The Doobie Brothers and Chicago: Wantagh, NY, August 18, 2012
The Doobie Brothers and Chicago
Nikon At Jones Beach Theater
August 18, 2012
On what will most probably be remembered as one of the best weather days to grace Long Island during the summer of 2012, classic rock legends The Doobie Brothers and Chicago shared the stage at the Nikon at Jones Beach Theatre. The performance had been billed as an evening featuring the music that spanned the careers of both bands, and the members of these iconic groups did not disappoint.
The Doobie Brothers evolved from a short-lived California band called Pud. In 1969, after Pud disbanded, guitarist/vocalist Tom Johnston began jamming with guitarist Patrick Simmons. When they decided to form a group they chose the name The Doobie Brothers coined from the slang term for marijuana. By 1970, the Doobies was signed to Warner Brothers Records. Since that time, the group has featured a staggering number of official members and an even larger number of unofficial members. What has remained constant is the band's sound: a mix of rock, pop, country, funk, jazz, gospel, blues, R&B and a swamp-pop boogie groove that grabs the fan and doesn't let go. The Doobie Brothers has sold well over 40 million albums worldwide, won numerous Grammy Awards, has released a total of 16 studio and live albums as well as numerous "Best Of" collections. There have been multiple RIAA Gold and Platinum sales awards and the group has performed around the world for more than 35 million fans.
Chicago is the big (nine current members) band that could. According to its website, its career highlights include record sales of over 100,000,000, with 21 Top-10 singles, five consecutive number one albums, eleven number one singles and five gold singles. 25 of its 32 albums have been certified Platinum, and the band has a total of 47 Gold and Platinum awards. Chicago is the first American rock band to chart Top-40 albums in five decades. In Billboard Magazine's list of Top 100 artists of all time, Chicago came in at #13, the highest charting American band. Additionally, the group has received many industry and civic accolades including a Grammy Award, American Music Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Chicago (Illinois) street was dedicated in the group's honor, and the keys to and proclamations from many cities across the United States.
Clearly, both bands are of the same era-their biggest hits came during the '70s and '80s. The crowd, whose members spanned generations-it was readily apparent that the ages of the audience members ranged from teenaged to well-past retirement age-bopped and danced their way through both performances. This multigenerational audience knew the music of both bands, as evidenced by the number of them who sang the lyrics as each song was played.
The Doobie Brothers began the evening in a rather low-key manner. Without any introduction and without notice, guitarists Johnston, Simmons, longtime member, multi-instrumentalist John McFee and the rest of the band (bassist John Cowan, keyboardist Guy Allison, saxophonist Marc Russo, and dueling drummers Ed Toth and Tony Pia) suddenly appeared onstage and launched into "Jesus is Just Alright," one of the group's earliest hits. The Doobies followed this up with a rousing performance of "Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)," from Stampede (Warner Brothers, 1975).
The interaction between band members and the crowd was the key to The Doobies' extraordinary set. Tom Johnston spoke to the audience as one would to a friend. He announced, in his laidback California drawl, that the band would "be doing a little old and a little new. Now from the album The Captain and Me (Warner Brothers, 1973), we'd like to do 'Clear As The Driven Snow'-let's hear it for Patrick Simmons." Simmons then moved toward center stage to sing the romantic ballad, while accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. Soon the tempo changed and the song transformed into a real rocker highlighted by Johnston's jaw-dropping guitar solo.
The set was truly career-spanning, as the group played tracks from its classic catalogue as well as newer songs from its 2010 studio album, World Gone Crazy (HOR Records). "A Brighter Day," with its reggae-influenced beat, was introduced as being "about Jamaica and kind of funky." The title song from the album was also played. Johnston introduced it as "a song about New Orleans."
The performance of "Black Water," with its familiar acoustic guitar and violin intro, was truly special. Simmons' vocals were spot-on. McFee's violin was outstanding and the band's harmonies were tight. The Doobies also personalized the song for the enthusiastic audience-a large whooping cheer accompanied the altered lyric when "Mississippi moon..." was changed to "New York moon keep shining on me."
The Doobie Brothers set was peppered with hits as well as deep cuts from its canon, all performed while Johnston worked the audience while singing, playing, gesturing, and stalking each and every inch of the stage. "Long Train Runnin'" was intermingled with "Slat Key Soquel Rag," "South City Midnight Lady" and the Sonny Boy Williamson cover, "Don't Start Me Talkin.'"
As the show neared the end, the excitement in the crowd was at a fever pitch. Though it didn't seem possible, the opening riff of "China Grove" pushed the crowd further on the road to delirium. During the song's barn-burning performance, all three guitarists stood, shoulder-to-shoulder, playing as if their lives depended upon it. By the end of the song the entire audience was on its feet. While the audience was still cheering the band wasted little time by tearing into "Without You." The song featured a perfect vocal by Johnston, with fantastic harmonies supplied by the rest of the band. The highlight of "Without You" was the mugging to the crowd and synchronized dancing/juking of Cowan, Simmons, Johnston and McFee. The frenzied audience erupted into raucous applause as Johnston tossed his pick into the audience and the band left the stage.
After a fifteen minute intermission, Chicago took the stage, featuring founding members Robert Lamm (keyboards/guitar/vocals), James Pankow (trombone), and Walt Parazaider (saxophone), along with bassist Jason Scheff, drummer Tris Imboden, guitarist Keith Howland, keyboardist Lou Pardini and percussionist Walfredo Reyes. Chicago's trumpeter, Lee Loughnane (another founding member), had a family matter to attend to, and was wonderfully and skillfully replaced by first-call trumpeter Lee Thornburg. Thornburg-a founding member of Jack Mack and the Heart Attack who also played in The Tonight Show band from 2001 through 2006, and has been a member of both Supertramp and Tower of Power-has performed with the Chicago numerous times over the years.
The nine-member big band proceeded to roar through a set that included: "Hard To Say I'm Sorry/Get Away" (which opened as a plaintive ballad and morphed into an upbeat coda/ending), "(I've Been) Searchin' So Long," "Hard Habit to Break," and the megahits "Color My World," "Saturday In The Park," "Make Me Smile" and "Dialogue."
In addition to the virtuoso performances on these songs, there were some aspects of the show and some singular moments that stood out above all others, and for so many different reasons: altruism, nudge-and-a-wink humor, self-deprecating humility and, of course, musical expertise.
Lamm took a moment to get serious. From behind his keyboard atop the riser on stage left, he announced that Chicago had once again "partnered with the American Cancer Society to raise funds and awareness to help end breast cancer." He explained that through the Sing With Chicago promotion, fans have a chance to win the ultimate VIP fan experience by bidding and winning an online auction benefiting the American Cancer Society. Fans can bid to win a package that includes a meet-and-greet with the band, two premium tickets, backstage passes, and the opportunity to sing with the band. Lamm introduced the crowd to the winning bidder for the evening, by announcing that "he happens to be a close friend of the band and he's also an international film and television star currently starring in this great series called Person of Interest, maybe you've seen it. Please welcome to the stage our guest for tonight, Jim Caviezel." Caviezel then proceeded to live out every fan's fantasy by singing with his or her favorite band. The duet with bassist Scheff on "If You Leave Me Now" got an already worked up audience frothing at the mouth for both the band and the actor.
Pankow, who is in fantastic shape and was without a doubt the most energetic member of the band, addressed the crowd with a twinkle in his eye. He said that he was thrilled to be in New York and it was "good to see so many loyal fans and it's great to be here with our friends, the Doobies." He then introduced "Just You And Me" by stating that, "The next song has two audiences, those that got married to it, and those who got conceived to it!"
When Lamm stepped out to introduce himself he said, "My name is Robert Lamm, and basically I'm a songwriter who got lucky. It's an honor to be in a band with such talented musicians." He then introduced the band during which he referred the rhythm twins-Reyes and Imboden-as "the toy department." Then, acoustic guitar in hand, he introduced "Beginnings" as "something from the very first album." The song, from Chicago Transit Authority (Columbia), sounded as fresh on this August night in 2012 as it did when it was released in April, 1969.
Another highlight of the set was Chicago's cover of "I'm A Man," also from Chicago Transit Authority. The song featured an extended five-plus minutes of a call-and-response drum solo, with syncopated lighting changes during which Imboden and Reyes played the musical and rhythmic game of "top this" to perfection. As the solos ended, those members of the audience not already there jumped to their feet for a standing ovation.
To close their set, the band went right into the rocking classic "Feeling Stronger Every Day." The horns were front and center as Pankow, Parazaider and Thornburg finished the song squarely between guitarist Howland and bassist Scheff. The band members then waved, shook a few hands and finally walked off stage to a very well-deserved ovation.
The audience appeared to be filled with longtime fans who had previously attended Doobie Brothers/Chicago joint concerts. It was obvious that they knew what was about to transpire. Still, they hooted, hollered, clamored and begged for an encore. When the members of both bands walked onstage the ovation was deafening. The crowd was ready for anything, and what they got was almost surreal. The members of both bands saved some of the most beloved and adrenaline-pumping hits for this amazing finale. Alternating Doobie Brothers hits with Chicago hits, the players from both bands shared vocal duties and solos on each song. It was obvious that these guys enjoyed playing with each other. Led by Johnston and Pankow, the 17-member big band smiled, gestured, hammed it up while performing inspired renditions of "Rockin' Down The Highway" (as sung at first by Johnston who was then joined by Lamm), "Free" (with Parazaider and Russo playing off of each other on saxophone and culminating in high-fives), "Takin' It To The Streets" (featuring Simmons and Scheff on vocals), "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" (sung by Lamm and virtually every member of the audience in the amphitheater by the bay), "Listen to the Music," and "25 or 6 to 4," on which Howland, Simmons, Johnston and McFee traded blistering riffs and put a fitting cap on the show.
All Photos: Christine Connallon