By Harrison Christoph
It’s been fifty years since Robbie Krieger and The Doors first made waves in LA with their debut self titled album, The Doors (1967). The band broke on through with hit after hit, quickly establishing themselves as the kings of the LA rock scene. The house band at The Whisky A Go Go on the Sunset Strip, then quickly taking on the world. Tonight, guitarist and co-founding member Robbie Krieger continues to light fires wherever they go with no signs of slowing down.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t even born yet when The Doors were around, but I have seen a few incarnations, tributes and solo performances that have all honored the Lizard King and his Riders On The Storm to know what’s good or not. Robbie Krieger’s current solo line up may be the best he’s put together in years.
I’ve seen The Doors of the 21st Century (with Ian Astbury of the Cult on vocals, my personal favorite) and Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger both solo. They all are great in their own right and there’s no doubt about it that Krieger’s solo efforts, while his abilities have always been sharp as a whole, have not always been on point. His current 2017 touring line up however, that includes his son on vocals, works. And works very well.
The Robbie Krieger solo band now consists of Krieger on guitars, his son Waylon on vocals, Nathan Wilmarth on keyboards, Ty “Stick” Dennis on drums, Phil Chen on bass and a couple extra guest musicians filling in on backing guitars and percussions. All of whom accomplished musicians. Krieger’s backing guitarist was introduced to us. Robbie said, “This is Forrest (Penner) he is my guitar tech and friend. He knows more about my guitar setup than I do.” He continues, “He’s been doing this a long time. He’s also from the first Doors tribute band. How long ago was that Forrest?” Penner responds, “1980, a long time ago.”
Krieger’s son, while maybe not the best Jim Morrison substitute, held his ground and made it his own. As well as he should since he’s been listening to these songs all his life. He wasn’t trying to be Morrison which was key. He was giving his representation of a Doors lead singer in tribute. Clad in a black Guinness shirt, black leather jacket, jeans and wrap around shades, he fronted the Morrison tribute well. You could tell he was happy to be there, doing what he was doing. He even said, “It is fun to be jamming with your dad on stage. How many people can say that?” He was humble, honest and true.
The audience was alive tonight at the City Winery in Chicago. I’ve seen many shows here. This crowd came to party. On most occasions, this is a more reserved group. It’s designed that way. If you haven’t been to a show here before, it’s set up as a dinner theatre more than a concert hall. It’s a small, intimate space with reserved communal style seating butted right up to the stage edge and flows back. It’s low lit and the volume level that of a lounge act. No screaming Marshall stacks here. But tonight, this crowd let the band know they wanted to be heard with shouts of their favorite songs called out, sing-a-longs and even calling out lyrics they knew were coming up. At one point Krieger heard them shout a phrase to the stage of a song that was coming up and said, “You’re jumping the gun folks, we’re not there yet.”
Krieger himself noticed the limitations of the venue making statements like, “I wish we could bring the lights down, this is what we’re supposed to do” and “This is one of our most danceable songs (Peace Frog), I wish you all could get up and dance but I see there’s no room for that. They should make a machine that would retract the tables and chairs down into the floor and give you guys some room.” That didn’t stop some fans who made their way to the aisles and halls to get their boogie on.
There was a nice mix of audience banter. Between Robbie and his son, they made jokes, told mini stories and shared Chicago references. One joke Robbie made was, “Since we’re singing about Texas, let’s do a song that mentions Chicago.” At another point Waylon said, “Everybody take a look to your left and a look to your right and hug one of those two people.” (audience laughter followed by group participation) He continued with, “And give the other a nice, firm, handshake.” Waylon then went on to say, “All right, all right, I guess it’s time to just give you all what you want… but was interrupted by Nathan on keys who said, “Uhm, you’re supposed to give me a hug.” Which he did, then immediately walked over to his dad and said, “Well, I guess you get the firm handshake.”
Robbie Krieger knows Chicago. He knows the ties associated with his former band mates and song lyrics. He said, “This is the home of Ray Manzarek, Chicago, Illinois. He went to St. Rita High School. Anybody here go to St. Rita?” One fan shouted, “Rita Yeah WHOOO!” To which Krieger replied, “Really? Huh, OK… so, speaking of Chicago, we’re going to do a song about Texas.” Then blazed into “Texas Radio”. Another point of reference was during “Peace Frog”. The line that states, Blood on the Street in the town of Chicago, was meet with audience cheers. Sadly, not a very pleasant reminder of the current state of unrest in Chi-town.
As for other unique songs, we were treated to a remix version of sorts of “Riders on the Storm”. This version had a country twang to it that featured the main riff from “Ghost Riders In The Sky”.
Krieger guitar playing is simply amazing. The 71 year old still plays like it’s 1967. Dressed in his trademark multi patterned psychedelic pants, his solos just as sharp. His chops just haven’t aged. He trades off duals with his keyboardist during “Love Me Two Times” like a master. His Gibson’s sound just as clear today as any recording. There’s a reason Rolling Stone named him one of the top 100 guitarist of all time. Don’t let the now white hair fool ya. This man can go head to head with the best of them. Most of them learned it from him and he’s still schooling today.
By the end of the show, the stage grew more and more crowded as Krieger and Co. brought out special guest musicians to play with them. All total, seven on stage by the time LA Woman was played. The house was really rockin’ by this point.
During the encore, we heard the first song Kreiger ever wrote and one of the most popular tracks for The Doors, “Light My Fire” and the transient, oedipus, “The End” to wrap it all up.
At the end, the audience gave Krieger a standing ovation filled with cheers, clapping and hootin’ and hallerin’. He left them fulfilled for sure. Everyone got their Doors fix.
For more on Robbie Krieger including current tour, click here
For 50 photos honoring his 50 years in rock, from the show at City Winery, click here
Setlist: Robbie Krieger Band live in Chicago at City Winery 05-09-17