Michael McDonald has been around for a very long time. In fact, with his white hair and beard McDonald makes a perfect little musical Santa. The man began his career as a backup singer for Steely Dan but made his real fame when he became part of The Doobie Brothers in the 1970’s. But by 1982 it was already all over for the super-group. After about 5 years of wall-to-wall hits the group disbanded, and McDonald went out on his own. His first solo album was an almost instant hit. Unfortunately for McDonald and his many fans, he wasn’t the most prolific artist and took 9 years to follow up that album. By then times had changed, and he never has quite captured the fame that started with The Doobie Brothers and continued through his early solo career.
While McDonald’s solo career hasn’t exactly been soaring in the last 20 years, he has found ways to stay in touch with the loyal fan base. Christmas has been kind to the rocker. He has released a couple of Christmas albums with some level of success. He also continues to do Christmas concerts, a tradition that began in his Doobie Brothers days.
Eagle Rock Entertainment has captured the latest of these Christmas concerts with This Christmas Live In Chicago. The band begins by performing a few Doobie songs and eventually moves into the Christmas portion of the performance. Here you’ll find cuts from the Christmas albums that include original holiday songs mixed with a few traditional carols. McDonald doesn’t believe in leaving anything the way he finds it. The traditional songs are almost unrecognizable. He takes great liberties with the words and music: “I’m talkin’ ’bout Mary’s lil’ baby” on Come, O Come Emanuel. The arrangements are pretty much what you’d expect from McDonald. There’s plenty of saxophone and interesting rhythms. The band is tight and features Yvette Preyer on drums, one of the few female drummers I’ve ever seen. McDonald mixes things up with a section of the show that features a string ensemble for more traditional arrangements. He also shows off his own musical versatility by playing many instruments throughout the performance. He plays piano, guitar, banjo, accordion and ukulele.
It Keeps You Runnin’
I Keep Forgettin’
Every Time Christmas Comes Around
On This Night
Come, O Come Emanuel
Christmas On The Bayou
I’ll Be Home For Christmas
That’s What Christmas Means To Me
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Minute By Minute
What A Fool Believes
Takin’ It To The Streets
The concert is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30 mbps. The stage is well lit. There’s not a lot of fancy lighting, so the colors aren’t necessarily going to pop. The image is quite sharp, however. The contrast shows in McDonald’s black coat and white shirt quite well. Black levels are actually pretty solid as well. The detail is high enough that you can see the beads of sweat coming down McDonald’s face. The close-ups are where the real image nuances come into play. It’s certainly not like being there, but it’s a lot closer than it looked as a television special. I can tell you that.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is not the default option. In fact it’s the third behind a Dolby Digital and LPCM stereo options. The sound is as good as any CD you’ve heard. McDonald doesn’t really enunciate all that well, so I can’t say you’ll understand the words very much. On top of that, the vocals are somewhat buried, so the familiar songs don’t quite have the same punch with his trademark huffy voice. The music cuts through with wonderful clarity. You’ll be able to enjoy the concert. The audio presentation won’t take anything away from the original performances.
Bonus Song: Hallelujah
The small crowd gets into the show, but you can tell they really come to life when McDonald sings his hits. The crowd comes to their feet for What A Fool Believes and Takin’ It To The Street. McDonald just hasn’t worked enough over the years to keep up any kind of momentum. The last thing I really remember is his contribution to the South Park film for the end credits. Fans will certainly be delighted to have this Christmas concert tucked into their stocking or under their tree this year. So pick one up for a friend. And oh yeah, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas”.