It wasn’t nostalgia, we’re too old for that.
Now maybe some newbies came to this show because they were intrigued by the presence of Michael McDonald, but probably most of this audience had already seen the Doobie Brothers, more than once.
You see nostalgia is when you look back and remember the good times. You know, you go to the show and bask in the aura of what once was. But after you do that a few times, it comes down to the music, just the music. Does it resonate with you? Does it make you feel good? Does it make you smile?
The opening number, after a bit of Michael McDonald improvisation was “Nobody,” the opening song on the very first Doobies album, a stiff, I didn’t hear it until it came through the speakers as part of the boxed set. This occasionally happens, you hear an unknown hit, kinda like “Love Shines” from the Fleetwood Mac boxed set, which disappeared, but now the song is part of a new compilation. The focus is on Stevie Nicks, and as a result Christine McVie’s smooth excellence is too often overlooked. I love “Love Shines,” listen to it here: https://spoti.fi/3V3ar6z
But even though Fleetwood Mac started recording long before the Doobie Brothers, the Doobies had commercial success first. But not on the first album, “Nobody” had the ultimately instantly recognizable sound, but it was too early, radio wasn’t on board, that happened with the second LP, 1972’s “Toulouse Street,” and “Listen to the Music.”
And when Tom Johnston stepped up to the mic and started singing “Nobody” a jolt of adrenaline went through my body, I was one with the music, I said to myself, THIS IS FANTASTIC!
You see this is the only place you can get this sound. The chunka-chunka guitar and Tom’s voice. It’s classic, and too often the Doobies are pooh-poohed, because they had hits when those were secondary, when bands were hip with backstories and featured on FM as opposed to AM, if they got any radio play whatsoever. That’s what happens when you’re a cut above, you’re embraced, as Fleetwood Mac with Stevie and Lindsey ultimately were in ’75.
But this was ’72.
Albums rarely jump out of the gate, at least back then. There’d be a hit on the radio, but most people didn’t buy the LP based on that, because albums were expensive, and you didn’t want to get a dud. But “Toulouse Street” had a second cut, a cover of “Jesus is Just Alright,” which first came to fans’ attention on the Byrds album “The Ballad of Easy Rider,” which was for dorm and living rooms only, it didn’t break through on the radio, even though the magnificence of Clarence White’s playing was ultimately recognized.
But the Byrds’ take on “Jesus Is Just Alright” was a bridge between what once was and what now was becoming. You could hear the classic Byrds’ sound, whereas the Doobies’ take was different, it rocked harder, with searing electric guitar, the label pushed the track and radio played it, but I didn’t buy the album. The hits came too soon, and I didn’t know anybody who owned the album, so I never heard it.
And then came “The Captain and Me” eight months later and “Long Train Runnin’” was ubiquitous, you couldn’t avoid it, AM, FM, it was everywhere. Followed up by the superior “China Grove” and now the Doobies were the hottest act out there, and they were everywhere. You see by 1973, the establishment had woken up to the power of music, there was “In Concert” Friday night, you saw bands, albeit not as much as you did during the MTV era.
And the Doobie Brothers got put in the meat and potatoes category, I mean hit after hit, who else does this? And it’s not like there was a dark past, it was just straight ahead rock.
But the single “Another Park, Another Sunday,” from 1974’s highly anticipated “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits,” stiffed, and just when it looked like the momentum had evaporated, “Black Water” became a left field smash and people all over America were singing along in their cars. You couldn’t help yourself, “Black Water” sounded like nothing else on the radio, and that’s what we’re drawn to most.
And that’s where I came along. That’s when I became a fan.
You see I might not have purchased the mainstream product, but the mainstream did. I spent a month in Mammoth, California in a condo with six other freestyle skiers and Jimmy Kay’s 8-tracks, which he’d made himself. He had “Toulouse Street,” “The Captain and Me” and “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits,” although the songs’ order was rearranged, and hearing them every day I got infected, and ultimately that fall purchased them myself. And the song that got under my skin was “Natural Thing,” the opening cut from “The Captain and Me,” with the sounds of Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff, who created those magical sounds on Stevie Wonder’s albums.
Now the following spring I got the world’s worst case of mononucleosis but was wary of leaving my BMW in Salt Lake City, so I went to Odyssey Records on Main Street and bought six prerecorded cassettes, something I’d never done before, because you can make better ones at home, and took off for the east coast.
One of those albums was the Doobie Brothers’ “Takin’ It to the Streets.” It was confounding. Was this even the same band? The cassette came with almost no information, and there was no internet to check. I mean it was good, but it was completely different.
And then this completely different unit had a breakthrough with “Minute by Minute” just when they were about to be written off, and stunningly, they were now the biggest band in America. With a new lead singer, Michael McDonald. Who after one more album with the Doobies, left, the whole band broke up, because everybody wanted a song on the LP “One Step Closer,” and it suffered in quality as a result, but there was one absolute smash in sound and lyrics, “Real Love.”
Michael McDonald followed this up with his solo hit, “I Keep Forgettin’,” but the hits didn’t continue to flow, the original Tom Johnston unit reformed and made two albums on Capitol and then it was the nineties, and everybody was an oldie. The world had superseded them. But unlike so much of what surrounded them in the seventies, their music sustained, it got airplay. And the Doobies worked and Michael McDonald worked and then came the idea to merge the two for one big 50th anniversary tour. Ergo, last night.
What can I tell you about the YouTube Theater? Having been built so recently, a lot of the flaws of yore have been eliminated. There’s a separate VIP entrance, a separate VIP lounge, albeit much smaller than the Forum Club, and excellent sight lines and sound. But it’s industrial. No carpet. It looks like you could hose the whole thing down after a show. And in truth the best halls are kinda greasy, kinda lived-in, like the Forum, and the YouTube Theater is brand new, and last night it held an old audience.
You hear it all the time, from “heritage” acts. Yup, there’s a whole new generation at their shows. Well, they weren’t in attendance last night. I saw three kids about twelve, but the rest of the assembled multitude was old. Like me. They’d lived through the heyday of the Doobies in the seventies, they remembered it like yesterday, and now with all the years gone by they were worse for wear. The woman behind me wore skintight pants and had plumped up lips, but everybody else seemed to be comfortable in their skin, they owned who they were. And they didn’t dude themselves up for the gig, which many boomers do. No, these were the same clothes they’d worn that afternoon. Jeans. 501s more than designer duds. And they sat. Tom Johnston kept on imploring the audience to stand, and a number of people in the pit did, but when you’re in your sixties and seventies your knees are creaky, you’d rather sit and let your mind drift.
And on some level it was cognitive dissonance. Just when you were marinating in the Tom Johnston/Pat Simmons sound, there’d be a Michael McDonald number. So you got the blending of a rock show with more MOR, more cerebral tunes. It was the same band, but…
Michael McDonald exhibits no charisma, he doesn’t want the spotlight, he played the keyboards throughout, and he got the most initial applause, you know when the audience recognizes the intro to the song, which made me think of the era, the late seventies, when disco was peaking and the music industry was about to collapse of its own weight. McDonald’s songs were great, but they are not rock like the earlier Doobies work.
But there’s that one killer line in “You Belong to Me”:
“You don’t have to prove to me you’re beautiful to strangers”
Wow, what insight!
And the upbeat “Takin’ It to the Streets” was a powerhouse. And I must admit a fondness for “Here to Love You,” which was especially good last night, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was the rockers, the traditional, classic sound of the Doobies, that reached me most. Like “Rockin’ Down the Highway.”
“Oh, ROCKIN’ DOWN THE HIGHWAY”
This was the hedonistic seventies. The sixties were done, we were focusing on fun, and we had it, sans documentation, the records inspired us and the rest is only in our minds, those nights of being falling down drunk, out in the country, rollin’ down the highway with the windows down, back when that was still a thing.
But I must say Pat Simmons’s “Clear as the Driven Snow” was a highlight. That’s an album cut off of “The Captain and Me” that you know when you buy the album and play it, otherwise you’d be out of the loop. the acoustic guitar, the mellowness, that ultimately leads to an electric journey, this is the kind of music that sets your mind free.
And the band had the balls to play a few songs from their new album, which I knew, but most people seemed not to, and then…
Tom told us they were going to play a song they normally don’t, they were resurrecting that stiff song from “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits,” “Another Park, Another Sunday.”
“I’m sittin’ in my room, I’m starin’ out my window
And I wonder where you’ve gone”
These are the songs we like most, the introspective ones, that engender stories of our own life.
“City streets and lonely highways I travel down
My car is empty and the radio just seems to bring me down”
I’ve been there. You’ve been there. You can’t stay home any longer, back in the pre-internet era, where everything good that happened happened outside the house. You need a change of scenery, you need to cut free.
“I’m just tryin’ to find me
A pretty smile that I can get into
It’s true, I’m lost without you”
Well, in today’s #MeToo era, finding another pretty smile to get into seems a bit macho, but the key here is he’s lost without her. All guys are. They say they kicked her to the curb, but inside they’re dying.
“Another park, another Sunday
Why is it life turns out that way
Just when you think you got a good thing
It seems to slip away”
Live long enough and you start to prepare for this. You can make plans, but that does not mean they’re going to happen. When everything’s going great, you know to anticipate the bringdown.
“Another park, another Sunday
It’s dark and empty thanks to you
I got to get myself together
But it’s hard to do”
Sunday is the loneliest day. When you’re heartbroken you can’t wait for the work week to start back up again, to see people, to distract yourself from these feelings. And you try to get yourself out of the hole….but only time helps, if it helps at all.
And word is “Another Park, Another Sunday” tanked because of the supposed put-down of radio, which was a misreading of the song, but in truth “Another Park, Another Sunday” is too good for the radio. The mellifluous sound, the indelible chorus, the meaningful lyrics… It’s now my favorite Doobie Brothers song. I play it all the time. And to see it performed live…
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU ASK FOR?
I wasn’t thinking about the seventies and that Mammoth condo, I was thinking about this year, the past few months, being out of sorts and pulling up “Another Park, Another Sunday” on my phone to root myself, to make myself feel good.
“Black Water” was a tour-de-force, but it’s the finale that truly sums it up.
“What the people need is a way to make ’em smile”
And that’s what the Doobie Brothers do, all you’ve got to do is listen to the music.
That’s what we did back then, listen to the music. And it was foreground, not background. And if you were big, you were gigantic, much bigger than any of today’s hit acts. The Weeknd only reaches a small fraction of the populace compared to the Doobies back then. The entire nation was driven by the youth, who by the seventies were gaining power, and it was music that powered them forward.
“Whoa, oh, listen to the music”
All the time.
I didn’t see a single person I knew. I haven’t had that experience in years. Which was a bit weird, was this show off the radar? Then again, as I said up top, the Doobies were never cool, they were providing for the audience, not the insiders and critics.
And the key to a show is to gauge whether your mind wanders, whether you’re checking your phone.
People weren’t checking last night. And they didn’t even leave early! Which is de rigueur in Los Angeles.
And by time the classic anthem was being played everybody in the hall was on their feet, thrusting their arms in the air, singing along, just like me.
And when that happens everything else falls away, it’s a pure moment, a peak moment, what life is all about.
Do I think the Doobie Brothers’ music will be heard fifty years hence?
I wouldn’t bet on it.
Maybe this music dies with us. But that’s all right, because we won’t be here either.
Our parents went to concerts, but not like we do. We learned in our youth and we are maintaining the mission. Music is in our DNA, we know these songs by heart, to go to the show to hear them performed live is better than a new car, better than almost anything other than sex.
The gig ended at 10:20. Early enough for the oldsters to get home and go to bed, staying up past midnight is long in their past. The train pulled into the station at eight PM and then departed two hours and twenty minutes later. The experience was dropped, and then the rock and roll circus moved on to another town, to satisfy thousands more people you know like best friends, because you share this history, it’s a point of connection, you’ve got something to talk about even though you’ve never met.
The Doobie Brothers don’t get enough respect. Because they’re not edgy, they’re not controversial, they’re delivering right down the middle, but it feels so right.
And it did last night.