Sunday, February 14, 2016

Celebration for Ray Manzarek brings together surviving members of the Doors and celebrated friends

My review was originally posted on The Orange County Register site on Feb. 13, 2016. 

Surviving Doors members drummer John Densmore
and Robby Krieger performing at "Celebration for
Ray Manzarek" event. Photo: Kelly A. Swift
Celebration for Ray Manzarek
Who: Robby Krieger, John Densmore, John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Rami Jaffee, Robert DeLeo, Taylor Hawkins, more
Where: The Fonda Theatre
When: Friday, Feb. 12, 2016

One of the most tragic things in the years leading up to the death of Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek in May 2013 was that original drummer John Densmore didn't join forces with Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger in their "Doors of the 21st Century" or "Riders on the Storm" projects.

However, on Friday night Densmore and Krieger performed together live for the first time in more than 15 years for the aptly-titled "Celebration for Ray Manzarek" at the Fonda Theatre on Feb. 12, 2016 (which marked what would have been Manzarek's 76th birthday). Along with a number of established and up-and-coming musical pals, the special concert served to honor Manzarek while also raising money for Stand Up To Cancer.
Drummer John Densmore at "Celebration for Ray
Manzarek" event on Feb. 12, 2016.
Photo: Kelly A. Swift

The three-hour event played out in two sections divided by a short intermission with musicians rotating on and off the stage with almost every song. Krieger performed on just about every offering, while Densmore (who suffers from a hearing disorder) performed on a handful of the Doors' best-known selections but left most of the drumming to Stephen Perkins (of Jane's Addiction fame) and others.

The first performance of the night was "When the Music's Over," with Gov't Mule singer-guitarist Warren Haynes' big baritone a good fit to deliver Morrison's ruminative lines. 

Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, who grew up in Laguna Beach, was featured on lead vocals for the next two songs, a mostly-straight forward take on "Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)" highlighted by Krieger's inspired bluesy guitar solo, and a rocking "Love Me Two Times" with Rami Jaffee conjuring up the spirit of Manzarek for his convincing keyboard solo.

Another memorable performance that played out early featured Dead Sara vocalist Emily Armstrong firing up the troupe for "Back Door Man."
Guitarist Robby Krieger and his son, vocalist Waylon Krieger,
perform during a "Celebration for Ray Manzarek."
Photo: Kelly A. Swift

One of the most acclaimed keyboardists of the rock era, Manzarek also earned acclaim beginning in the early 1980s for his production of four albums for the Los Angeles-based band X. So it was fitting that several members of X were on hand to celebrate their work together; singer Exene Cervenka and bassist-singer John Doe recreated their reworked take on the Doors' "Soul Kitchen" (a highlight on the band's 1980 debut album "Los Angeles") and then introduced the X original "Nausea" by explaining that Manzarek had played keyboards on that song; guitarist Brian Ray (a long-time member of Paul McCartney's band) played some powerful lead guitar on the track, which featured the distinctive off-kilter duel vocals from Doe and Cervenka. 

The performances featuring members of X began a long run of strong performances, the best sounding was the one-two punch of "Five to One" and "Break On Through (To The Other Side)" with Krieger's son Waylon Krieger sounding remarkably like Morrison on both of those tracks and proving to be an effective frontman.  

Singer Andrew Wyatt of the Swedish indie band Miike Snow delivered one of the knockouts of the night with "L.A. Woman." Despite his vocals distorting early, his jumping into the crowd and powerful solos from Robby Krieger and Jaffee made it obvious this was among the sold-out crowd's favorites of the night.
The night's final selection, "Light My Fire," brought out the event's
entire cast to honor Ray Manzarek. Photo: Kelly A. Swift

Several of the Doors' most beloved gems were saved for the end of the night, including a reflective "Riders On The Storm" (featuring Doe on lead vocals), explosive "Roadhouse Blues" and night-ending "Light My Fire," the latter enhanced by Jaffee's extended keyboards and the night's full cast crowding onto stage to sing and rightfully celebrate Manzarek – and ultimately the Doors' enduring legacy – in song.

Robert Kinsler

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