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Live at Wolf Trap [DVD]

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Performer Notes
  • The Doobie Brothers' first concert video made specifically for DVD is an immaculately produced project that should satisfy the band's Tom Johnston-era fans. Recorded during a single show at the titular venue on July 25, 2004, the two founders -- guitarist/vocalist/songwriters Johnston and Patrick Simmons -- along with longtime members drummer Michael Hossack and Keith Knudsen (who passed away just six months later in February 2005) and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist John McFee, are joined by a three-piece horn section, veteran bassist Skylark, and a percussionist and keyboard player. That makes for a lot of people on-stage, and even though the parts are rehearsed and the musicians don't overdo it, sometimes there is just too much going on. The sound is exemplary though, and as Johnston remarks in the extensive interview footage, he's convinced the band has never played better. But there remains a sense that the principals may be getting a bit tired of these songs, some of which they have been playing for over 30 years. The group roars through its boogie-heavy, predominantly non-Michael McDonald two-hour repertoire ("Taking It to the Streets" is the only entry from the McDonald era) with energy and professionalism and genuinely seems to be enjoying the proceedings. In one of the more creative aspects of the disc, interactive interview links during the songs flip the viewer to the tune's writer discussing its origins. Simmons' talents that often play a supporting role on albums are featured live and his country finger-picking on "Steamer Lane," the folkish "Neal's Fandango" and "Clear as the Driven Snow" help lighten Johnston's more aggressive "China Grove" impulses. McFee's stunning string work on pedal steel and violin also varies the mood. The 5.1 surround mix is impressive and the camera work, although slick, keeps the focus on the band and doesn't cut away too often. The set list -- augmented by six selections not on the CD version of this show -- offers a few surprises with a version of the Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers/Thurston Harris oldie "Little Bitty Pretty One" and the Doobie's first single "Nobody" as highlights. A fine if occasionally overly active performance, this is still a great souvenir from a classic rock band that has clearly maintained its chops and excitement, if not its edge. ~ Hal Horowitz
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