June 26, 2003
BY JEFF VRABEL Staff Reporter
The press release for the Doors' comeback tour is an unusually rich source of potential comic material, but this particular line's a humdinger: "A difficult chapter of the band emerged in 1971 with the death of [Jim] Morrison." A difficult chapter! Imagine this kind of PR mastery 20 years from now: "A difficult chapter of the Blowfish emerged with the cryogenic preservation of Hootie."
Sorry. It's tough to consider this incarnation of the Doors without--well, let's say a healthy skepticism. For starters, the band is down two founders. Original drummer John Densmore has opted out of the tour, citing hearing problems, and then there's the matter of that other guy. The comeback has been plagued by a flurry of lawsuits starring a cast of characters that includes, but is not limited to: Densmore, Morrison's parents and temporary drummer Stewart Copeland, all of which has resulted in the current outfit traveling under the moniker "The Doors of the 21st Century." Rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it?
So here's who's left: guitarist Robby Krieger, 57; keyboardist Ray Manzarek, 64; ex-Cult singer Ian Astbury, 41, and a rhythm section you don't know (including, for the first time, a bassist). At $35 to $110 a pop. That's up to $55 per Door, without a no-Morrison discount.
How does this all add up onstage? Well, after seeing DO21C on Tuesday night at the Chicago Theatre, I can report, with the utmost sincerity, that they did absolutely, indeed, play Doors songs. Yes, that was "L.A. Woman." That was "Peace Frog." That was even "Maggie M'Gill." But as a co-worker said after the show, "I go to golf courses. I hit golf clubs with golf balls. But I wouldn't call what I do golfing."
Maybe that's harsh. Truth be told, if you could get past the legitimacy issues, the band sounded fine, delivering a generous two-hour-plus set of almost everything the all-ages but not-quite-sellout crowd wanted to hear. Astbury, Manzarek and Krieger stormed right into "Roadhouse Blues," "Break on Through" and "When the Music's Over," although there was a noticeable awkwardness during the "When the music's over, turn out the lights" line.
Krieger in particular was out to prove something: He swapped inspired, sometimes fiery solos with Manzarek all night, letting the crowd embrace their return with a giddy abandon. Astbury was well-received, too. For a guy with one of the most thankless job descriptions in rock, his rumbling baritone struck a nice balance between homage and impersonation, even if you couldn't shake the feeling that he was selected largely because he sort of looks like Jim on the video screens when the picture goes all trippy.
But front-loading the show with such era-defining classics served only to remind folks of who wasn't there rather than who was. Not surprisingly, the guys seemed far more comfortable on the non-standards. They hit a feverish stride during a mid-set combo of "Alabama Song," "Back Door Man" and an incendiary "Five to One," with Astbury barking out verses in electrified fashion. But a run-through of "Love Me Two Times" was rote, first encore "Riders on the Storm" limped rather than seethed, and the introduction of a new song called "Cops Talk" resulted in what was essentially a rugby scrum to the beer line. (This does not bode well for Manzarek's promise of a new album by next year, featuring lyrics by "poetic writers" such as Jim Carroll and John Doe.)
If this thing's gonna work for a whole tour, a few things have to happen. One, Manzarek needs to stop talking. Every time the keyboardist opened his mouth, something really bizarre sprang out, from a creepy, rambling monologue on sexual practices, to a shout-out to great Chicago musicians like Paul Butterfield (sure) and Bruce Springsteen (whaaaaaa?) to snort-inducing Vegas-style proclamations like, "All right, who wants to hear 'Light My Fire?' " (And would you believe me if I spun tales of a Manzarek-sung snippet of "Louie Louie" that featured new Chicago-specific lyrics?)
But if the band simply plugs in and turns on, it can very likely get by on audience goodwill and the excitement of bringing these songs to life again. From the sounds of its reception, the feverish crowd on Tuesday, fueled by the fevered weather outside, had waited decades to hear somebody--anybody--do just that.
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