Steely Dan @ PNC Bank Arts Center

Steely DanThis intriguing double bill, bringing together former bandmates, promised to be one of the highlights of the summer concert season. Michael McDonald had a stint as a member of Steely Dan prior to his rise to fame as a member of the Doobie Brothers. Steely Dan had a rather lengthy hiatus in the ’90s, followed by a reunion and the release of two new albums in recent years. At the same time, McDonald was reaching new heights of popularity with his two “Motown” releases, on which he covered classic soul songs.

McDonald and his band did not disappoint. He led them through songs from every phase of his career, including the Doobie Brothers songs “It Keeps You Running,” “Taking It To The Streets” and the mega-hit “What A Fool Believes,” early solo successes like “I Keep Forgetting,” and of course the covers of soul classics that have been so big for him in the last few years. Early on, there was a brilliant version of The Stylistics’ “Stop, Look, And Listen,” but it was toward the end of the show that McDonald added a gospel choir to his excellent Nashville-based band, and they raised the roof on two Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell classics, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Real Thing.” The fact is that Michael McDonald is undeniably one of the great blue-eyed soul singers of all time, and he displays not only great talent, but great class as a live performer.

After a brief jazz introduction by the band, Steely Dan came roaring out of the gate with an awesome version of “Bodhisattva” from their second album, Countdown To Ecstasy. I’ve rarely seen such a great crowd reaction after just one song, but the place was on its feet, and the ovation was such that the usually taciturn Donald Fagen was inspired to greet the crowd with a lively “Hiya kids!”

It’s not easy to follow an opening like that, and I have to admit that the show became a little bogged down in mid-tempo anticlimax after the initial rush. Don’t get me wrong, Steely Dan played a lot of great songs, and the band, especially drummer Keith Carlock, was brilliant throughout. It’s just that the music seemed to settle into a mellow groove that got a bit tiresome. Still, there were wonderful versions of “Aja,” “Hey 19” and “Black Cow.”

The return of Michael McDonald was just what was needed to raise the energy level onstage. He joined his former colleagues to take the lead vocal duties on the early Steely Dan hit, “Do It Again,” and then added background vocals and keyboards on classics like “Peg,” “Don’t Take Me Alive,” “Kid Charlemagne” and the encore, “My Old School.” By the time it was over, any lulls were forgotten in the glory of the final songs.

It was an evening of impeccable musicianship all around, and a reminder of how great music can touch your soul.