Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Concert Review: The Doors’ Robby Krieger, at BergenPAC, Englewood NJ

The untimely 1971 death of Jim Morrison created a legend of a rock ‘n’ roll poet maudit at the expense of the reality: that he was only one part, albeit an important one, in The Doors, a band containing some of the most talented musicians in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. 

The appearance of one of those musicians, Robby Krieger, at BergenPAC in my hometown, Englewood, NJ, confirmed that many times over. His eponymous band may have taken on its name as a result of a protracted legal dispute over use of the group’s name with former bandmate John Densmore, but in another sense it was entirely appropriate: It simply recognized the technical wizardry that led Rolling Stone to list him among the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. (He is at #76, sandwiched between Willie Nelson and Joni Mitchell.)

For a long time, I did not have even an adequate idea of Krieger’s skill on his instrument. But his sizzling solo on Hall and Oates’ “Kiss on My List,” in this marvelous YouTube clip from Live From Daryl’s House, opened my eyes, so that, when a close relative bought me a ticket to the BergenPAC show as a birthday gift, I was looking forward to it. I was not disappointed.

The show was billed as “Fifty Years of Doors Music,” and this was no case of false advertising. Though Krieger imported some licks from The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and even Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things,” the focus was squarely on the music he and Morrison, Densmore, and the late keyboardist Ray Manzarek created years ago. Soft-spoken, he offered very short introductions to some of the songs, noting which were favorites of his friends (Morrison’s, “Maggie McGill”; Manzarek’s, the atmospheric “Riders on The Storm”).  

(Krieger also introduced a song he said was appropriate for Donald Trump, “L.A. Woman.” Actually, a few lyrics from other Morrison songs were also relevant for this new political era: “You’ll get yours, I’ll get mine,” “We want the world and we want it now,” and “What have they done to the Earth?”)

Hinting at the content to come, Krieger opened with two songs from the band’s first album, which was released in January 1967: “Break on Through” and “Alabama Song (Whisky Song)”. Then, one after another in the two-hour, intermission-free set, the songs flowed, staples of free-form, top 40, and now classic rock formats: “People Are Strange,” the bluesy “Back Door Man,” “Five to One,” “Moonlight Drive/Horse Latitudes,” “Wild Child,” and “20th Century Fox.”

Those who witnessed The Doors in concert back when they burst on the rock scene would still have 
found one element missing from the show: danger. Morrison, the Lizard King, was gone. His duties as lead vocalist were taken over by Krieger’s son Waylon. Even with the latter donning dark sunglasses, the performance came off less like the kind of Dionysian performance art that called down the law on Morrison (and, at times, even unnerved his bandmates) than like a father and son playing catch. It didn’t help that, for all his outsized stage gestures, Waylon's voice couldn’t always carry over the loud instrumentation.

As for the rest of the band: While bassist Phil Chen and drummer Ty Dennis were technically proficient, the Doors’ catalogue still depends on the interplay between the guitar and keyboard. Krieger clearly missed Manzarek, and prior to this gig he had chiefly used two musicians as replacements, Nathan Wilmarth (primarily on the West Coast) and Ed Roth (on the East). For this third and last area engagement, however, Steve Molitz of the band Particle filled in admirably.

The audience wasn’t satisfied with merely the first encore, “Soul Kitchen," because Krieger saved the biggest song for last, one that, in effect, closed the circle that began with the opening songs. This time, it was the breakthrough hit from The Doors’ first album, “Light My Fire.” 

Characteristically self-effacing, Krieger did not mention that he had written the band’s biggest song—and its greatest assurance of musical immortality for the 71-year-old guitar master and his three friends a half century ago.

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