July 21, 2022

Review: Tampa Doobie Brothers fans finally get to listen to the music

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Photo by Caesar Carbajal
After several pandemic-related postponements, The Doobie Brothers finally made it to Tampa. On the road celebrating their 50th anniversary tour, the northern California-based band delivered a full set of hits and deep album cuts for a nearly sold-out (and very vocal) audience at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Wednesday night.

Featuring a lineup that includes founding members and vocalists Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston, the current, touring incarnation of the group also boasts another longtime member: hitmaker, songwriter and distinctive, soulful vocalist Michael McDonald. With that trio of recognizable singers on one stage, it’s a safe bet that just about every one of the Doobies’ hit singles would be played in the band’s career retrospective set. And, as presumed that’s exactly what the mostly over-60 aged crowd got on a steamy summer night from one of the best-selling acts of the 1970s.

For just over two hours, the band, also featuring another veteran member, multi-instrumentalist John McFee, delivered plenty of highlights from its lengthy catalog and continued to build momentum with each subsequent number. In a clever move, the band opened the set with “Nobody,” which just happens to be the opening cut from its 1971, self-titled debut. Wasting no time in wheeling out a more familiar selection, the opening song was immediately followed up with a rollicking version of “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While),” a hit from the band’s 1975 beloved Stampede album, which amped the crowd up instantly.

Johnston, who left the band in the mid-1970s due to health-related issues, got the lion’s share of early material to sing throughout the night. His still-strong and clear vocal rang through the open-air venue and punctuated classic biker anthem “Rockin’ Down the Highway” as well as more recent material like “Don’t Ya Mess With Me” from the band’s latest studio album, 2021’s Liberté. As impressive as his still powerful vocal chops were his crunchy, brawny guitar riffs.

Equally impressive was Simmons, Johnston’s cohort (and his co-author for an upcoming biography chronicling the band’s career). Switching off playing acoustic and electric, he shone on numbers like “Dependin’ on You” and monster hit, “Black Water.” Although a bit hard to hear earlier in the night, Simmons’ vocals got stronger as the night progressed and, he, too, got to flex his musical muscle via impressive guitar work for the duration of the night.
Review: Tampa Doobie Brothers fans finally get to listen to the music
Photo by Caesar Carbajal

The Doobie who received the warmest and most spirited ovations of the night was definitely McDonald, though. Sitting behind his stack of keyboards, the silver-haired singer, who has enjoyed a hit-filled solo career of his own, got plenty of opportunities to shine throughout the evening. The surprising and well-received inclusion of “You Belong to Me,” a song he co-wrote with vocalist Carly Simon (who had a massive hit with the song in 1978) was met with rousing applause as were some of the other hits he scored with the band throughout its most commercially successful period. “Takin’ it to the Streets,” “Minute by Minute” and “What a Fool Believes,” the band’s blockbuster pop/R&B hit from 1979, all drew raucous, loud, standing ovations from audience members who stood, danced, and sang along to all of McDonald’s contributions for the duration of the night.

For all of the individual talents that were on full display for the night, it was the multi-part harmonies from band members that were the true highlights. The 1976 hit “It Keeps You Runnin’” benefitted from the rich, strong harmonies Simmons, Johnston, McFee and bassist John Cowan provided to back McDonald’s soulful lead vocals—absolutely the sparking moment of the evening.

To add to the fine array of talent that filled the stage, sax player Marc Russo added plenty of punch and depth to the majority of the night’s cuts and utility player John McFee showed off his many talents via his mastery of lead guitar, fiddle, and pedal steel throughout the evening.

Simmons and Johnston, positioned at the front of the stage for the duration, didn’t offer much in terms of onstage banter, but their messages were heartfelt and sometimes comical. “We’ve been trying to get here for a couple of years,” Simmons mentioned, referring to postponements that caused the delayed occurrence of this show, “…but we finally made it. Thanks for your patience!”

That acknowledgment drew plenty of cheers and applause as did his mention of the band being inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2020, a feat many hardcore fans felt was long overdue. In a more comical moment, Johnston, recalling the band’s longevity, joked “It’s been a great 50 years…I remember about a third of it!”

Outside of all band members later being introduced, the Doobies relied more on the music that’s served as a soundtrack for many in attendance for the duration of the performance instead of chit chatting with the crowd.

Another one of the band’s many hit singles benefitted from being transformed into an extended jam that boasted plenty of input from percussionist (and former Allman Brother Band member) Marc Quiñones and steady drummer Ed Toth. “Long Train Runnin’” became an extended cut that got new life injected to it, thanks to the funky, extended jam portion that served as the tail-end of the tune. Wisely, the band didn’t stray from throwing some new paint on some of its more familiar songs while not totally deviating from the original feel or vibe of those well-known tunes and their gambles had favorable results.

The night’s three-song encore featured a trio of bonafide Doobie classics that more than made it evident of the domination the band held on radio airwaves in the ‘70s. The note-perfect version of the blues/country/bluegrass inspired “Black Water,” a no. 1 hit in March 1975, was a solid reminder of the depth and the willingness to explore other genres this hardworking band eagerly embraced throughout its lifespan. John McFee’s pitch-perfect fiddle work gave the song its air of authenticity and, again, those dynamic harmonies shone brightly during the song.

Again, it was McDonald who elevated the crowd to the height of excitement with his contribution to the encore portion of the night. Kicking off with some jazzy exchanges with sax player Russo while offering his fancy keyboard work, McDonald worked his way into one of his best-known compositions in style. As the pair created the mood, the other band members eventually chimed in to turn “Takin’ it to the Streets” into an all-out, soul-inspired celebration of the band’s existence. With the entire audience on its feet, dancing and singing along enthusiastically, this moment alone revealed the true significance this band has held for so many long-time followers for so long.

Capping off the night was another one of the Doobies’ anthems, the easy to sing along to 1972 classic, “Listen to the Music.” Without really needing to instruct the crowd to do so, every person in attendance gleefully and exuberantly sang back the all too familiar chorus to the band for this one.

After so many delays, the wait was definitely worth it. Actually marking 51 years since the release of the band’s debut album, this 50th anniversary tour stop served as an outstanding reminder of all the songs and memories this band has contributed to pop music for the last half-century and the complete adoration its audience still feels for them.

Setlist

Nobody
Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)
Here to Love You
Dependin' on You
Rockin' Down the Highway
You Belong to Me
Easy
South City Midnight Lady
Clear as the Driven Snow
It Keeps You Runnin'
Eyes of Silver
Better Days
Don't Ya Mess With Me
Real Love
World Gone Crazy
Minute by Minute
Without You
Jesus Is Just Alright
What a Fool Believes
Long Train Runnin'
China Grove

Black Water
Play Video
Takin' It to the Streets
Listen to the Music
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Review: Tampa Doobie Brothers fans finally get to listen to the music
Photo by Caesar Carbajal
Review: Tampa Doobie Brothers fans finally get to listen to the music
Photo by Caesar Carbajal
Review: Tampa Doobie Brothers fans finally get to listen to the music
Photo by Caesar Carbajal
Review: Tampa Doobie Brothers fans finally get to listen to the music
Photo by Caesar Carbajal

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