On Friday, The Doors, headed by singer Ian Astbury of The Cult, performed for the first time since 1972.
By Cathy Maestri The Press-Enterprise, Fontana
September 9, 2002
Despite seemingly scattershot performers and an atmosphere somewhere between a biker rally and a corporate company picnic, the first two days of Harley-Davidson’s Open Road Tour were right on target. The public debut of the reconstituted Doors on Friday appealed to the increasingly dominant Boomer Bikers and Saturday’s contemporary rock lineup made the company seem cool to the next generation of potential motorcycle buyers.
Friday’s thin crowd swelled for The Doors’ first public concert since September of 1972. Several vocalists have stood in following Jim Morrison’s death in 1971, but the Cult’s Ian Astbury looks like the one with the right balance of reverence. The English singer’s voice is naturally blustery and powerful and he stayed true to it. And instead of aping Morrison’s theatrics, Astbury was straightforward. “It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it,” he said.
There were only two original members onstage – professional keyboardist and host Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger, who looked frail but sounded strong. John Densmore’s tinnitus (a persistent ringing in the ears) makes it difficult for him to perform live, so former Police drummer Stewart Copeland was his crackling replacement.
X singer John Doe was the one who got to dive into Morrison’s poetic legacy. Wearing a retro “Riverside MC” shirt and accompanied by Navajo and Lakota dancers, part-time actor Doe made a guest appearance for a riveting recital of Morrison’s poetry/lyrics. “Awake Ghost Song” was spoken atop an updated groove, and “The Hill Dwellers” ended with a crescendo that did the Lizard King proud.
Older fans seemed thrilled to be able to relive the vibe. A number of teen and twentysomething fans were ecstatic with their first Doors experience. There was a bit of griping about updated arrangements – “Strange Days” had Middle Eastern touches, twinkling pianos added to the cabaret feel of “Love Street” and the pace picked up noticeably on “Light My Fire” (which included guitar riffs from the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”) and “Riders on the Storm” – but there was nothing grievous.
And while the major complaint would be that they both opened and closed with “Roadhouse Blues,” while leaving other standards undone, it was interesting to compare the old Doors with the updated encore version – with Krieger’s son Waylon on electric guitar, it sent waves of electricity through the crowd it hadn’t before. It would be a good idea to add the Doors’ second generation for the 2003 tour.
The few early birds were rewarded with a wide-ranging set from East LA’s kings of Latin roots-rock, Los Lobos. Few others can slide from the Mexican classic “Volver, Volver” to a righteously rocking “Born To Be Wild,” with Doe as the guest singer.
In between was 78-year-old bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs – and although the bikers may not have recognized much more than “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” from “The Beverly Hillbillies,” they seemed to have a surprisingly fine time – some even tried to square-dance around a pile of leather jackets.
With a fairly cohesive rock lineup, Saturday’s crowd was at least triple the previous night’s and it felt far more like a concert.
Canadian hard-rockers Default opened, followed by mentors and fellow countrymen Nickelback. The latter has brilliantly capitalized on current trends with its commercialized metal, but singer Chad Kroeger didn’t quite understand Harley’s 100th – anniversary concept – he suggested the band play again next year. “It’s cool – sun, motorbikes, good-lookin’ chicks and rock ‘n’ roll,” he observed. Of course, wearing a Triomphe T-shirt wasn’t going to score points with his hosts.
Nickelback broke up its string of catchy, melodic-metal tunes with lots of pyrotechnics plus an acoustic “Heroes” and the start of its hit “How You Remind Me” (better than its big-rock reprise).
Billy Idol was the star of the day. A devoted Harley rider (he often rides to concerts), the combination of bikes, a gorgeous sunset and a horde of eager fans meant his trademark sneer kept breaking into an ear-to-ear smile. With the notable exception of longtime partner and guitar virtuoso Steve Stevens, his band seemed a bit low-budget, but that didn’t matter.
Idol’s delivery occasionally slipped into lounge-lizard territory, but given his material’s inherent campiness, that’s not such a bad thing. And Idol can still deliver – he hit and held notes on a semi-acoustic arrangement of “White Wedding” that set the crowd screaming. An a cappella “rockabilly Idol” rendition of Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” was also pretty impressive.
Ever the leather-clad rock star, he changed jackets and T-shirts (two with stylized depictions of male and female organs) frequently, teased the crowd and working in a couple of theme-appropriate songs, his own “Blue Highway” and the day’s requisite “Born To Be Wild.”
The Stone Temple Pilots were Saturday’s headliners, but the band seemed hesitant. Not only have they been off the road for a few months, but Scott Weiland’s glam persona seems a bit foolhardy to attempt in front of hardcore bikers. Instead, he wore a white suit and a bit of eyeliner and the band stuck to its art-rock indulgences.
The set offered a chunk of hits up front and wound to an unplugged segment (“So, underneath it all we really are musicians,” Weiland noted) for its cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Dancing Days” and STP’s own “Sour Girl.”
Considering Weiland’s reservedness, a few art-rock numbers and that it was the end of a long day, the band did well to crank up toward its big ending with a fast-paced “Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart” and closing with a buzzy, energized “Down” before encoring with “Sex Type Thing” to send everyone home happy, be it on four wheels or two.