Nearby to Scoma’s Restaurant on pier 47 by the bay in San Francisco is a live music bar called Lou’s Pier 47. On any given weekend on the small stage in front of the rich red curtain backdrop local musicians entertain the packed crowd. It is like a house party for tourists and the guitarists shimmer with the Californian sound. Afterwards a bucket is passed around and the enthusiastic crowd cough up the appearance fee. The music is derived from those who came before and created the sound. It is homage.

On Friday night those privileged enough to score a ticket to the Doobie Brothers sold out Palais show were treated to an exhibition from one of the original creators of the Californian sound. From the moment the band walked on to the stage to unholster the waiting guitars and groove into the moment with ‘Take Me In Your Arms’, the crowd understood they were in for something special. Ably led by original members Tom Johnston and Pat Simmonds, the band were not about to disappoint.  Once warmed up they went straight for the soul with a powerfully sweet rendition of ‘Jesus Is Alright’. This song displayed a key element of the Doobies’ unique sound. Five voices in harmony. The newer band members played their roles well. There were also superb lead highlights first from John McFee on guitar followed by Guy Allison on keyboards. John McFee is a talented musician of enormous versatility, and his fiddle playing and steel guitar were highlights of the night’s performance. But what else do you expect – after all he does come from Santa Cruz, groove capital of the American nation.

The Band hit their solid blues roots with ‘Clear As The Driven Snow’ from the album The Captain And Me. Then almost apologetically, the band put together a four track set from their newly released album World Gone Crazy. ‘Nobody’, ‘Far from Home’, ‘New Orleans’ and ‘The Chateaux’. Apart from the reworked ‘Nobody’, this set was largely unfamiliar to the audience but all the hallmarks of the Doobies’ sound and arrangements were on display from the driving beat and big guitars on ‘The Chateaux’ to the introduction on keyboard of ‘New Orleans’. This keyboard solo was brief glimpse at the ghost of Michael McDonald who hangs over this band. For fans of the McDonald era the band did an authentic version of ‘Taking it to the Streets’ with the lyrics shared between Simmons who in part of the range can sound remarkably like McDonald, and the bass player John Kelly. There were also moments of rehearsed choreography which reminded us that as well as fine musicians these guys are entertainers who can ham it up with the best of them. There was some fine saxophone from Marc Russo, with the drumming was all in the hands of Tony Pia who pounded the skins with vigour. What a shame Michael Hossack could not be there too, as two percussionists is the true Doobies sound.

At the end of the new songs set the band rewarded the crowd with classic tracks including ‘Blackwater’, ‘Long Train Running’, ‘China Grove’ and as a standout encore/finale a fully powered up ‘Let the Music Play’.  In saving the most familiar until last the Band ensured the crowd were all on their feet – not bad for a bunch of seniors the crowd that is, gone crazy at the end of a 90 minute set.

As punters strolled along the Esplanade watching the palms sway it was the chill wind of March in Melbourne that provided the reminder that we were not in California even if in an earlier moment we were fooled into believing we were. If buckets were passed around at the end of this performance they would be overflowing with love and peace man; true gratitude.

–       Kevin Jones