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Review: The Doobie Brothers keep Spokane Arena rockin’ in marathon 50th anniversary concert

Oct. 3, 2021 Updated Mon., Oct. 4, 2021 at 10:52 p.m.

The Doobie Brothers headlined the Spokane Arena on Friday night as part of their 50th anniversary tour.  (Clay Patrick McBride)
The Doobie Brothers headlined the Spokane Arena on Friday night as part of their 50th anniversary tour. (Clay Patrick McBride)
By Taylor D. Waring For The Spokesman-Review

After 50 years, the Doobie Brothers’ brand of rootsy, richly layered rock and roll still resonates with fans of classic rock. Since 1970, this ever-evolving group of seasoned, multi-instrumentalist musicians has released 15 studio albums. In a 2½ hour show Friday night at Spokane Arena, the Doobie Brothers played nearly 30 tracks from their 50-year career.

Highlights of the night included performances from their 1972 breakout album “Toulouse” and 1973 follow-up “The Captain and Me.” The mostly-older crowd was happy to get down to rocking tracks like “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman,” “China Grove,” “Long Train Runnin’ ” and their famous cover of Arthur Reid’s “Jesus Is Just Alright.”

Most of these hits were penned by founding member Tom Johnston before he stepped down as lead vocalist in the mid-1970s due to health issues. Johnston, however, still sings more songs than anyone in the Doobie Brothers, and he remains a formidable lead guitarist.

In 1975, keyboardist and vocalist Michael McDonald was welcomed into the Doobie Brothers fold, ushering in a new, soulful sound to the band. McDonald wrote and sang on many of the band’s later ’70s hits, including 1978’s “What a Fool Believes,” which was co-written by Kenny Loggins.

These McDonald-led tracks feature a darker, downtempo approach that lends itself to highlighting current saxophone player Marc Russo’s playing. In particular, Russo’s solo on “You Belong to Me” was particularly potent.

Most recently, the Doobie Brothers released “Liberté,” an album recorded during their downtime in 2020. The album’s title is likely a reference to their early days performing for the Hells Angels in Northern California early in their career at Chateau Liberte. The band played two tracks, “Don’t Ya Mess With Me” and “Better Days” from this album.

After a large, cellphone-lit call for an encore, the band returned to the stage to play three more songs. They started out with fan-favorite “Black Water” before launching into protest anthem “Takin’ It to the Streets.” The night concluded with “Listen to the Music,” which included top-notch jamming that accentuated all nine musicians’ musical prowess.

With ties to the Pacific Northwest, including Spokane, it’s no wonder that the Doobie Brothers still have a large following in Spokane after 50 years. Guitar player and singer Patrick Simmons, who was born in Aberdeen, joked that he was conceived in Spokane. The band went on to talk about how tracks from “The Captain and Me” were about growing up in the PNW.

The Doobie Brothers have just a few stops left on their 50th anniversary tour, which was originally planned for 2020. After such a long, hard-rocking career, the band still sounds full and performs incredibly well. While there are no current plans to tour again, hopefully it won’t be long before Spokane sees the Doobie Brothers rockin’ down the highway again.

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