Grandstand review: Doobie Bros. keep long train runnin’ despite sidelined, ‘under the weather’ Michael McDonald

It appears Michael McDonald has caught a breakthrough case of COVID-19.

The Minnesota State Fair surprised ticketholders late Tuesday afternoon when they announced McDonald would not appear with the Doobie Brothers at the Grandstand just hours before the concert was set to start. (The opening act, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, was also pulled from the show. The band did not appear at a Sunday tour stop in Illinois, either.)

The Fair did refund upset Yacht Rock fans, but didn’t announce how many they ended up granting. Given that the show was nearly sold out, the attendance number of 11,461 suggests they issued about 2,000 refunds. (Prior to Tuesday, the Fair had also allowed refunds for any Grandstand show at least 24 hours prior to showtime.)

All the while, no official reason was given. That is until showtime. A few numbers in, the band announced from the stage that McDonald was feeling under the weather, was “recuperating and isolating at the moment” and was expected to rejoin the tour in about a week. While no one specifically said the term “COVID-19,” it seems safe to assume that was the cause of McDonald’s last-minute departure. (For what it’s worth, the entire band and crew are all fully vaccinated and are touring with a COVID-19 compliance officer.)

What’s the big deal? Well, the newly minted Rock and Roll Hall of Famers are out on a 50th anniversary tour that was already delayed due to the pandemic. The band touted the outing as the first in 25 years to include McDonald, Tom Johnston, Pat Simmons and John McFee. To most, however, McDonald’s return was the big draw.

While the Doobies have continued to tour since McDonald left the group in 1995, they’ve only been able to headline arenas on a double bill with another classic rock act like Steely Dan or Journey. Their solo headlining shows landed at smaller theaters and casinos.

McDonald’s vocals are also so unique, they’re tricky to replicate. So it was no surprise the band dropped several songs associated with McDonald from the set, including “It Keeps You Runnin’,” “Minute by Minute” and “What a Fool Believes.”

Whatever the case, the Doobies did manage to overcome the chaos and put on a decent, if not spectacular, concert. The band — and audience — suffered from low energy for the first half of the show, due in part to a set list full of lesser-known album cuts and two new songs from their upcoming album (recorded without McDonald).

The band focused on songs about ladies (“Dark Eyed Cajun Woman,” “South City Midnight Lady,” “Sweet Maxine”), transportation (“Wheels of Fortune,” “Rockin’ Down the Highway,” “Long Train Runnin’”) and, uh, rocking out (most of them). The band also indulged in lengthy solos throughout the evening, showing off journeyman skills.

The big hits — “Jesus Is Just Alright,” “China Grove,” “Listen to the Music” — showed up at the end of the show, much to the delight of the perked-up audience.

Not to belabor the point, but this was only the Doobies’ sixth date on a tour that’s scheduled to run through October and return to the road next summer. Coupled with the news that KISS is postponing dates after both Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons contracted breakthrough cases, one can’t help but wonder about the near future of the return of large-scale concert tours given the current climate.

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