The Doobie Brothers have been making music with various line-ups since 1969. They combine elements of hard rock, rhythm and blues and boogie with elements of country to create a very distinctive guitar-based sound all their own.
You’ve probably heard of the Doobies, but if you can’t remember exactly let me remind you: “whoa, whoa whoaaah, listen to the music…” And Long Train Running which goes “without love, where would you be now, without lo…oo… oo…ove”. Yes. Of course you know it.
I was very excited to be finally seeing them live on stage last night at Bristol’s Colston Hall. They were utterly marvellous. I’m no Doobies aficionado; until last night I didn’t even know what they looked like. But I do know every note of their albums Toulouse Street and The Captain and Me, and a number of live albums, which rarely go back onto the shelves in our house. So last night I was delighted when they played many of the songs from these soundtracks to my life.
Three guitarists (above: Pat Simmonds, Tom Johnston and John McFee) played jangly high-key rhythm guitar, twangy riffs and crunchy kerrangs. Two drummers – TWO – pounded away, combining with jazzy keyboards, the occasional blurt of sax, marvellous four part harmonies, and thumping bass to make powerful melodic songs. Like all really good rock bands they understand contrast – light and shade – so you get passages of haunting slide guitar and delicate harmonics which build into freewheeling, climactic anthems.
On their albums they can very occasionally lapse into schmaltzy ballads too sickly and bland for us to bear, but I guess this might appeal to a US audience who seem to be happy to be fed this diet of shit along with burgers and sweet carbonated drinks. But forgive them this and keep listening you and you will be rewarded. Thankfully we were spared any of these lapses of averageness last night, and instead were treated to a head-banging, rhythm and blues-based guitar fest.
As well as a few tracks from their new album, of which Nobody is the most notable track, we got: class-A driving song Rockin’ down the highway; Jesus is just alright with me the only song about the saviour you’ll find me singing with gusto, but talk about damning with faint praise; Black water with the sing-along refrain “I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland/Pretty mama, come and take me by the hand“; and Clear as the driven snow, a complex song which starts off with spine-tingling acoustic harmonics and builds into a beast. The finished the set with Long train runnin’ and the audience went rightly wild.
All the musicians were wonderful but I must reserve a special mention for scary-looking John McFee whose strangely perfect teeth mesmerised me but not in a good way. He played guitars, guitars, guitars, including haunting passages of slide on one of those sexy, shiny steel guitars (I wish I had the money to buy one of those for my son), electric violin and harmonica.
Encores included: the epic Without you, the head-banging China Grove, finishing with whoa whoa whoa Listen to the music. They’d sweated and rocked their way through one and half hours. It felt like five minutes. That’s what I did with my extra hour.
Photos: Moth Clark