The Doobie Brothers – 50th Anniversary Tour
Mayo Performing Arts Center – Morristown , NJ – 7/12/2023
Review & Photos – Rebecca Wolf
I’m always thrilled when I attend a concert of an artist who began their musical journey forty to fifty years ago and the venue is packed with audience members who’ve been adoring fans throughout the artist’s career. What a thrill for those who feel this longstanding connection to an artist and their music to still have an opportunity to hear them perform live. After the passing of decades it’s expected that a number of original band members may no longer be present. However, the presence of even one or two founding members to carry on the band’s musical legacy keeps that connection alive for many fans. As thrilled as I am for these fans, I’m equally ecstatic for the artists who are able to continue to perform their craft but also get to experience how beloved their music remains after the passing of time. That was the joy I felt on July 12th, at the second sold out night of The Doobie Brothers – 50th Anniversary Tour at Mayo Performing Arts Center.
While The Doobie Brothers are actually now in their 53rd year, as noted during the show by founding member Patrick Simmons, they’re continuing to commemorate their incredible 50 year accomplishment. The anniversary tour, which was initially set to start in 2020, was postponed due to the pandemic. However, in August 2021, the band was able to restart its engines, go “Rockin’ Down the Highway” and celebrate with fans who’ve been thrilled to “Listen to the Music” of The Doobie Brothers for the past half-century. For the first time in 25 years, the line up for this tour includes Michael McDonald.
In 1975, singer, songwriter, keyboardist McDonald joined the band, after the medical departure of founding member Tom Johnston. McDonald’s arrival shifted the band’s sound from an electric guitar-based rock to soft rock and blue-eyed soul, with heavy keyboard influences. While The Doobie Brothers’ music has two distinct sounds, each has garnered massive hits for the band, and helped create a catalog that continues to draw eager fans whenever The Doobies are “Takin’ It to the Streets.” After ending the first leg of The 50th Anniversary Tour in October 2021, the second leg began in June 2022, followed by the latest leg which began in May 2023, without founding member Tom Johnston, who’s temporarily sidelined due to back surgery.
The audience at Mayo PAC was rumbling with enthusiasm from the moment they entered the theater. While there was a wide range of ages and backgrounds, it was apparent a large percentage of the crowd had grown up with The Doobie Brothers’ music, as fans could be heard speaking about specific songs they were excited to hear and how many decades it’d been since they’d seen the band perform. As the clock stuck 7:30 the stage lights rose and the band seemed to magically arrive onstage. Opening the show with their energetic, rhythmic, chart-topping cover of the Motown tune “Take Me In Your Arms,” from 1975’s Stampede, an instantaneously upbeat, joyous mood was created for the evening ahead. Moving to the band’s pop rock era, with 1978’s Grammy Award winning album, Minute By Minute, Michael McDonald’s distinct, melodic, soulful, voice and smooth keyboard skills were showcased for the first of many times that evening during “Here to Love You.” Saxophonist Marc Russo was also highlighted during an incredible solo, one of many beautiful solos over the course of the evening.
While this 1978 album generally veered away from The Doobie Brothers’ original, edgier sound, Patrick Simmons’ gruffer, more rhythm-based vocals during “Depending On You,” displayed a mixture of the band’s “old” and “new” sounds. Simmons’ still powerful voice belies his age and as the only founding member of the band presently remaining onstage it felt heartwarming to me to hear him singing with such energy, full-bodied sound and obvious pride. “It’s great to be standing up here this evening,” said Simmons to the thunderous audience applause. “As my friend Dave Mason would say, it’s great to be standing anywhere!”
The almost two and a half hour set included many of the band’s less known numbers. “We’re going to pull some songs out of the mothballs tonight, some you haven’t heard in a long time,” shared Simmons. While many audience members are focused on hearing the hits, there are also the diehard fans who know the incredible, deep cuts and enjoy hearing the breadth of a band’s music catalog. What a great opportunity to expose all present to a broader range of a artist’s music. Stampede’s beautiful “Slack Key Soquel Rag,” brought an unexpected instrumental change, as McDonald emerged from behind the keys, a mandolin in hand, to join Simmons and McFee in creating an incredible trio of acoustic harmonizes. “We’re going to play something for you now from The Captain and Me. It’s a folk rock, psychedelic thing,” explained Simmons. “Clear As the Driven Snow,” opened with hypnotic, acoustic guitar picking, leaving notes hanging in the air like a backdrop for Simmons’ beautiful vocals. The delicate, chilling harmonies of John McFee (guitar, pedal-steel guitar, violin, harmonica and vocals) and John Cowan (bass and vocals) added an additional layer of mystical sound, while the tingling cymbals created a gentle, magical feel. The powerful, rhythmic entrance of Ed Toth on drums and percussionist Marc Quinones on bongos, increased the musical energy, as Simmons and McFee rocked their acoustic guitars, and Toth and Quinones brought the song to a dynamic end. For those who didn’t begin the evening knowing “Clear As the Driven Snow” I’d say it’s one to add to their music library.
As someone who’s seen The Doobies perform many times I’d be remiss if I didn’t say I missed Tom Johnston’s vocals, his guitar skills and his enthusiastic stage presence. However, The Doobie Brothers’ multiple guitar players and vocalists, Simmons, McDonald, and McFee, beautifully filled the empty instrumental and vocal space at centerstage. As the band continued with deeper cuts, Simmons shared, “We’re going to get a little funky and do a song featuring Marc Russo,” it’s called “Eyes of Silver.” Performing the song from 1974’s What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, Russo’samazing sax solo brought thunderous applause from the crowd. Whether adding a layer of alluring sound to “Real Love,” “It Keeps You Runnin’,” or “Long Train Running,”or performing a passionate sax solo during a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Thru the Grapevine,” there’s no doubt Russo and his sax added captivating dimension and sound throughout The Doobies’ performance.
“We’re going to sing a song now from our new album Liberte,” Simmons shared with the crowd. Released in 2021, this is their first studio album since 2014’s Southbound, and their first new material since 2010’s World Gone Crazy. “It’s called “Better Days,” for any of you who care to download it or whatever it’s called,” said Simmons with a chuckle, bringing laughter to the audience. The song’s positive vibe and smooth, upbeat harmonies are infectious and after fifteen albums it’s wonderful the Doobies can still create new rocking music.
While the audience remained fully attentive throughout the performance, their level of engagement increased tenfold with the first notes of each Doobie Brothers’ hit. During “Minute By Minute,” the house lights were raised and the crowd sang along, as Simmons, McFee and Cowan jammed on their guitars and lifted them in the air in unison. “Jesus Is Just Alright,” had audience members on their feet, clapping along, while “What a Fool Believes,” brought fans into the aisles. With the entire audience cheering at the end of “Long Train Runnin’” there’s no doubt these hits remain as beloved as they were decades ago.
Returning for the encore, the tinkling sound of wind chimes could mean only one Doobie Brothers song, the Southern, roots rock number “Black Water,” which had all in attendance singing, as McFee performed the beautifully distinctive violin piece. The evening ended with a bang, as Simmons invited friend Dave Mason onstage, sending the already euphoric crowd into overload. Mason joined the band singing “Listen to the Music,” followed by Mason’s anthem, “Feelin’ Alright,” which has been recorded by more than forty artists worldwide. “It’s time to sing along with Dave and the dudes,” announced Simmons, leading a chorus of 1300 in signing the refrain “Feelin’ alright.”
After more than fifty years The Doobie Brothers are still packing venues and enthralling crowds with their incredible music and live performances. It’s clear The Doobie Brothers themselves are thrilled to still be taking this journey and “Rockin’ Down the Highway”. I know the next time the highway brings them my way I will surely be there to “Listen to the Music.”