By Thom Jennings
Niagara Gazette — A sold-out crowd listened to the music of The Doobie Brothers during a sold-out performance at Artpark. As advertised, the band’s set relied heavily on the blues and boogie sound that propelled them to stardom in the early 1970s.
The band got out of the gate with three of their most recognizable numbers, “Jesus is Just Altight,” ”Rockin’ Down the Highway” and “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me), before settling in and playing some acoustic numbers and a couple of songs from their latest album, “World Gone Crazy.”
The three longtime members, guitarists Tom Johnston, Patrick Simmons and John McFee, have surrounded themselves with a powerful ensemble that includes two drummers, a bass player and a keyboard player.
The most impressive player of the bunch was saxophonist Marc Russo, who seemed to occasionally appear out of nowhere and play these amazing sax solos that captivated the entire amphitheater. My favorite performance from Russo was during “Takin’ it to the Streets,” the only song the band performed from the Michael McDonald era.
It was also clear why The Doobie’s are cited as an influence for many modern country performers. This was especially evident during “South City Midnight Lady” and “Black Water,” two acoustic based songs the band performed perfectly.
While the band has a plethora of radio hits to choose from, they took some chances by adding a couple of new songs from the aforementioned “World Gone Crazy,” including the title cut and “A Brighter Day.” Both songs received a great response from the crowd.
Like many bands, The Doobie Brothers saved their best performances for the latter part of the set. My favorite song of the evening was “Don’t Start Me Talkin’” a Sonny Boy Williamson song that appeared on The Doobie Brothers eponymous debut album. The song provides plenty of room for the band to jam and have some great musical interplay, and they took full advantage of the situation.
During “Black Water,” the entire venue joined in on the chorus, and the song primed the crowd for the dancing frenzy that came when the Doobies performed “Long Train Runnin’” to close out the regular set.
For their three encores, they played “China Grove,” “Road Angel” and “Listen to the Music.” As expected, the crowd enthusiastically greeted all three songs with thunderous applause, dancing and singing in the packed aisles.
Throughout the evening there was no shortage of smoke coming from the crowds “Doobies,” which created an interesting atmosphere to put it mildly.
As for the band, I was really impressed at how tight they sounded given the number of players onstage, especially how well the drummers were able to stay in time with each other, often to the millisecond. The dual drummers also created a thunderous bass drum sound that sounded like a herd of stampeding elephants.
The band’s choruses were absolutely magical. I just love listening to McFee, Simmons, and Johnston singing together, and live they sound even better than they do on the original recordings.Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.