The Doobie Brothers
October 29th 2010
Hammersmith Apollo, London
As I was approaching the venue for this concert, a guy with a camera, filming for some website, approached me and asked if he could get my thoughts on video about the Doobie Brothers. It collects your thoughts very quickly.
After the show it was backstage to meet with members of the band. A little older than last time but still as committed to their music. Talking to the artists about their music is another thing to cause you to reflect on what you think about this band.
The guy with the camera. He asked me what was my favourite Doobie Brothers album. “Cycles”, I answered. And afterwards I began to wonder if that was quite true. “What Was Once Vices Are Now Habits”. Perhaps I should have said that one. Tonight, the Doobie Brothers didn’t play anything from “Cycles”. They did play “Black Water” from “Vices”. Maybe I should have said that one.
Patrick Simmons looked me straight in the eyes. “Did you enjoy the show?” It seemed like it mattered to him. What to say? Well, of course, I did. But why did I enjoy the show? He wasn’t asking this one. This was me talking to myself some nights later. What did I really think?
The Doobie Brothers are, in many ways, one of the quintessential American bands. When I was at school, the teacher’s favourite metaphor for America was “melting pot”. All those nations coming together to form “one nation under God”. I love America. I love the Doobie Brothers too. They’re like the melting pot band. You take the blues and rock and rock ‘n’ roll and gospel and folk and…… You mix it all together. At least, they did and it came out as The Doobie Brothers.
Tommy Johnston and Patrick Simmons are the two guys you’re going to remember from the Doobie Brothers. Tommy with that thick moustache and a voice as thick as syrup or molasses or treacle. Patrick, like a scarecrow. Long wispy hair, thin moustache. Different voice, more abstract lyrics.
But then there was that whole era when Tommy Johnston wasn’t in the Doobies. Michael McDonald. For many but not for me, he’s the voice of the Doobie Brothers. “Minute by Minute”, “What a Fool Believes”, “One Step Closer”. During that disco era, they were one of the respectable faces of American rock. And it was Michael who defined those records, with Patrick singing the deeper, less well-known tracks. For me, Michael’s finest hour was as a backing vocalist with Steely Dan. “Katy Lied”, “Pretzel Logic”. Great albums. The Doobie Brothers from 1976 to 1980 were very successful but, for me, they were a different band with a different sound. You won’t hear any of these songs tonight.
What you will hear is almost everything from the “Best of the Doobie Brothers volume one” with “Dangerous” from a relatively recent studio album called “Brotherhood” and a deep album track called “Clear as the Driven Snow” from a record they called “Stampede” and a bunch of tracks from their new disc “World Gone Crazy”…….. and lots and lots of great guitar work and outstanding harmonies.
The show opened with a set from Lara Johnston, who just happens to be daughter of Doobie co-leader Tommy. She has a strong voice and some good material. She could do well if she channels her development into the sort of areas that have made a long term career for Maria Muldaur.
Her set closes with a duet with John Cowan who is sitting in as Doobie Brothers bassist on this tour whilst normal tour bass, Skylark is recovering his health.
Another John, John McFee, is the Doobie Brothers’ secret weapon and when their set begins, he is instrumental (pun intended) in bringing it to life on fiddle and various guitars.
But when all is said and done the success of the show is based on the twin talents of Messrs Johnston and Simmons and that back catalogue of great songs which is in turn based on the bedrock of the traditions of great American music. This is a hard working live band who earn their living out on the road and who have crafted a show which is steeped in the history of the rock genre but has a unique sound all its own, From covers like “Don’t Start Me Talking” and “Jesus is just alright” through to their own classics like “Listen to the Music” and “Long Train Runnin’”, this is …… the Doobie Brothers.