Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
The Doobie Brothers are best heard on the car radio. Within the frame of three-minute singles, their three-drum dance beat, their call-and-response vocals and their guitar fills are sharply focused. Tuesday night at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, they had no such framework, and their music was stretched dangerously thin.
Through the dashboard speakers, "China Grove" is a contagious dance song with a clear and precise arrangement. Tuesday night the songs swelled to include a needless Pat Simmons guitar solo and diffuse drumming and synthesizing that clogged up any open spaces. The volume was turned up so high that the sound became one distorted muddle.
On the car radio, one only hears the two or three best songs the group does each year. Tuesday night, after listening to a promising beginning of "Long Train Running" and "It Keeps You Running," the audience had to sit through a long period of album filler before the band returned to hits like "Black Water" and "Taking It to the Streets."
The best songs were brightened with inventive lead guitar by Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (formerly of Steely Dan) and Motownish vocals by Michael McDonald, but the band turned up the decibels to a level that made even the most battle-hardened concertgoers flinch.
One would be willing to forego the dry-ice smoke torches and fireworks of the group's stage show to hear them on the car radio and be able to control the volume.