LOS ANGELES (Doors Fans Website) - There are now two empty place settings at the feast of friends.
It wasn't only the late Jim Morrison's absence, but drummer John Densmore's hanging ominously over the Doors' first concert in 30 years on Friday (Sept. 6) night. (We're not counting their 2001 VH1 Storytellers performance or their 1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.)
Densmore was sidelined by chronic tinnitus, so former Police drummer Stewart Copeland subbed as the legendary band appeared for one night on the Harley-Davidson Open Road Tour at the California Speedway, 70 miles outside Los Angeles (The tour celebrates Harley's 100th anniversary.)
The music was 90 minutes of surprising pleasure. On rock radio staples such as "Break on Through," "Riders on the Storm," and the show-opening (and closing) "Roadhouse Blues," the Cult's Ian Astbury perfectly replicated Morrison's drony baritone, occasionally surpassing it with his better range and vibrato. The singer even seemed to channel the Lizard King's spirit, lapsing into shamanistic trances during "Five to One" and "Back Door Man."
"I love Jim Morrison as much as you do," said Astbury, 40, who in his short shag resembled a cross between Morrison and Sammy Hagar. (X's John Doe also manned the mike, but only to intone the Morrison poem "Ghost Song.")
Robby Krieger, 56, shredded his trademark Gibson SG more nimbly than ever, tapping like Eddie Van Halen during an emotive "When the Music's Over" solo. And Ray Manzarek, 63, has gotten better with age, too, executing eloquent piano flourishes that nearly justified his hammy facial gestures. Copeland, one of rock's most gifted drummers, was no slouch on the stool -- although some of his reggae off-beats didn't fit, and he kept increasing "Light My Fire's" tempo until it resembled a techno remix.
And although the Doors never featured a bass player, they were bolstered by young Krieger four-stringer Angelo Barbera. Essentially, it was a better Doors band gracing the stage. Yet when the music was over, an aftertaste lingered.
The Doors were never about sounding good; their concerts were often incredibly bad. They were about being honest. And in that regard, this "new Doors for the 21st century," as Manzarek introduced it, failed miserably. The Doors were 90 percent Jim Morrison. Astbury may out-sing him, but can never be him. And with only two-thirds of the group's remaining 10 percent on board, the numbers just didn't add up.
This Doors concert was more like stumbling into a gig by the world's greatest Doors cover band, on an incredibly lucky night when two of the original members just happened to pop by to jam. It didn't help that only an embarrassing 4,000 fans trickled into the behemoth raceway -- even after tickets were slashed from $55 to $35. (Earlier performers included Los Lobos, Earl Scruggs, and Joe D'Urso and Stone Caravan.)
The Doors, who play another Harley anniversary show at Molson Park in Barrie, Ontario, on Sept. 29 with Bif Naked and David Usher, intend to tour and record a new album next year -- their first since 1978's American Prayer -- with vocals from Astbury, Stone Temple Pilots' Scott Weiland, and Creed's Scott Stapp. Densmore is expected on the album, not the tour.