As the unofficial yacht-rock go-to guy at New Times, it was incumbent on me to attend the Doobie Brothers and Chicago show Tuesday night at Dodge Theatre.
So I did my duty, despite the fact that I saw the Doobies play Tempe on New Years Eve (nobody needs to hear "China Grove" more than once over any six month period) and additionally despite the fact that I know jack-shit about Chicago (quite possibly the most prolific American rock band of all time).
How Chicago-oblivious am I? So oblivious that I didn't even realize frontman Peter Cetera left the group (waaaaay back in 1985, evidently) until they fired up "Beginnings" halfway through their upbeat but sedentary two-hour set. Yeah, I know - I'm a piss-poor yacht-rock authority. But when's the last time you saw a yacht in Phoenix?
In my defense, it's really easy to get confused personnel-wise at a Chicago show, 'cause they got so many freakin' musicians and instruments and shit. I mean, they had four drum kits on that God damned stage. Four drum kits! (One their next tour, the band should pack one less drum kit and replace it with some kind of lighting effect - visually speaking, this was the most monochromatic show I've ever seen at the Dodge.)
Moreover, I was awe-struck by the band's horn section, which was composed of
1) a dude in a pink silk button-down and really pimp-looking unpleated slacks
2) a dude in a black muscle shirt. Let me tell you, if ever a pair of AARP-aged gentlemen rocked a silk button-down and muscle shirt, it was these two cats.
(At this point, I should probably cop to the fact that I arrived late and missed the Doobies half of the show. I feel this is forgivable, since the line-up hasn't changed since their Tempe appearance and you can easily catch them at your local casino or bar mitzvah or what have you.)
The highlight of the evening? That's easy - it was when Chicago invited an audience member to the stage to sing "If You Leave Me Now," his reward for donating money to a band-sponsored charity. And he totally kicked the hell out of it. It was like America Idol: Wealthy Old White Guy Edition.
It was also great when the umpteen Doobies joined the umpteen Chicago guys on stage for a final encore of "Takin' It to the Streets" and "Listen to the Music." Yeah, it was great, but also ineffably bleak, like watching three dozen musically-inclined dentists jam at their yearly trade conference. Sure, the combined members of the Doobies and Chicago are capable musicians and have a formidable backlog of hits.
So what's missing? Star power, I think. For better or worse, both bands are inextricably legacy-linked to their respective former lead singers - Michael McDonald and Cetera, respectively - and have never found the "faces" to replace them. As Frank Sinatra once crooned, "there's something missing in the way you say hello." Or sing "Just You 'n Me."
Last Night: The Doobie Brothers and Chicago at the Dodge
Better Than: Listening to them at the dentist's office.
One More Thing: I realize that Chicago isn't exactly Pink Floyd in the mind-expanding sensory overload department, but would it kill them to invest in a lighting effect or two? As it stands, the best special effect on stage was the trumpet guy in the pink shirt.