Michael McDonald Captains A Glorious Yacht Rock Trip At The Hollywood Bowl Review+Photos: Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins & Christopher Cross @ The Hollywood Bowl 7/13/18
HOLLYWOOD, CA- There are few places I’d rather be on a summer evening than the Hollywood Bowl, but I was initially skeptical about the concept of Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, and Christopher Cross playing their hits with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. How well could 70s/80s power ballads and movie soundtrack hits mesh with violins?
For the most part, however, the answer was: much better than you would expect. Fun, pop-y concerts are the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra’s bread and butter, and their performance added a lush depth and richness to the soulful tunes. With so many musicians, they put the “power” into “power ballad.”
The evening opened with a short set by Christopher Cross, who looks like a roadhouse bouncer and sings like an angel. He still has his full vocal range and sounds just like his recordings. The mellow vibe of his songs led them to mesh beautifully with the orchestra’s backing — probably the most effectively of the three artists. Hits like “Sailing” and “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” felt particularly lush and dreamy as the audience floated in the rich orchestral sound. Loggins would later tell the audience that Cross was “the skipper of the yacht” for the show, embracing the “yacht rock” label for the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing crowd.
In what would be an ongoing theme of collaborations for this show, Cross was also joined onstage by Michael McDonald for “Ride Like the Wind.” While the crowd went wild for each of these pairings throughout the evening, they were also the points where the backing music (particularly the brass section) sometimes started to overpower the vocalists.
I have to mention here how absolutely gorgeous the lighting was for this entire show. The Bowl frequently uses colored lighting on the ridged, semi-circular bandshell but really outdid themselves this time. During Cross’ “Sailing,” for example, they used a gorgeous blue-to-green wash that perfectly complimented the music. The arches looked like beautiful Easter eggs all night. Nicely done, lighting department.
Kenny Loggins played the second set, which was arguably the best of the evening. Considering that I’d primarily attended this show to see Michael McDonald and gauge how this setting compared to the more intimate venue (the Orpheum) where he’d played in the fall, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Loggins’ performance. With the exception of the lovely “Danny’s Song,” I’m less of a fan of his sound in general. And yet, I loved his set. With great stage presence and excellent blending with the orchestra in general, he created a warm energy in the crowd.
Michael McDonald joined him onstage for “This Is It,” popping up yet again like the soulful Where’s Waldo of this concert. Loggins closed with his huge 80s soundtrack hits, “Danger Zone” and “Footloose.” While these “harder” tunes did not work as well with the orchestral backing, no one in the audience cared. People jumped to their feet and channeled their inner Kevin Bacon, dancing with abandon.
Finally, Michael McDonald took the stage with a soulful mix of solo tunes and Doobie Brothers hits. He also broke from the wall-to-wall hits theme of the evening by interjecting some new music. McDonald does not sing as closely to the recorded versions as the other two performers, for better or for worse. That made singing along trickier for the audience, though quite frankly I’ve never been quite sure what he was saying on some of the tracks. If possible, McDonald enunciates less in person than on his records, contributing to the feeling that his vocals are more of a lush instrument than about the actual lyrics.
Once again, there were moments when the big brass sound of the orchestra was a touch overpowering, particularly with “Sweet Freedom.” In general, however, he owned the stage and left the audience wanting more. This set, too, featured the other performers for crowd-pleasing numbers. Kenny Loggins joined on “Minute by Minute,” and both Cross and Loggins jammed on “Takin’ It to the Streets” to close out the evening.
While an audience member referred to them as a “geriatric power trio,” they all played fun sets that the crowd loved. The only real complaint seemed to be that the show ended when it did because with an intermission between Loggins’ and McDonald’s sets, the 2nd half of the show felt too short. Ultimately, the concert hit the Hollywood Bowl’s sweet spot — music that doesn’t take itself too seriously and that’s best enjoyed under the stars with a glass of white wine. Hawaiian shirt optional.
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