BRISTOW, Va. – Seated under a tent backstage, Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston offer a simple philosophy about the Doobie Brothers’ 50-year tenure.
“The songs,” says Johnston. “When people get up and sing back, that’s the magic part.”
The soft-spoken Simmons also credits authenticity.
“It’s almost a novelty to see a band that sings and plays and doesn’t have a big dance production that’s part of the show,” he says, smiling behind his mask.
In fact, neither a dancer nor an acrobat was seen at The Doobie Brothers’ Friday night show at the Jiffy Lube Live in Virginia, the band’s first performance since a mini-residency in Las Vegas in May and their continuation of the 50th anniversary tour played his first round last fall.
The veteran rockers planned to kick off this new leg of the tour last week, but like COVID, so does postponement. Despite the caution practiced backstage — masks are a must, social distancing when possible — and the monk-like existence the guys practiced in Vegas (“I didn’t go anywhere except to go to CVS,” says Johnston , while Simmons admits to missing meals with the gang), the virus crept into the ranks of the Doobies. Five dates have been postponed; just another speed bump for a tour originally scheduled for 2020, like dozens of others.
2022 50 years old:Albums by Elton John, Eagles, Rolling Stones and more
Part of the uniqueness of the anniversary run, which runs through October, is to celebrate the Doobies’ achievement in still attracting thousands of fans to sing along to their chameleonic catalogue. But it’s also about recording Michael McDonald.
The snowy soul-pop luminary joined the band in 1975 and helped reshape their sound. He left in 1982 for a thriving solo career, but McDonald always maintained a friendly relationship with his bandmates. Given that he last toured with them in the ’90s, his return is an undeniable win.
“I think Mike’s having a great time,” Simmons says, while he and Johnston agree that a possible extension of the worldwide tour in 2023 – South America, Australia and Japan are in talks – makes sense given McDonald’s an attractive part of the package is.
A few hours into the conversation, Simmons and Johnston McDonald cede the spotlight to first saunter onto the stage and slip behind his keyboards to unfold the opening of “Nobody.”
He is joined by the rest of the frontline — Simmons, Johnston, and guitarist John McFee — as the band segues into “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While),” featuring spindly Simmons’ nimble guitar playing, a gritty scream by McDonald and immaculate vocals by Johnston, his voice like honey mixed with sand.
Honoring Taylor Hawkins:The Foo Fighters will pay tribute to the drummer this fall
For the next 2 ½ hours, The Doobie Brothers enchant a jam-packed amphitheater with album clips (“South City Midnight Lady”, “Here to Love You”) and melodious radio hits (“Rockin’ Down the Highway”, “Minute By Minute ,” “Was a fool believes”). They present three new songs from last fall’s album “Liberté” – their first since 2014 – and in a rare scene hardly anyone in the audience rushes to the toilet, possibly because the tracks, especially “Easy” and “Better Days,” are pleasant and comfortable additions to her oeuvre.
McDonald’s distinctive lead vocals remain a combination of smoke and silk, and the band’s supporting cast – bassist John Cowan, percussionist Marc Quiñones, drummer Ed Toth and saxophonist Marc Russo – are all seasoned aces.
Even without the label of a 50th anniversary edition, this tour showcases The Doobie Brothers at their best, both with their singing – particularly the dazzling harmonies that anchor “Black Water” and “Listen to the Music” – and their musical dexterity . It’s an admirable achievement considering the core players are all in their early 70s and lifelong street dogs.
But more than three weeks of rehearsals last summer and an undeniable penchant for performing keep The Doobie Brothers motivated.
“The band sounds really great,” says Simmons. His eyes pucker as he smiles. “Not that I want to brag.”
Expand Grammys: Added five new categories for 2023, plus social change song