Ventura Theater
Ventura, California, Jun 1995.

Ventura Theater
Ventura, California, Jun 1995.

Live Review by Jon Dunmore © 11 Jul 1995.

Singing: We all take it for granted. We all think we can sing, when we're soaping up in our tiled showers with our favorite radio station on and no one within shoe-throwing distance. We forget that to hone any talent to a fine degree involves so much of that "hard work" stuff. And the two bands I saw tonight have put in that hard work; a showcase for sheer vocal acrobatics from Michael McDonald and the support band, The Chaneys.

THE CHANEYS are Dave George, John DeMaria, Matt Singer (vocals and guitars), Shawn Richkind (bass), and Ed Mongillo (drums). The three-part harmonizing from the frontmen was simply astounding. It is a welcome surprise to see a band of young hopefuls concentrating so heavily on what is a focal point of a band's presentation. God only knows how many sleepless nights and how many episodes of CHiPs they had to endure before nailing those harmonies so precisely.

Now they need to utilize those excellent voices to their best advantage, as the songs (an even more important aspect of a band's worth) grabbed you, but soon let you go, due to the harmonizing reaching a point of syrupy overkill.

Though they may have played to large audiences before, it did not show, as they stood their ground staunchly, seemingly intimidated by the size of the venue, unable to fling themselves metaphysically off that stage and grab the attention of more than just the first ten rows and their pockets of mailing-list fans.

Sound and lighting did not help their effort, as they had to contend with the headliner act's setup. The lighting guy displayed such a level of amateurism during the Chaney's set that he should consider continuing his internship at Burger King spraypainting the brown stripes on the burgers to make them look cooked.

The Chaneys are a band which have almost everything: they look like they wash behind their ears every night, they never say that mighty 'F' word, and they've probably never been asked to "turn down that damn noise" by irate neighbors. And of course, there are those milk and honey vocals with chocolate sprinkles. This guarantees them extensive gigging around LA, but the band need to prove themselves as arena animals before they can hope to move to that higher echelon with any grace.

MICHAEL MCDONALD, on the other hand, needed to prove no points, as he ambled onstage to wild applause and showed us how a veteran rocker could kick butt so charmingly. His prominence in the music scene over the last two decades, with the Doobie Brothers and his solo career, has won him a large demographic of fans - one of those artists you can take your kids to see - and then argue with them on the way home as to why he's better than Pearl Jam.

This was his second show tonight and he showed no signs of backing down the vocal or musical assault.

With that brutish aplomb that all the elder girlies find so disarming, McDonald paced through the hits; Ya Mo Be There, Takin' It to the Streets, Here to Love You - you know them all; those radio-friendly, easy listening songs that are so powerful and musically-demanding live.

His rapturous voice ravaged the senses with its grainy, soulful texture and Eiffel Tower range. It was a living thing, fluttering like a dove in your hand and then soaring like an eagle when the band took flight. During What A Fool Believes you could actually feel the temple-throbbing intensity of those vocals and harmonies, like some pressure valve about to explode.

McDonald also performed more recent tunes, like Matters of the Heart from the Blink of an Eye album, his latest. The ballad, I Can Let Go Now, with Michael on solo piano, struck the center of the set and brought us intimately in contact with the white-maned one. His sweetly-sobbing playing style was best heard in these interludes. Tollak Ollestad and Vince Denham also shared keyboard duties with Michael during the bulk of the set.

The Ventura Theater, like many older venues, is not designed for amplified music and it is a pity to see bands wasting decibels on unforgiving, reflective walls - and that "wall of keyboards" only created muddiness rather than spaciousness.

Speaking of unforgiving, Michael's band, culled from Everywhere USA, took no prisoners. More solos from guitarist Bernie Chiaravelle would have lent a welcome edge to the keyboard-heavy set; Arnold Grimaldi drumming (recently of Don Henley's band), Charlie Frichtel on bass, Lenny Castro on congas, and Vince Denham (saxophone/keyboards) rounded out the lineup.

McDonald encored with Gaye's What's Goin' On? and Wonder's Higher Ground, which left the audience exhausted and satisfied. And if tonight's show did not rock you, you're either in a coma, or you await the anticipated Doobie Brothers Reunion Tour in July, with Steve Miller. It seems that every major 70s and 80s band is getting the Lazarus bug these days.

So go to it, faithful fans; you've got one month to soak in that shower, dodging shoes and brushing up on your chops, before attending those upcoming monster shows and screaming yourself hoarse...