By Tony Saavedra
Orange County Register September 9, 2002
Ian Astbury, the British singer now fronting The Doors, summed it up this way: “It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.”
Or do they?
After all these years, why fiddle with the legacy left by Jim Morrison, especially since the songs are only a CD away? No one can ever replace Morrison in the studio or on stage. So what’s the difference between a reunion of The Doors and, say, Creedence Clearwater Revisited or any number of bands touring without their original singers?
Some answers came Friday as founding members Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger took the stage with Astbury and world-class drummer Stewart Copeland, formerly of The Police, to kick off the three-day Harley-Davidson Open Road tour at the California Speedway in Fontana.
After all these years, the music should be experienced live. By young people who discovered “L.A. Woman” and “Light My Fire” on classic rock stations long after Morrison died. By baby boomers who relished the rebellion of “The End” before growing into middle-aged adults with mortgages and college funds for their children.
Yes, someone does have to front the band, if only so we can see Krieger hammering out some of the most recognizable guitar licks in rock. Or Manzarek tapping through keyboard solos that elevated basic blues to something classical. These guys are legendary. Sure, they’re not icons like Jimi and Jerry Lee. But while they owe The Doors’ mystique to Morrison, they are largely responsible for The Doors’ sound.
Manzarek, in a news conference before the concert, said the group plans to tour and record new music.
“The whole point of this is to have fun and to have a good time,” Manzarek said.
For Doors fans, Friday’s show offered promise that the price of admission won’t be wasted if you come with the right mindset. At the worst, you will get a really, really good tribute band. But it was puzzling how two of four original members can be termed a reunion. The show’s modest crowd indicated that the public was equally dubious. Original drummer John Densmore, who was included on all the advertisements with a tiny footnote that he might not appear, has been ordered by his doctor to retire because of ear problems, Manzarek said. Densmore recently penned an article published in The Nation accusing Manzarek of pushing to sell Doors songs for use in commercials.
Accusations aside, The Doors’ two-hour show was not the “ceremony” of the Morrison era. In those shows you never knew what Morrison was going to do and he actually lived the words that he sang. When he moaned, “Cancel my subscription to the resurrection,” the sense of isolation came from the gut and not the diaphragm.
The reunion was more of a celebration of the music, best experienced by singing along and playing air guitar with Krieger. It was less about watching a performance and more about spending time with an old friend. The band was a little ragged, although Astbury explained that they had rehearsed only seven times.
Astbury, of The Cult, sounded, looked and slithered pretty much like Morrison. Astbury is a throaty belter who gamely handled “Roadhouse Blues,” which the band, oddly enough, played twice, “Break On Through” and “Backdoor Man.” It was disconcerting, however, to see a music stand near the microphone, apparently there in case he forgot the lyrics, although he rarely consulted it.
Copeland is a maestro who does more than keep time, offering a precision backbeat and elaborate fills. If The Doors hope to create relevant new music, they’ve picked guys with the right personalities and musical pedigrees to do the job. With Manzarek unveiling what he called The Doors for the 21st century, can a Nirvana reunion be far behind?
Opening the show was Los Lobos, playing blistering East L.A. boogie, oldies but goodies and blues so mournful that they could have sold out a Prozac booth. Boosted by their new “Good Morning, Aztlan,” the band mixed roots rock with “Cumbia Raza” and the standard, “Volver, Volver,” sort of the Spanish equivalent of “Stand By Your Man.” This is a band not to be missed, on CD or on stage. With songs like “Done Gone Blue,” Los Lobos adds legitimacy to a world where Celine Dion is a diva and “Nellyville” sells zillions. Come for “La Bamba,” stay for “My Baby’s Gone.”