The Doors were — and remain — one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most important bands. Arriving as they did (and when they did) as avatars of the burgeoning, acid-drenched American youth culture-in-revolt scene of the mid ’60s, The Doors transcended simple pop rock in favor of artistry, poetry, passion, experimentation, style and revolution. Of course, the late, great Jim Morrison became the locus of The Doors, as, to many of his generation, he embodied the quixotic counter culture values of the psychedelic Sixties; unfortunately, he also tragically became an early casualty of the hard-partying ’70s, dying of heart failure in 1971 in Paris, at age 27.
However, all four of The Doors’ founding members were immensely talented creative artists who were synergistically key in bringing to fruition the band’s rich potential: Jim Morrison as the chief lyricist and Dionysian frontman brought the shamanic essence and the carnal sex appeal; the late (also great) keyboardist Ray Manzarek (who passed away in 2013) brought the enduring soul; ace drummer John Densmore brought the jazz-tinged rhythmic heartbeat; and guitarist/lyricist extraordinaire Robby Krieger pumped the life-sustaining blood that lit the fire. As such, it is only fitting that Robby Krieger should honor The Doors’ (and his own) celebrated history by touring in support of the fans’ nostalgia and adoration for the band for whom, 50 years ago, he penned the first hit single, which ultimately brought The Doors international fame.
Thus, The Robby Krieger Band (RKB) came to beautiful Ojai and took the Libbey Bowl’s stage to cheers and applause, as a laid-back Krieger casually mentioned that this year marked the 50th anniversary of The Doors’ eponymous first album. The kick ass band, featuring the stellar Phil Chen (former bassist for Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart), longtime drummer Ty Dennis, keyboardist Nathan Wilmarth, and fronted by Robby’s son Waylon, who delivered an impressive Morrison-esque vocal performance while still retaining his own personality and style, then ripped into a rousing rendition of that historic album’s first track, “Break on Through (To the Other Side).” Next up was a smoking medley of “Back Door Man/Five to One,” followed by an impressive version of the hypnotic B-side single “Moonlight Drive” (from The Doors’ second album, Strange Days), during which Krieger’s slide guitar solo enraptured the audience. The fourth tune was a primal rendering of “Wild Child,” (from The Doors’ fourth album, The Soft Parade), which featured more of Krieger’s killer slide guitar and got the crowd singing along. He then broke into a brief soliloquy and dead-panned, “Here’s a song that we really should change the title; back when we wrote it, it was the 20th century — we’ve moved on.” The sexed-up “Twentieth Century Fox” then ensued, during which some of the lovely ladies in the audience began to joyfully gyrate.
Heading into the second third of the set, the RKB hit a high water mark with a sublime performance of “When the Music’s Over,” spotlighting Krieger’s terrific two-hand tapping technique and pitch bending whammy bar bravado. A fierce performance of “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” followed (from The Doors sixth album — and last to feature Morrison’s vocals while he was alive — L.A. Woman). Then, Waylon Krieger told the crowd that the band had a special guest. Smiling and ready to rock, legendary vocalist Eric Burdon from the Animals, strutted on stage, looking cool and clad all in black, to great fanfare. Taking it to another level, Burden brought his deep, bluesy vocals to a powerfully played “Roadhouse Blues” and continued the grooviness with a howling Krieger/Burdon take on The Animals’ classic version of the folk-blues standard “The House of the Rising Son.” Burdon’s guest-performance, brief though it was, was met with ringing applause and cheers from the concertgoers. Krieger then mentioned how the two were good buddies and had toured together some years ago.
The last third of the set featured a frenetic “Peace Frog” (from The Doors’ fifth album, Morrison Hotel) showcasing Krieger’s dancing, distorted G5 chording and wah-wah filled hook. After which, Krieger said, “Let’s do Ray Manzarek’s favorite song — it’s called ‘Riders On The Storm’. ” As expected, the boys killed it; as a bonus, midway through the song, Krieger’s solo segued into the old western classic “(Ghost) Riders In the Sky: A Cowboy Legend,” from which The Doors’ eerie tune drew its inspiration. The band then asked for requests, and among the cries of, “We love you, Robby!” and the clamor and screams for as yet unheard tunes, somebody in the audience shouted, “Where’s Densmore? Bring on John Densmore!” (On a side note, Densmore was present along with Krieger in Venice, L.A., for the ceremony declaring January 4, 2017 “The Day of The Doors,” and will also be performing with Perry Farrell, Shirley Manson, and Shepard Fairy at WERD on April 28 at the Ace Hotel in L.A.)
Unfazed, Krieger joked about John being out there somewhere; then he introduced Forrest Penner — guitarist from Strange Days, the very first Doors tribute band formed in 1980, and Penner joined Krieger and the group to jam on “Love Her Madly” (another fine Krieger composition and lead single from the album L.A. Woman). Closing the concert, the band finally unleashed the fan favorite “L.A. Woman” — and by this time many audience members were boogieing along to the song, right up in front of the stage. After which, Waylon gave praise to the dancers, proclaiming that the Ojai audience had been the best on the tour so far.
For an encore, the band came back on stage, and Krieger dedicated the last song to Jim, saying, “Without him, none of us would be here.” The boys then did a blazing “Light My Fire” — Krieger’s signature song and the first Doors tune he wrote — during which he segued into both The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and John Coltrane’s version of “My Favorite Things” as a sweet solo. All in all, it was the perfect ending to a fantastic night on which, in spirit, both Jim and Ray’s lasting legacies were celebrated. It also proved that Robby Krieger is a national treasure.