The Doobie Brothers started out playing gigs for “10 bucks,” guitarist and vocalist Patrick Simmons recalled early in the group’s performance at Blossom Music Center on Tuesday (July 12). But it’s never been about the money, he told the fans. “We just love to play.”
More than 50 years after those initial shows (“50-ish,” Simmons said in regards to the anniversary tour, which was delayed by the pandemic), the San Francisco band still displays an infectious camaraderie onstage, which demonstrates how much they love what they do.
In recent years, the group has rotated through a series of various classic-rock package tours. But on their current anniversary run, which reunites them with longtime associate Michael McDonald onstage for the first time in 25 years, fans enjoyed an evening of nothing but Doobies.
The packed house, loaded from the pavilion to the top of the lawn, was rewarded with a set that ran well past the two-hour mark with only a brief encore break. You can see exclusive photos from the concert below.
What’s interesting about the Doobie Brothers’ current trek is the way they were able to blend the two eras of the band, mixing their guitar-heavy earlier work with the smoother material from the McDonald years.
They clearly had fun reassessing some of their past work as well. “You Belong to Me,” from 1977’s Livin’ on the Fault Line and led by a soulful McDonald vocal, was slowed down in a way that gave it even more of an intimate nightclub vibe, with a noticeably funky undertone.
Excitement over McDonald’s presence was palpable, with the five-time Grammy winner receiving a lengthy standing ovation during the band introductions. The members offered their own kudos as well.
“You like that, right? It’s a good song,” vocalist and guitarist Tom Johnston said after “You Belong to Me,” offering praise to his one-time replacement.
The band also rearranged “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)” so Johnston could trade vocals with McDonald and bassist John Cowan, accentuating the gospel-revival feeling.
Deeper cuts — like “Clear as the Driven Snow,” a choice pick from 1973’s The Captain and Me — often came with a story. “I took too many mushrooms… and something else,” Simmons told fans of his experience writing the song, which he described as “psychedelic folk-rock.”
The track was one of the highlights of the night, and its mystical quality offered an alternate view of how things could have gone if the Doobies had kept pursuing a more progressive direction.
After a mid-set stretch that featured a couple choice cuts from the group’s latest, Liberte, the Doobies turned the wayback machine to full blast, uncorking a particularly potent run through “Without You” that bloomed straight into “Jesus is Just Alright.” They stacked an additional six massive hits on top of that to round out the set, including “China Grove” and “Takin’ it to the Streets,” shining examples of the Doobies’ songwriting prowess during the Johnston and McDonald eras, respectively.
And if this band is a “long train runnin’,” to quote one of its most beloved hits, there still appears to be plenty of miles on the tracks.
The Doobie Brothers, July 12, 2022
The band’s COVID-delayed 50th Anniversary tour plays in Akron, Ohio