By Martine Ehrenclou
Legendary rock and roll band The Doobie Brothers put on a true fan-favorite show at the YouTube Theater in Los Angeles on October 2nd. Celebrating their 50th Anniversary, the Northern California band delivered 26 songs from their albums dating back to 1971, including three from their newest album Liberté.
The 6000-seat venue was packed with enthusiastic fans. Everyone was excited to see the long-running rock and roll band with founding members Patrick Simmons on guitar/vocals and Tom Johnston on guitar/vocals, joined by long-time band member multi-instrumentalist/vocalist John McFee, vocalist/keyboardist Michael McDonald, saxophonist Marc Russo, drummer Ed Toth, percussionist Marc Quiñones and bassist/vocalist John Cowan.
The lights dimmed and a spotlight highlighted Michael McDonald seated behind his keyboards as his unmistakable piano tones flooded the venue. The stage lit up as Simmons and McFee appeared front and center playing acoustic guitars. Johnston joined them and handled lead vocals on “Nobody,” from the band’s self-titled 1971 debut. His voice solid and strong, his guitar riffs were spot on. The band launched into a retrospective of their hits over 50 years.
With Russo on sax, “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)” was followed by “Here To Love You,” the funky piano-driven number sung by the soulful Michael McDonald. From their album Minute By Minute, McDonald and the band rocked the house, the band’s signature harmonies and top-tier musicianship spurring on the audience’s enthusiasm.
Wasting no time, the band launched into one hit song after the other without a break. After “Dependin’ On You,” a rip-roaring “Rockin’ Down The Highway” followed. With three guitarists on stage, at times it was a bit of a six-string feast.
As impressive as Simmons, Johnston and McFee were that night, Michael McDonald received more of the fans’ lively appreciation. Among the hits that garnered thundering applause were “You Belong To Me,” “Takin’ It To The Streets” and “What a Fool Believes,” songs McDonald scored with the band in the late 70s.
The four-time Grammy Award-winning band has not lost a step with their harmonies, lead vocals and performance. The Doobie Brothers are beloved band by fans. Setting out to give the crowd what they came for—a string of hits, they certainly delivered. “South City Midnight Lady” featured a talented McFee on pedal steel.
After seven songs, Simmons, Johnston and McDonald welcomed everyone and thanked them for coming. Johnston said to the crowd, “We’ve had the privilege of being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We couldn’t have done it without you all.” And the audience whistled, yelled and clapped. Johnston then introduced the band.
McDonald’s piano kicked off the next tune, along with Russo on sax, “It Keeps You Runnin’” from their album Takin’ It To The Streets. There was a real connection between these two musically, a synergy, bringing to mind behind-the-scenes jamming. The harmonies on this are still lovely, the melody still moving. An enduring tune if there ever was one. That’s what The Doobie Brothers are made of—outstanding songs that stand the test of time.
At this point, I took stock of the band and how impressive it is that the musicians are still at the top of their game and have released so many mega hits. They’ve maintained their identity, even with the change of sound with the addition of Michael McDonald in 1975. You could say they are a band with two distinctive sounds—the first was folk, Country and R&B, and with McDonald, the addition of Soul. Even with that, The Doobie Brothers kept on releasing ever-popular songs. They’ve sold over 40 million records worldwide.
Toward the end of an exhilarating musical experience, the band rocked on “Jesus Is Just Alright.” With Johnston center stage, his vocals powerful with grit, Simmons and McFee performed on either side of him. The entire band sang in unison on choruses, as did the audience. Simmons and Johnston traded vocals, and Johnston ripped on a guitar solo. It was equally moving to hear the entire audience sing along, almost perfectly, remembering every word, the phrasing. A watershed moment of the evening.
It’s more than staying power for The Doobie Brothers. They are still an exceptional band even though most of their popularity was in the 70s. With hits like “What a Fool Believes,” “Long Train Runnin’” and “China Grove,” which they performed toward the end of their set, their talent as songwriters shines bright.
The encore included Simmons leading the way on “Black Water,” from their 1974 album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits. Simmons on 12-string acoustic guitar and lead vocals, McFee played violin. Simmons shined on this tune, and their four-part harmonies were beautiful.
Over the roar of the audience, Johnston shouted, “One last song!” They performed “Listen to the Music” from Toulouse Street. The entire audience chimed in on the chorus. What a night.
Watch “Black Water” HERE
Thanks to Kenny Chiarito for the video.
For more information on The Doobie Brothers see here