Elements played a big part in Monday night's closing concert at the State Fair grandstand -- rain, wind and elements of musical surprise.
A heavy rain delayed by 40 minutes the start of the concert by 1970s/'80s rock heroes Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs -- billed as the Dukes of September Rhythm Revue. Wind and rain pelted the performers late in the show, compelling a roadie to shield Fagen with an umbrella and Scaggs to don a heavy plaid lumberjack jacket (this is the Minnesota State Fair, after all).
But the biggest element was that of surprise, as the Dukes as a whole were weirder than the sum of their individual stars. They opted for an idiosyncratic set list, mining nuggets from 1960s and '70s R&B and rock legends, and playing a limited number of their own hits. What on paper looked like a baby boomer's dream instead turned into something of a bad acid trip with tunes by the Grateful Dead, the Band and Buddy Miles.
Unless, of course, you didn't mind seeing a high-priced cover band that took plenty of risks with its repertoire. They were indeed a very good 12-piece band. In fact, the supporting cast sometimes outshone the three stars, who, as Fagen admitted in an interview, prefer being sidemen instead of frontmen. Guitarist Jon Herington was the instrumental star, and backup singer Cat Russell stole the spotlight whenever she duetted with McDonald.
The Dukes truly played this as a revue, giving more attention to the coolness of the tune than to pacing, presentation and pleasing the ticket buyers. The first part of the two-hour set featured obscurities (Lee Michaels' "Heighty Hi"), quirky curiosities (the Dead's disco-fied "Shakedown Street") and oddball choices from the stars (the 66-year-old Scaggs' "Miss Sun").
Despite being obstructed by two music stands, electric pianist McDonald, 58, perked things up with the Doobie Brothers' "I Keep Forgettin'" but the Dukes took a detour into three songs from the Band, a widely revered pioneer of Americana music. Wouldn't the 5,554 fans have preferred more hits from Steely Dan, Fagen's band (only "Reelin' in the Years" was offered), than the Band?
When the hits section finally arrived, the Dukes and their Rhythm Revue were wonderful. Fans danced joyously to McDonald's "What a Fool Believes," Fagen's solo hit "I.G.Y." and Scaggs' "Lowdown," during which the 38-mph wind blew the singer-guitarist's hair the way a fan blows Beyonce's onstage. (A roadie held an umbrella over ringmaster Fagen, 62, at the grand piano, which was the strangest moment at the grandstand this year, next to Kiss' Paul Stanley flying over the crowd on a trapeze -- a first at the fair.) Buoyed by the wind and Herington's guitar, "Lowdown" was a highlight.
So, too, were the ensuing "Takin' It to the Streets" (during which Russell, a most powerful vocalist, stole the song from McDonald) and "Reelin' in the Years," featuring Herington's soaring solo and the tightest sound the Revue had all night (most of the backup musicians toured with Steely Dan last year).
But the Dukes gave in to the elements. As the winds whipped and the rain started to pick up, the band trimmed three songs from its planned set list. The highly talented ensemble finished with Buddy Miles' "Them Changes," a funk-rock raveup that reminded everyone that the Dukes had delivered too little too late.
For a set list, go to www.startribune.com/artcetera. Jon Bream • 612-673-1719