The Doobie Brothers

Beacon Theater, NYC

The Doobie Brothers
Beacon Theater - NYC - 11/15/18
Review - Rebecca Wolf
Photos - Rebecca Wolf

An unexpected storm of freezing rain and snow hit the NYC area on Thursday, November 15, 2018. Trains in and out of the city were running off schedule; buses and subways were delayed; available taxis and Ubers were few and far between. However, the ugly weather and the transportation nightmares did nothing to stop Doobie Brothers fans from reaching their destination that evening…..the Beacon Theatre. This was the first of two nights the Doobie Brothers were scheduled to play sold out shows in this ionic NYC venue. 

The Beacon Theatre is an historic theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, which opened in 1929 as a “movie palace” for motion pictures and vaudeville. It primarily remained a first-run movie theater until the early 1970s, when the ownership changed and the theater became a major location for live concerts.  Since the mid-70s, many of the greatest names in music have played at the Beacon, including The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers Band, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Steely Dan, Eddie Vedder and Coldplay.  

Due to the Beacon’s superior acoustics, the theater has been a location for recording live performances and has also been the stage for political appearances, gospel choirs and a variety of dramatic productions. After being purchased by the Madison Square Garden Company is 2006, the Beacon was fully renovated in 2009, and was returned to its original grandeur. It has since hosted the Tony Awards in 2011, 2012 and 2016.

Performing as a musical act at the Beacon Theatre, speaks volumes about a band’s talent, history, and regard in the music industry.  Attending a Beacon performance
speaks volumes about the band’s fans. Tickets for Beacon shows are not inexpensive, and the prices reflect the more formal, intimate atmosphere at the Beacon.  Audience members attending shows at the Beacon come prepared for an experience that matches the sophistication of the theater.  They are generally a dedicated, enthusiastic fan-base, who appreciate the ornate beauty of the theater (including the 30 ft. tall Greek goddesses flanking the stage) and can frequently be seen enjoy wine and cocktails during the performance.

This wet, snowy evening did nothing to dampen the fans’ enthusiasm or spirits. They entered in droves through the Beacon’s bronzed entry doors into the opulent two-story circular vestibule, with white marble floors and an enormous, gilded, twinkling chandelier. While awaiting the opening of the inner doors, no one seemed to have another thought about the nasty weather. Throughout the evening, everyone was engaged in the music and musicianship of these fabulously talented and creative individuals. They enjoyed dancing and singing along with the band, and relived memories evoked by many Doobie Brothers’ songs.
The original members of the band, including Patrick Simmons, Tom Johnston, and John McFee shared the stage with long-time bass player, John Cowan, Ed Toth on drums, Billy Payne on keyboards, Marc Russo on sax, and most recent addition, Marc Quinones on percussion. On this evening, the band was joined by two members from the Steely Dan horn section, Michael Leonhart, on trumpet, and Roger Rosenberg, on baritone sax. Having seen the Doobie Brothers performance on several occasions this year, I can say I’ve rarely seen a band, much less a band with their musical debut in 1970, who consistently displays as much joy for playing their music and entertaining their fans. They never appeared to be going through the motions, although after over 4 decades they could perform on autopilot.  The smiles on their faces were infectious, especially that of Patrick Simmons, with his classic long hair and black cowboy hat. 

Simmons and Johnston jammed together during various songs, with McFee and Cowan joining the jam sessions on several numbers. Russo showcased his phenomenal saxophone skills with several solos, while McFee demonstrated his talents on violin. The vocals of Simmons and Johnston, both singing lead, remain strong and full. And Cowan, singing lead vocals during a few numbers, was so expressive while vocalizing and playing bass, that you were immediately drawn to his energy.

The Doobies played two albums during the concert. Beginning with Toulouse Street, they opened the show with “Listen to the Music” and rocked straight through to the last song, “Snake Man”.  During the second set, they played The Captain and Me, including, “Long Train Runnin’” and “China Grove”.   The show wouldn’t be complete without an encore.  All three songs were crowd favorites including, “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)”, “Black Water”, and closing the night with the band accompanied by the full horn section on a reprise of “Listen to the Music”. The crowd couldn’t have been more thrilled.  It was a fabulous night of music. 

The Beacon Theatre, with its history, beauty and superb acoustics, is the perfect location for filming a live performance of the Doobie Brothers, which actually occurred that evening. It remains unknown what they were filming for, or where the film may ultimately be seen. Hopefully though, fans beyond those in the Beacon’s 2600 seats that night will have the pleasure of watching and singing along with this iconic group.
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