By Mike Finkelstein
At the Greek Theater Saturday night, the Doobie Brothers and Don Felder brought the instant name recognition that two set lists-worth of big FM hits from the 70’s will fetch, and put them on display for a large, enthusiastic audience at the Greek Theater. The hits rolled pretty much all night long.
The Doobie Brothers were/are a classic case of what it used to take to make it in the music business. It took considerable instrumental chops, still more songwriting ability, and a knack for adapting to and even influencing popular tastes as you went. The tunes had to remain fresh enough to keep people listening. The Doobies’ first smash hit was “Listen to the Music,” in 1973, which featured a funky inverted guitar riff with a soaring sing along chorus. It, like all the tunes this evening, was given a straight run through the changes, which allowed for the same tasteful breaks as the original recordings.
Throughout the mid-70’s the Doobies worked the guitar band angle beautifully. At the time, a Doobie Brothers album would showcase the possibilities of tastefully arranged electric rock and soul songs mixed with original acoustic tunes rooted in open tuning blues, bluegrass, folk and traditional jazz. Then as now, guitarists Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnson offered the whole package, as both were strong rhythm and lead players, sounded compelling when harmonizing their vocals, and both were prolific in writing personally stylized signature songs.
On Saturday, along with soul songs and funky shuffles like “Eyes of Silver,” and “Long Train Runnin’” we got crunching rock like “China Grove,” and the encore of “Road Angel.” Road Angel featured rockin’ boogie changes and harmony guitar lines – a classic, crowd pleasing mid-70’s guitar styled approach to the arrangement. But, the most interesting portions of the set list had to be the inclusion of the acoustic/folky “Fresh As the Driven Snow,” and “South City Midnight Lady.”
These songs were not FM hits but they were on 1973’s The Captain and Me, a mega million selling album in its time, which is why everyone recognized them as an unexpected gift. The former has a great build towards the end, which gathers speed and power as it moves seamlessly from folk to rock. The DB’s played it so well, right down to John McPhee’s pedal steel guitar, that it took us all decades back in time for a moment or two.
As the 70’s progressed and wound down, popular tastes evolved towards R & B and the Doobies, always well-connected musically, worked the musical turnstile that was Steely Dan in those days. They recruited both ace guitarist Jeff Baxter and singer Michael McDonald into their fold to take them in this direction. McDonald was a white soul singer with a very unique voice and they rode his sound to some huge hits. As Baxter and McDonald were not part of the lineup Saturday, the band only played one of these songs, “Taking It To The Streets,” (of course, they had to) but without McDonald’s vocal it did sound a bit hollow.
Personally, I had hoped the set list would go in the direction of the B-side cuts on albums like The Captain and Me and What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits. I’m glad they went this way. It was a most welcome surprise to hear that material live.
Preceding the Doobies Saturday was none other than Don Felder, ex-Eagle and one polished performer, if there ever was one.
He may be well into his 60’s but he could pass for mid 40’s. Great hair, great teeth and still has his chops down. His band took the obligatory string of Eagles hits and a couple of solo hits like “Heavy Metal,” and with some top notch harmony singing, they basically reproduced each of these uber-familiar FM staples nuance for nuance. From “Victim of Love” to “Tequila /Sunrise,” to “Witchy Woman,” to “Hotel California,” every detail was accounted for. The band even used two talk boxes simultaneously at one point. But it sounded dead on…which is the point of playing those tunes live.
Saturday evening was a satisfying night for us 50-somethings to relive happenings 40 years ago. Music will do that for a person better than anything else. And, as long as the bands that defined rock radio in the 70’s can show up to play, their slightly younger audiences will continue to buy tickets to watch and listen to the soundtrack of their youth.
* * * * * * * *
To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.