more time, I'm gonna yah mo burn this place to the ground." Although I don't exactly have the same "burn this place to the ground" reaction to McDonald, after watching the two concerts on this Blu-ray back-to-back, I sure understand why it's driving him crazy.
McDonald's new concert Blu-ray features two shows - one is new to Blu-ray, an episode of 'Soundstage' titled 'A Tribute to Motown' featuring McDonald with guests Toni Braxton, India.Arie, Take 6 and Billy Preston, and another that's already available individually on Blu-ray (the one that's got Rudd frustrated), another episode of 'Soundstage' titled 'Michael McDonald Live' with special Doobie Brothers guests Tom Johnson and Patrick Simmons plus Motown stars Ashford & Simpson. Several of the tracks are featured in both concerts.(
The setlist for 'A Tribute to Motown' is as follows: "I Second that Emotion," "I Was Made to Love Her," "What's Goin' On," "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," "All in Love is Fair," "Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)," "Baby I'm for Real," "Tracks of my Tears," "Since I Lost my Baby," "Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever," "You're All I Need to Get By," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" and "Nowhere to Run." The setlist for 'Michael McDonald Live' includes "It Keeps You Runnin'," "Sweet Freedom," "I Keep Forgettin'," "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing," "Black Water," "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)," "Minute by Minute," "What A Fool Believes" and "Takin' It to the Streets." While the case claims that 'Michael McDonald Live' features a twelfth and final track of "You Belong to Me," it is a misprint. The show ends with "Takin' it to the Streets."
It's perfectly understandable why people love Michael McDonald - he has an exceptional, smokey blues-filled voice, he is great on the keys, and has an excellent track record of singing and playing with some of the best artists. Having said that, a little goes a long way. His forced low voice and deep inflection is too much for me in such large doses. After a while, all I hear in McDonald's voice is Andy Samberg's meant-to-be-terrible Lonely Island singing voice. As an onstage entertainer, unless a guest musician is featured, he's boring on an anxiety-inducing level. Between the two concerts, McDonald literally gets up from behind his keyboard once. When guests are onstage, they offer something else to look at - but just watching McDonald sit there isn't enough to entertain. The two times that Billy Preston joins him on stage, his piano-playing presence exemplifies how one should keep the crowd's attention despite being sat down.
If you removed the vocal tracks from these two shows, you'd have perfect easy listening elevator/department store music - and I don't mean that in a bad way. As someone who appreciates good music, it's fun to watch more and more players and their instruments take the stage as the shows progress. There's quite a bit going on, quite a bit to listen to, during these shows. Both feature simple tracks as well as complex ones. At one point during 'Michael McDonald Live,' he's got three back-up vocalists, an accompanying keyboard, bass and standard guitars, a saxophone, a drummer, bongos, a set of horns and a set of violinists. These fine-tuned moments aren't frequent enough throughout the two shows.
Those fans of McDonald and the genres in which he's dabbled will thoroughly enjoy this two-concert disc - but if you can't stand him, this Blu-ray will make you want to "yah mo burn this place to the ground."
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
With a total 122-minute runtime, both Michael McDonald concerts fit only a single Region-free BD-50 in a semi-eco-friendly blue keepcase. Upon inserting the disc into your Blu-ray player, the only pre-menu feature is a forced FBI warning.
Although both 'A Tribute to Motown' and 'Michael McDonald Live' have a 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 live transfer with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the video quality of the two differs drastically. 'Live' has its fair share of problems, but 'Motown' is tragically bad.
During both shows, unless the camera shots are tight and close up, they rarely look sharp. Detailed close-ups show off acne scars, facial pores, textured and sweat-saturated clothing, while long shots are fuzzy, often times giving a sense of double vision with out-of-focus background people and elements. Mild focusing also causes details to become lost. Black levels also vary between close-ups and long-shots. Tight shots reveal gray blacks, where long shots turn blacks into detail-less blobs. The best example comes from an enthusiastic woman dancing in the front row. Her black hair and black top bleed into one dark mass. You cannot tell where her hair ends and the blouse begins. The same goes for shadows in long shots - no detail is visible within the black void.
'Motown' suffers the most due to its shoddy transfer - which shouldn't be the case since it was shot more recently than 'Live.' 'Motown' bounces back and forth from low quality - like that of 'Live' - to bad quality. From the opening shot of 'Motown,' something is off. With choppy video resembling that of a cell phone, bits of this concert appear to be compiled from personal low quality YouTube videos from audience members. This choppy unsmooth sensation isn't constant, but it's an eye sore each time it pops up. During the best song on the disc, the Billy Preston-accompanied "I Was Made to Love Her," this problem is most evident. Preston rocks out on his piano in a close-up and as his heads rocks back and forth with the jam session, details of his head trail along behind it. As if that's not bad enough, artifacting also pops up in the red-lit backdrop behind him. Artifacting occurs frequently in red lighting on the background scrim and all detail is lost.
Where this Blu-ray lacks in video quality, it partially makes up for it in audio quality. Two listening options are provided: a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and an uncompressed LPCM Stereo track.
The music itself sounds fantastic. The drums are evenly spread throughout the channels, the organ blares with rich deep notes and the sax's clarity is unmatched - but again, where one of the concerts shine, the other lacks. But this time it's the other way around.
The audio from 'Motown' is near perfect, but 'Live' is far from it. There's no crackling or distortion. No, the problem here is within the mix and the more instruments there are present, the more likely you are to notice it. Throughout 'Michael McDonald Live,' the sound mixer seems to be overwhelmed, as if he couldn't keep up with what was going on. Despite seeing a close-up shot of the sax cutting loose, you cannot hear the saxophone at all. This problem even goes as deep as McDonald's keyboard. You may see him playing, but you can't hear a single note that he hits. When the large band plays "Black Water," the audience is asked to sing the rolling outro, but the audience applause mics are never turned on so all you hear are the background singers doing their part. There's a sea of faces singing along on screen, but you wouldn't know it listening to the audio alone.
There are no special features.
The second string audio crew must have been behind 'Michael McDonald Live' while the second string video crew must have transferred 'A Tribute to Motown.' There are too many errors that keep these shows from rising above mediocrity. One must be a die-hard Michael McDonald fan in order to appreciate these discs. This Blu-ray feels like nothing more than a cheap attempt to get fans to double dip just to get the 'Motown' show in HD.