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Published: 2001/12/09
by Art Howard

The Robby Krieger Band, The Brandyhouse, Atlanta, GA- 12/1

“When you see the guy, you understand why he’s a legend,” one man told me.

“It was way better than anyone had any right to expect,” another said.

On these recommendations, and my own curiosity, I went to see The Robby Krieger Band. The Krieger name should be immediately recognized by fans of The Doors, and really, most anyone who’s listened to rock n’ roll. While singer Jim Morrison danced and violently threw himself around the stage, guitarist Krieger circled around and around like a contemplative goldfish. Doors drummer John Densmore says he once asked Krieger what he thought about while soloing, and Krieger said his fish, so maybe that’s why he emulated them.

I expected Robby Krieger to play the old Doors tunes by rote, exactly as they are on the CDs we have at home, and with a backing band that would be just competent enough to get the job done and nothing more. Wrong. Though the show was 95% Doors material, he played some new fusion-style stuff that actually surpassed his Doors output, and the band inserted big jams into most every song, with all sorts of fresh, dynamic new parts that aren’t on any of the old CDs. The backing band was much more than competent, they were very seasoned L.A. pros: Angelo Barbera on bass, Andrew Crosby on drums, Steve Bach on keyboards and Krieger’s son Waylon on guitar. Krieger sang some of the songs, his son sang others, and Barbera handled one. Barbera and Crosby did especially fiery funk solos in “Light My Fire,” which also had a little techno piece inserted!

Just as the acquaintance had said, watching The Robby Krieger Band, you really understood why he is a legend. The currently-circulated myth that The Doors was Jim Morrison and some faceless backup guys is exactly that, a myth. Yes, Morrison had the looks and the way with the audience, but it was Krieger who wrote a lot of the hits, and it was the other three Doors who would jam the audience into a euphoria while Morrison took a back seat. Watching Krieger’s current band I could imagine how powerful of an experience it must have been to see a Doors show.

But what proves Krieger worthy of legendary status is that he isn’t resting on his legendary status. Consider that most current jam bands are guys in their 20’s with something to prove. Krieger is a guy in his 50’s who proved himself to the maximum years ago, but he’s still out there putting on a show that keeps pace with the young guys just because he loves playing. And his guitar playing now is way beyond what it was when the Doors were at their zenith; he played a long flamenco intro to “Spanish Caravan” that was mesmerizing (when the whole band kicked in, it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard). He isn’t reverential towards his own legacy, i.e. inserting the funk and techno parts into “Light My Fire.” What’s more, he doesn’t just write a bunch of “Light My Fire” retreads, he’s branched out. He played a new fusion composition reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth that was actually better than any of the Doors material. It would have been nice if he had done more of that, but I guess most of the audience expects to hear Doors hits.

I always wonder if these forefathers of today’s scene, like Robby Krieger, are aware that there’s a new underground out here that would welcome them back, and wouldn’t even penalize them if they wanted to play new material? I heard an interview with Bill Kreutzmann from the Grateful Dead where he said he had heard the term “jam band,” but had no idea what it was. A call to promoters and booking agents: do it like Bill Graham did at the Fillmore, and book a guy like Robby Krieger alongside some of these new bands, so that the young people learn where it came from, and these groundbreakers know they’re still loved.

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