Review Reef Reid
The Doobie Brothers have toured New Zealand on several previous occasions. Their current tour started a fortnight ago in Adelaide, Australia and ends at the Norsk Hostfest festival five months later in North Dakota. Their Wellington concert was the 8th show on their 49 date 2017 tour so they’re just warming up!
The Doobie Brothers current touring line up includes original members Tom Johnston and Patrick (Pat) Simmons (1970-71) with John McFee (1979) whose long standing foundation role essentially has him established as a core member of the band and completes the solid guitar trio! John Cowan on bass and vocals who initially joined the band in 1993 for a couple of years and then returned in 2010. Bill Payne on keyboards is the relative newbie of the band however his accomplishments are plenty, having played with a number of top artists including Pink Floyd, J.J Cale, Bob Seger, Jackson Browne and he is a founding member of the band “Little Feat”. Ed Toth on drums joined the Doobies in 2005 having replaced Keith Knudsen who sadly passed away earlier that year. A noticeable omission on this tour was a second drummer/percussionist for which The Doobies are known for. Lastly Marc Russo on Saxophone who behind the guitar trio is the next longest serving member of the band and somebody who quietly walks on, unleashes the power of his instrument then steps back leaving fans wondering what just happened?
Right, on with the show! Unlike in Auckland the previous night, The Doobie Brothers were the headline act supported by Avalanche City who have been supporting the Dixie Chicks on tour and well known for their number one hits Love, Love, Love and Inside Out. They did a great job of teasing the crowd appropriately for around 40 minutes. After a quick break and stage change The Doobie Brothers appeared to a dark stage that quickly illuminated the drummer and some will have recognised the well known intro as they opened with Jesus is Just Alright. The song is a great opening number as it immediately showcases the harmonies for which they are famous and all three guitarists individually give us string bending solos during the track that another reviewer has called “fretboard masturbation” which seems oddly fitting. Whether you agree with the lyrics or not, the song draws you in and at some point during it, you’re lost in the moment with a rye smile on your dial knowing that this is only the first track of several to come!
Before you can calm down and check that you’re still in your assigned seat, the signature Tom Johnston riff that is Rocking Down the Highway starts as he progresses to the mic to belt out the “highway blues” that we all know well. A quick deviation into Motown with Take Me in Your Arms and all of a sudden 60’s soul music doesn’t seem out of place on the night. At the completion of the first four songs, I’m taking my seat to better enjoy the show after taking photos of the band and Pat Simmons is addressing the crowd and as it seems of late, inserting an anti “Trump” narrative, much to the pleasure of the majority of the crowd.
The hits kept rolling with Clear as the Driven Snow, Maxine and Eyes of Silver and at this point I’m a little surprised the majority of the audience is still seated. I previously mentioned the talented Bill Payne and we were treated to a brief keyboard solo before he kicked off Takin’ It to the Streets which Michael McDonald mad famous and that Pat Simmons and John Cowan sang and did so very capably. In fact John Cowan’s vocals were very strong and it was interesting to see that John sang some parts of another song that previously would be sung by Pat. Marc Russo pops in and out with the signature Sax parts in the song and does so with a “presence”
Next up was a house visit by the The Doctor and for many, music is indeed the doctor! A quick instrument change with Pat and Tom receiving their acoustic guitars and John McFee his violin and some would have recognised the makings of Black Water and in true Doobies touring tradition the Wellington Moon was indeed shining on them. I’ve often wondered whether Pat has ever sung out the wrong “city” name during this song. Black Water was the first song of the evening to engage the audience in a sing-along but that was about to change as the unmistakeable intro to Long Train Runnin’ is started by Tom Johnston and at this point I turn around and like our row, the whole venue is on their feet! With much feeling inserted into the crowd belting out Without Love repeatedly, the band is feeding on the obvious satisfaction levels from the floor.
In a medley like style and with the venue still on their feet, Long Train Runnin’ transitioned into China Grove and within seconds we’re feeling one with the band again! This concludes the end of the main set and the band retire from the stage while the crowd (still on their feet), as you’d expect, chants for more from the band. Within minutes they return and immediately launch into “Without You” and conclude that song, as they do, with all guitarists up front close together performing a synchronised movement to the pleasure of all.
With a physic like notion, the crowd just know Listen to the Music is next and without disappointment, confirmation is forthcoming as Tom begins the signature Doobies song. Without hesitation the crowd participates in all the chorus parts and by this time the whole of the front row extends to essentially anybody who chose to wander down. Half way through the song with everybody buzzing, it begins to dawn on me (and likely others) that it will soon be over and within 10 minutes it was, with the band very kindly acknowledging the crowd in a series of bows and accessory give always for which I was fortunate to receive a few of their guitar picks.
This was the fourth time I’ve seen the Doobies live and this performance was, for me, their best to date that I have witnessed. Like other iconic bands spanning decades The Doobie Brothers I’m sure suffer from monotony when performing these songs over and over, but if there were, it certainly was not at all evident and in fact they appeared on several occasions to be absolutely enjoying themselves! If you eve have an opportunity to see them, do it without delay!
The setlist was like a graphic EQ on “rock” setting, peaks at the beginning and the end. This is a good thing and overall the track selection was as any Doobies fan would want. However, I was hoping they would perform “Dangerous”, but on this tour it wasn’t to be.
– Jesus Is Just Alright
– Rockin’ Down the Highway
– Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)
– Clear as the Driven Snow
– Dark Eyed Cajun Woman
– Sweet Maxine
– Eyes of Silver
– Keyboard Instrumental
– Takin’ It to the Streets
– The Doctor
– Black Water
– Long Train Runnin’
– China Grove
– Without You
– Listen to the Music