Wanna hear some funky Dixieland? The Doobie Brothers took nearly 3,000 Central Alberta fans by the hand and showed them a good, old funkadelic time this week.
No splashy video show was played, or needed, at Tuesday night’s concert at the Centrium. The only special effect was the kind of low-tech pinwheel lighting that brought The Monkees TV series to mind.
But when walrus-moustached singer and band co-founder Tom Johnston improvised, “Red Deer moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me” during the tune Black Water, the mostly older crowd went absolutely wild.
The song’s swampy, hypnotic vibe was accentuated by accomplished musical solos, including John McFee’s electric fiddle playing. Soon everybody was either singing along with the band, dancing in front of the stage or tapping toes in the stands.
The big finish came when long-haired guitarist Patrick Simmons jumped into the air, then handed out high-fives to fans along the stage, creating a feel-good moment all around.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, after 45 years as a band, that The Doobie Brothers can play like demons and entertain with the best of them. But it was an eye-opener to me, since I never was a big fan of the California group during its heyday when Doobie tunes ruled AM-radio.
How misguided I apparently was — for the band’s stage presence, alone, is something to behold.
The three veteran Brothers (including black-clad McFee) stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their guitars, next to newer members bassist John Cowan and keyboardist Guy Allison. Along with sax player Marc Russo, they formed a lineup that spanned nearly the entire stage.
With extra oomph provided by percussionists Ed Toth and Tony Pia on their expansive drum kits, the cumulative effect was a massive wall of sound rarely heard since the 1970s.
Beyond its jaw-dropping musicianship, there was also the band’s Blues Brothers-like synchronicity.
During Don’t Start Me Talkin’, the guitarists and saxophonist moved as one — jerking their instruments upwards on the high notes, while stepping in time and pulling off synchronized kicks and hops.
The audience rose en masse to give a standing ovation after this tune in the middle of the concert. “And that’s the sound of the blues, people!” said Johnston, clearly stoked by the reaction.
Fans who only knew the Doobie Brothers for their radio hits got an education at Tuesday’s concert. Some of the lesser known songs performed were the optimistic Clear as the Driven Snow, Road Angel, World Gone Crazy ( sung by Cowan), Neal’s Fandango, which featured gorgeous steel guitar playing by McFee, and the beautiful instrumental Slat Key Soquel Rag.
Russo also played a funky sax solo on South City Midnight Lady.
Those who were there for the hits also got an earful. The concert started energetically with Jesus is Just Alright and its do-do-do-do chorus, and continued with Rockin’ Down the Highway and Takin’ It To the Streets.
Long Train Runnin’ with its signature chugga-chugga guitar sound got the crowd clapping, while Take Me In Your Arms featured sweet harmonizing that evoked a simpler time the way light-faded Super-8 film does.
“You want some more?” asked Johnston. China Grove was delivered as an encore, as well as an effusive Listen to the Music. The latter left listeners standing and cheering long after the music died, and band members lined up for a final, drawn-out bow.
It seemed the Doobies were as reluctant as anyone to have the concert draw to a close.
Joining the curtain call was the opening act — Johnston’s grown daughter Lara and her band.
Although Lara Johnston’s 45-minute set seemed over-indulgent for a starter (that’s connections for you), she showcased her throaty, robust voice on songs such as Keep You in My Pocket and The Party’s Over, and proved talent didn’t skip a generation.
Although the pop singer likes to belt it out, she was more powerful on quieter songs, when she modulated her voice to create more interesting moods and soundscapes.