Denver Post Pop Music Critic
18 June 2004 – Denver Post
It just ain’t the same; the idea of Nirvana without Kurt Cobain is ludicrous. It’s stupid and nonsensical.
Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic know that. You know that. The most rudimentary music fan knows a band is not a band after it loses its heart, its soul, its voice, its philosophical or musical foundation.
Some people don’t know that.
Tonight The Doors of the 21st Century take on Universal Lending Pavilion. The Dead play the last three shows of a five-night stand at Red Rocks tonight, Saturday and Sunday. And the Allman Brothers Band hits Red Rocks on July 9 and 10.
But Doors frontman Jim Morrison died in 1971. Duane Allman died the same year, and his band’s original bassist, Berry Oakley, passed in 1972. And the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia died in 1995.
But the skeletons remain. And they’re still truckin’.
Why? For the fans, man.
‘The people love it,’ said Ray Manzarek, founding keyboardist with The Doors and bandleader of The Doors of the 21st Century. ‘They’re just diggin’ it like crazy. We get our people saying, ‘You can’t perform without Morrison,’ to which we say, ‘Well, would you rather not have us play?’
‘And quite frankly, if I were a person in the audience, that’s Ray and Robbie (Krieger) up there, and they put the band together. That’s the guitar player who wrote ‘Light My Fire.’ ‘
Tonight’s Doors of the 21st Century, with The Cult’s Ian Astbury on the mic, will indeed be a nostalgia trip. The band played last summer’s eclectic Coors Light Mountain Jam at Red Rocks, and those who were full-tilt into it were 40-plussers wearing bad Hawaiian shirts.
But to pretend this outing is about the fans and not recent diminished finances is delusional.
The Doors of the ’60s were the acid trip; the current incarnation is just the flashback. And why would you pay more for today’s watered-down, speed-laced version – Gold Circle seats at tonight’s concert are going for $500 – when you can spend $15 on one of the best debut albums ever and remember the band as it was properly manned?
‘We don’t need the money,’ Manzarek insisted. ‘We’ll take the money, but you can bring me a dozen eggs, and you’ll get into the concert. Bring me a bushel of corn, and you’ll get into the concert. The fans were waiting so long for The Doors to actually play with a contemporary lead singer.’
But is it worth it? Astbury manages the band’s most demanding tracks – ‘The End,’ ‘Break on Through (To the Other Side)’ – with ease and flair, even, but something’s still missing. It’s the same something that’s missing at Red Rocks this weekend.
‘It’s gotta be missing Jerry – it has to,’ said Robert Hunter, the Grateful Dead’s primary lyricist and a musician in his own right, who opens for the Dead this weekend. ‘The question is: Does it have enough without him? Some say no. Some are glad that something remains, something to gather around and to hurrah over. The music is, if anything, more solid than the old days, and it re- creates the experience pretty well.
‘It’s understood all around that Jerry isn’t here, but he is there in that they’re playing his music,’ Hunter said. ‘And there’s a feeling of his presence in his music – at least I hope that this is all so, because we’re all going to hit that long and lonesome road, and this is all we’re going to leave behind us.’
Warren Haynes is playing with The Dead on its current tour, but his history with situations like this one is unfortunately vast. He joined the Allman Brothers Band in the late ’80s and, although he’s credited with reinvigorating the band, he’s also endured criticism that the band hasn’t quite been the same since guitar virtuoso Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident just shy of his 25th birthday.
Haynes will tell you right out that of course the band changed.
‘When you lose original members, there’s always going to be something missing,’ Haynes said recently. ‘It’s a matter of trying to create a new chemistry that seems right, that forges new territory and also honors the old.’
Haynes main project, Gov’t Mule, was rocked in 2000 when bassist Allen Woody, who also played with Haynes in the Allmans, was found dead in a New York City hotel room. Haynes’ first inclination was to call it quits. The friendship and relationship that had developed was sacred, and continuing made no sense.
‘Gov’t Mule was a big question mark at that point,’ Haynes said. ‘It was comforting to get phone calls and letters and faxes from people who had been in the same place. I got a letter from Dave Grohl talking about losing Kurt Cobain, and I got one from James Hetfield (of Metallica) about when Cliff Burton died The first phone call I got was from Phil (Lesh).
‘But the most poignant revelation that I had was that the only reason myself and Allen Woody knew each other was because the Allmans continued after losing Duane and Berry.’
There’s still a Gov’t Mule – it plays the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival on Sept. 18 – and an Allman Brothers Band and The Dead. The Doors are still alive, in a way. Little Feat soldiers on minus founder Lowell George, who died in 1979. And there are other examples.
But there is no Nirvana. There is no Led Zeppelin, which disbanded after drummer John Bonham’s death in 1980, though Jimmy Page and Robert Plant still work together.
Complicating matters is the fact that great bands are amalgams of dynamic personalities and stellar musicianship, though not always in equal measure. The Duke Ellington Orchestra, a legendary band of another era, continued making terrific music long after its namesake died. Why? Sure, there was money to be made, but the music remained vibrant.
When talking with former members of Guns N’ Roses this week, the hypothetical came up: What if one day Axl was gone? Would Slash and Duff and Izzy get back together with, say, a familiar voice and reform the seminal ’80s rock band?
(OK, that question is facetious – Slash, Duff and drummer Matt Sorum recently came together with former Stone Temple Pilots vocalist Scott Weiland to form Velvet Revolver, which plays the Fillmore Auditorium on Sunday. While some people are saying it’s a natural extension of Guns N’ Roses, others are simply calling it the closest thing possible to a reunion.)
Even still, the answer on a possible Guns N’ Roses reunion is a definitive No.
‘It would be complete sacrilege,’ Slash said.
‘No,’ added Duff, ‘we’d never do that. It’s straight goofy. The legacy we left, we’re proud of it. We don’t want to screw with it.’
The bands that do continue often seem swathed in an underlying guilt. Just listen to Manzarek talk about his new vocalist, about how he’s both unique and similar to Morrison – almost like it wouldn’t be OK if he weren’t just a little bit like the band’s original singer.
‘Ian is great,’ Manzarek said. ‘He’s his own man. He’s Ian Astbury singing Doors songs. He does not do a Jim Morrison imitation, but he occupies the same psychic space Jim Morrison occupies. Celtic. Christian. Shamanic. Native American. Spirituality. Poetry buff.
‘That is Ian, and that is Morrison. And working with Ian, it’s like there’s a flash of Morrison every once in a while.’
A flash of Morrison’s voice, perhaps, but not of his fire.