Harley-Davidson Open Road Tour
California Speedway, Fontana, CA
September 6, 2002
by Daniel Lehman
Many felt the day would never come, others thought it never should, but
there they were, thirty-one years after the untimely death of legendary
frontman Jim Morrison. The Doors were reunited, taking the stage together
for their first public concert in years. Though missing two of their
original members - drummer John Densmore was unable to perform due to
tinnitus - keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger were able to
recapture a little bit of the magic that has fueled the band’s legacy.
With Ian Astbury of The Cult giving voice to Morrison’s lyrics and Stewart Copeland of The Police banging away at the kit in Densmore’s absence, the band was different, but Manzarek and Krieger’s long instrumental jams proved that some things never change. The addition of Krieger’s bassist Angelo Barbara gave Manzarek more freedom to jam with Krieger, as well as rounding out the band’s sound by laying down the bass lines with a bass guitar rather than Manzarek’s keyboard.
Due to a lack of publicity, attendance was less than expected, but those who made the trek to the venue were treated to a spectacular 17 song set featuring a variety of Doors hits and rarities, including a few special guests. The band opened with the rowdy concert favorite, “Roadhouse Blues,” a song teeming with raw energy and down-and-dirty blues flavor. Astbury was a bit hesitant at first, understandably nervous about walking in the footsteps of an idol, but warmed up as the song went on, eventually swaggering around the stage with the belligerence demanded of the tune.
Easing into the role as the show progressed, Astbury started to cut loose on stage, belting out hits such as “Break on Through” and “Love Me Two Times.” But despite his best efforts, certain tunes were still just beyond his reach. This was most apparent during “Five to One,” when Astbury was unable to capture the dark tones needed to carry the song. His inability to tap that deeply into his dark side could also be the reason for the absence of the Oedipal epic “The End,” and some of the band’s edgiest songs.
Small problems aside, with Krieger and Manzarek supporting him, Astbury was able to push his own limits. His finest moments came during an intense rendition of “When the Music’s Over.” With Krieger and Manzarek raising the bar and working him into a frenzy, coupled with Copeland’s explosive drumming, Astbury was able to completely let go, roaring Morrison’s well-known line “We want the world, and we want it now!” Astbury performed “Wild Child” with equal vigor, growling out the couplet “Wild child, full of grace/ Savior of the human race,” while native tribes danced across the screens flanking the stage.
Halfway through the show, Astbury took a break while John Doe came out and recited/sang “Awake,” a piece from Morrison’s “An American Prayer.” Krieger and Manzarek’s accompaniment along with Copeland’s ritualistic drumming worked both band and audience into a trance-like state while two Native Americans danced around the stage in full tribal garb. In the hands of anyone else, this display would have seemed trite and ridiculous, but Manzarek and Krieger’s musicianship and memory of the poem’s author took the recital to a new level.
Make no mistake, Jim Morrison can never be replaced. His showmanship and poetic lyricism are inimitable, and few singers in the history of rock and roll have been able to summon up the manic energy and unbridled id that Morrison paraded around with on a regular basis, but Astbury never committed the error of trying to fill Morrison’s shoes. He just stood in as a fellow musician and fan, lending his voice to the words and music created by the Doors.
Throughout the performance, it was clear that Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger were the stars of the show, often breaking off into long instrumental jams, playing back and forth together with the energy of young kids. Krieger and Manzarek still have such chemistry together and love for the music that their enjoyment shines through during their performances. Several times during the course of the evening, Astbury would leave the stage in the middle of a song while Krieger moved across the stage to play side by side with Manzarek, working and feeding off of each other to weave new melodies into the songs.
The instrumental portions were also highlighted by Manzarek’s jazzy, spirited keyboard solos, and Krieger’s slow, mind-blowing guitar riffs, each man taking a few well-deserved moments in the spotlight. It was always a pleasure to watch Krieger, a phenomenal but underrated guitarist, working his fingers fluidly over the strings and frets to make his guitar sing. Though he and Manzarek have aged physically, their musical talents are as sharp as ever, leaving no doubts about the viability of the upcoming reunion tour.
A band who could have easily entertained the crowd for hours with nothing more than thirty-year-old hits, the Doors refused to rest on their laurels, crafting new melodies and even introducing a new, and much darker arrangement for “Strange Days,” one of their early successes. The band finished their set with an extended rendition of “Light My Fire,” one of the first songs Krieger wrote for the band, featuring one of the most remarkable jam sessions of the night between Manzarek and Krieger.
After a short break, the band returned for an encore, enrapturing the audience with the moody “Rider’s on the Storm,” and a second performance of “Roadhouse Blues,” with Krieger’s son Waylon accompanying on guitar. The bawdy spirit of the song intensified by Astbury’s more confident vocals and Copeland’s frenetic drumming and the additional guitar closed the show on a high note, putting the cap on a highly successful night.
The Doors will never be the same without Morrison and Densmore — though hopefully Densmore will be able to participate in the 2003 tour — but perhaps they do not need to be. The new members may be just what was needed to revitalize the remainder of the band, and with Krieger and Manzarek looking more energetic than ever, The Doors could definitely have a future. Either way, Friday’s performance proved that they are still one of the great rock bands, and with Krieger and Manzarek at the helm, they will be rocking for years to come.
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