A band of two parts prior to five year hiatus...
The Doobie Brothers 'Live at the Greek Theatre 1982' farewell show is a tale of two bands in one. From circa 1976 onwards, the one time biker boogie band became transformed into a middle of the road, chart topping white boy soul outfit. And I guess your reaction to this farewell DVD is heavily dependent on whether you stayed with the band through their latter day success or simply stopped listening.
You can compare and contrast the good time rock of the opening 'Listen To The Music', 'Sweet Maxine' and 'Rockin Down The Highway' with most of the Michael McDonald dominated bonus material to see how the band's focus changed. But taking a broad view and given the band's stylistic diversity, 'Live at the Greek Theatre 1982' is nearly as good as it could have been given and if nothing else proves The Doobies Brothers were one hell of a band.
Earlier this year they the toured the UK and much was made of the anonymity of the band's personnel. Suffice it to say that on this farewell show, founder member guitarist and vocalist Patrick Simmons is centre stage in a tie and trilby, which he later discards as he sets about his work with relish. Quite simply the Doobies deal in quality rock music with soulful cool on the side and the mothership is always more important than the individual members.
The bonus interviews mention the band members love working live and would potentially miss the connection with the big Doobie Brothers audiences. This suggests it was more the commercial pressures of producing more hits that eventually led to their demise rather than the touring, though Willy Weeks for one does mention he's ready to go home.
The 1982 Greek Theatre farewell show - they inevitably reformed 5 years later - finds the band manfully straddling the two contrasting periods of their career by alternating guitar driven rock with white boy soul material and just about pulling it off. This is mainly because of the band's trademark harmony vocals and impressive shared lead vocals.
How ironic then that when Tommy Johnson makes a belated appearance to sing his heart out on 'China Grove', the band then manages to disappoint for the one and only time on the finale, as the original members (without Skunk Baxter) join in on Keith Knudsen limp lead vocal on 'Listen To The Music', sung in a lower key than the original. And it is left to a three guitar climax at the lip of the stage to bring out the vitality of the song.
But for the most part this DVD does capture the band/audience excitement and some special moments when the Doobies do kick ass. Patrick Simmons heads for the crowd early on, almost as if to restate the band's rock antecedents. And for all the snipes that might come McDonald's way for taking the band into an MOR direction - albeit with huge commercial success - his magnificent voice colours everything from the Motown cover of 'Take Me In Your Arms', the cool white soul of 'Minute By Minute' and the massive hit 'What A Fool Believes' to his solo debut 'I Keep Forgettin', which is possibly one smooth outing too many.
But the Doobies are smart enough to play their hands at the crucial moments with Patrick ripping things up on the every underrated 'Out On the Streets' (from his 'Arcade ' solo album), which evokes the band's early sound, while Cornelius Bumpus adds the lead vocal on 'Long Train Running' which gets a great reception. The mix of acoustic guitars and rich harmonies of 'Blackwater' suggests they could have given CSN a run for their money as guitarist John McFee doubles on electric violin.
Just like the Steely Dan, Little Feat, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allmans, The Doobie Brothers outgrew the original band but unlike their contemporaries they changed their style and evolved to become a top notch band with a weighty back catalogue.
'Live at the Greek Theatre 1982' seems to be a case of all's well that ends well, and if the band original rock fans can't warm to the post 'Stampede' era, it's their loss as there's simply too much good music here to ignore.
Review by Pete Feenstra