Monday, May 20, 2013

The Doors' Ray Manzarek remembered

I was very saddened to get the news today that seminal keyboardist Ray Manzarek of The Doors passed away after losing his battle with cancer. He was 74. I got to review Manzarek for The Orange County Register twice, most recently in August 2011. Here is my original review of that fantastic show that was published on Aug. 6, 2011, one that my wife and I will never forget.
Ray Manzarek performing in Costa Mesa, CA on Aug. 5, 2011. Photo: Kelly A. Swift

Published: Aug. 6, 2011 Updated: Aug. 7, 2011 10:00 a.m

Revisiting 'L.A. Woman' with half of the Doors

Ray Manzarek of The Doors in concert on Friday, Aug. 5, 2011. Photo: Kelly A. Swift

The last time keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger performed at Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa was August 2007 under the moniker Riders on the Storm. But more than the name of their ongoing live tribute to the music of the Doors has changed.
Instead of onetime Fuel singer Brett Scallions handling the late Jim Morrison's vocals, as was the case four years ago (the Cult's Ian Astbury assumed that role before that, when this resurrection was called the Doors of the 21st Century), Friday night's concert provided a rare chance to see Dave Brock, of O.C.-based salute Wild Child, performing this classic material alongside two of its originators.
While Scallions' thin pipes weren't nearly up to the task of delivering staples like "Break on Through (To the Other Side)," "Light My Fire" and "L.A. Woman" with the same vocal firepower of Morrison - founding member of the illustrious but infamous 27 Club, which Amy Winehouse just joined - Brock certainly provided a welcome re-creation of the mysteriously dynamic approach of the iconic singer/poet who died three months after the last proper Doors album came out.
There are purists who undoubtedly cringe at the thought of two original members of one of rock's most compelling acts teaming with the frontman from a popular tribute band. But if they'd witnessed this powerful, often fiery two-hour performance before a capacity crowd at Pacific, those doubts would likely be cast aside. Brock never came off as trying to mimic Morrison's explosive style, but rather allowed his tall, sleek, dressed-in-black frame and spot-on singing work magic for him.
The 17-song concert doubled as both a greatest-hits set and a celebration of the 40th anniversary of L.A. Woman, although the promise of the group tackling the Doors' final studio disc in its entirety didn't completely materialize.
Three selections were left out of the set, including the muted blues shuffle "Cars Hiss by My Window," Side 2's sinister opening groove "L'America" and, most glaringly absent of all, the indelible "Riders on the Storm." Not surprisingly, the seven L.A. Woman songs that were included weren't performed in any familiar order, though four of its lesser-known tracks - "Crawling King Snake," "Hyacinth House," "Been Down So Long" and "The Changeling" - came all in a row toward the end of the show.
The current ensemble, rounded out by more-than-solid drummer Ty Dennis and bassist Phil Chen, kicked things off with "Roadhouse Blues," the first of many songs that provided a showcase for the distinctive finger-style guitar playing of Krieger, while a large rear-projection screen displayed grainy images of driving down a highway. Throughout the night, a wide range of such videos were used to reinforce the imagery of specific songs or display archival footage of Morrison and the other Doors back in the day.
While many mid- to late-'60s bands forged sounds out of the molds put forth by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, L.A.'s Doors were different, blending blues, jazz, flamenco, folk, psychedelia, even spoken-word poetry to establish an approach like no artist before. L.A. Woman in full or not, that aspect was memorialized here for an enthusiastic audience, a mix of baby boomers and twentysomethings.
The adventuresome and once-dangerous side of the Doors was conjured early in the night with a riveting version of "The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)" - where "out here we is stoned, immaculate" - and again later amid a mind-crashing 15-minute take on "When the Music's Over," so powerful it felt as though it could have been released just this year.
That version, dedicated to Morrison by Manzarek, began with the famed keyboardist, 72, summoning a droning organ solo as Krieger, 65, intentionally altered his tuning to create dissonance. Brock's image was soon projected in swirling light on the large screen as he sang the piece's dark poetic lines. Elsewhere in the epic, Krieger used his hammering fretwork technique, while disturbing images were shown as Brock delivered still-biting lines like "What have they done to the Earth? / What have they done to our fair sister? / Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her."
But not all was so dark. Krieger's son Waylon and No Doubt drummer Adrian Young were brought out for an upbeat jam on "Back Door Man," and toward the end of the night the more romantic "Touch Me" was unfurled, with Krieger offering up an inspired guitar excursion in place of the famous sax solo featured on the original. There also were moments when the raw beauty of the Doors' catalog shined, specifically during the tender, rarely-heard "Blue Sunday."
Things ended mightily, the quintet offering up a driving "L.A. Woman" (complete with Krieger and Manzarek playing full-length solos) before the band returned to perform a 10-minute version of "Light My Fire." There were few doubts that the troupe was on fire, as Manzarek stood up from his keyboard and then knelt down intensely while serving up his finest playing of the night, followed by Krieger superbly surveying one of rock's most recognizable solos. And Brock rose to the challenge of his legendary pals, singing his heart out and nailing the climatic high notes at the end of that opus.
Ray Manzarek in 2011. Photo: Kelly A. Swift
Setlist: Ray Manzarek & Robby Krieger at Pacific Amphitheatre, Costa Mesa, Aug. 5, 2011
Main set: Roadhouse Blues / Love Me Two Times / Break on Through (To the Other Side) / The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat) / Back Door Man / Love Her Madly / Peace Frog / Blue Sunday / When the Music's Over / Crawling King Snake / Hyacinth House / Been Down So Long / The Changeling / Not to Touch the Earth / Touch Me / L.A. Woman
Encore: Light My Fire

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