WHO COULD DENY them? The unlikeliest band in rock with the silliest name had some cranking tunes in the 1970s, and at their best, they hit their stride running with a type of fusion (apologies for using that most misunderstood of words) that seemed to just ooze out of them, which means it sounded natural, and was funky without seeming to even try to be.
Unfortunately, when you get much further than their anthems – songs like ‘Listen To The Music’ and ‘Takin’ It to The Streets’ and ‘Jesus Is Just Alright’ and ‘Another Park, Another Sunday’ – things take a turn for the worse really quickly. Outside of their little patch of AOR heaven, the Doobie Brothers are just good ol’ boys with a bunch of middling songs, some of which hinge on blues chords, others of which get close to country pickin’ or soul or yer actual rock’n’roll.
Like the more multicultural War, the Doobie Brothers (onstage at least) are a big band with horns and backing singers and two drummers AND a percussionist, and their three main players all deal out guitar and singing. The downright friendliness of these guys is one of the biggest drawcards. That, and the fact that they all sing, which means they’re capable of some pretty good vocal harmonies. It’s this blue-eyed combination of groove and harmony that produces the most stellar results, and it’s easy to trace the connection back to those Crosby Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young) albums, and songs like ‘Carry On’.
But really, the Doobie Brothers were and are blues travellers with a few smash hits who, but for those tunes, would have been a band of pub botherers, and that much is clear from the 2004 performance captured on Live At Wolf Trap.
Apart from the ordinary songs, which vastly outnumber the great ones, the problem with this presentation is that it looks so squeaky clean. In fact, it brought back squeamish memories of being hauled off to church social nights as a child. It’s clearly not the fault of the Doobies, but the lights throughout are bright, so there’s little atmosphere, and the crowd look like they spent the last few hours ironing their best shirts and applying the right brand of antiperspirant, but never quite got around to figure out their dance moves.
It’s a generous programme, with no less than 23 songs in the main performance, then in the Bonus Features another three taken from an outdoor, daylight gig, and then Backstage Pass, a 30-minute interview/doco, as well as a shorter segment of (interview) bloopers. My favourite bit showed a crazed audience member who somehow grabbed a microphone and moaned into it during the first three songs of the show… they cleverly isolated her voice, which gave the songs an almost deranged perspective.
The interviews offer few revelations, but it’s interesting to hear about the group’s formative influences: old-time blues, fingerpicking folk, Little Richard, James Brown.
There’s supposed to be an Interactive Concert/Songwriter Commentary Links, but I couldn’t find it. One weird thing was presumably a remnant of that supposed feature… at the beginning of songs, a tiny box in the left hand corner would show one of the band members talking (silently) for about 10 seconds. Oddness.
Also, the sound was nothing special. It’s possible to achieve spectacular results with DVD audio these days, but I couldn’t achieve lift-off, even with the volume up high.
Personally, I would have preferred catching a video of a 1970s version of the band. While the 2004 version is very competent, it’s a middling middle-aged affair and as safe as milk (is supposed to be). GARY STEEL
Music = 3/5
Sound = 2.5/5