Friday (Feb. 12) would have been late Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s 77th birthday and his surviving bandmates — Robby Krieger and John Densmore — celebrated by reuniting on stage for the first time in 15 years at Los Angeles’ Fonda Theatre.
Krieger and Densmore were joined by an eclectic array of guest vocalists, from Andrew Watt to Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins, along with musicians like Jane’s Addiction’s Stephen Perkins, Rami Jaffe and Stone Temple Pilots’ Robert DeLeo. But the real thrill for the artists and capacity crowd was seeing Krieger and Densmore play together again.
After a video featuring Manzarek being interviewed by veteran music journalist Ben Fong-Torres, Densmore — who was brought on stage by iconic DJ Jim Ladd — came out to thank the musicians and read an excerpt about Manzarek from his upcoming book, Meetings With Memorable Musicians. He recalled Manzarek as being two musicians in one, and also touched on the formation of the Doors.
“Ray saw something in Jim before anyone,” Densmore said.
Densmore discussed having blown out his ears years earlier, informing the crowd he would only “bang the cymbals” on a few songs, with Perkins filling in the rest of the time. Given that there would only be selected moments of Krieger and Densmore playing together, it made the show that much more special. Krieger lined up just a few feet in front of Densmore’s kit for the opening “When the Music’s Over,” featuring Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes on vocals and guitar.
While Hawkins got ready, Krieger shared a story about “When the Music’s Over” that began with Jim Morrison and wife Pam calling him at 3 a.m., having taken too much acid. According to Krieger, they summoned him to their home, freaking out, where he suggested they go into nearby L.A.’s Griffith Park to get with nature and come down off their trip. As a result Morrison missed the session for “When the Music’s Over,” so they recorded the track without him, only to have him show up later and want to add his part. So the singer overdubbed his vocals.
“He got it in one take,” Krieger said, drawing applause and laughter from the crowd.
One of the most impressive things about the Doors in retrospect is how strong each individual personality was. As much as it was Morrison’s artistry and rock star persona that inevitably attracts people to the band, Krieger, Densmore and Manzarek all were artists and storytellers in their own right. Both Krieger and Densmore took turns as emcees for the night, sharing memories of their late bandmates.
Those stories only fueled the crowd’s zealousness to see the two on stage together with the cavalcade of guest stars. Among the many standout performances were Dead Sara’s Emily Armstrong on “Backdoor Man,” X’s John Doe and Exene Cervenka on “Soul Kitchen,” Doe’s “Riders on the Storm” and Hawkins rocking “Love Me Two Times” and “Alabama Song.” He introduced by saying, “Early in the day John said, ‘I like to think Ray and David Bowie are up there jamming on this song — I like to think that too.”
The show stopper, though, was Watt, who did his best Morrison channeling for a mesmerizing “L.A. Woman” that made the venue explode with energy. As Watt laid on the ground at one point quietly saying “suck me,” even Krieger couldn’t help but smile.
“What a night, we’ll never forget this,” Krieger said, following Haynes and Doe trading vocals on a smoldering “Roadhouse Blues.” Though Densmore had declared that the last song, the crowd wasn’t having it, chanting, “One more song!” That led to the all-star encore of “Light My Fire,” featuring what they called “the most iconic organ solo ever in rock and roll.” It’s hard to argue with that choice.