The Minnesota State Fair saved its best headliner for last. On the holiday designed to honor the working man by giving him a day to do what he pleases, a trio of venerable rockers will revel in the rhythm & blues of their youth and sprinkle in some of their vintage hits to mollify the audience.
Calling themselves The Dukes of September, Steely Dan’s Donalde, the Doobie Brothers’ Michael McDonald, and Boz Scaggs — a onetime Steve Miller Band cohort who later assured that soulful disco wouldn’t be an oxymoron — have reunited nearly 20 years after briefly touring together under the rubric of Donald Fagen’s New York Rock and Soul Revue.
They’ll plumb their memory vaults for such treasures as Don Covay’s “Sookie Sookie,” similar obscurities from Ray Charles, Chuck Berry and Bobby Womack, plus a little bit of The Band (“Rag Mama Rag” and the Beach Boys (“Help Me, Rhonda”). They will also offer up some of their signature tracks — Fagen’s “Reelin’ In the Years,” McDonald’s “What A Fool Believes,” Scaggs’ “Lowdown” — but it shouldn’t go unnoticed that each of the three stars created some of their best work long after the initial spotlight had moved on to the latest Gaga.
Scaggs and McDonald can both caress a ballad the way you soothe the muscles in your lover’s lower back — pleasantly stronger than advertised, with an intimate knowledge of the pressure points. And Fagen’s refusal to compromise between sophistication and catchy rhythms were a hallmark of Steely Dan and born of his taste in early rock and r&b.
Add in the sort of crackerjack studio sidemen you’d expect this crew to recruit, and a couple of dynamic backup vocalists, and you’ve got The Dukes of September Rhythm Revue, alive and kicking for just six weeks before heading back home in early October. Labor Day at the Fair will be their first Midwestern date after an opening salvo on the East Coast.
Here is an eight-minute sampler of the group’s gig in Richmond, Va., last month. Note the influence of the horns and the backup singers.
The Dukes of September Rhythm Revue at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand, Monday, Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m., tickets $45.