“Is everybody in?” John Densmore of the Doors asked the crowd gathered Friday night at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood. Standing beside him was his old friend and musical partner, guitarist Robby Krieger, who added, “Let the ceremony begin.“
The words were lifted from the band’s 1970 tune “Celebration of the Lizard,” arriving halfway into a night of music marking the birthday of their late collaborator, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who died of cancer in 2013. The surviving Doors led a two-hour concert recreating some of the band’s most beloved songs with a cast of friends including members of Foo Fighters, Stone Temple Pilots, Jane’s Addiction, X, Gov’t Mule and Dead Sara.
The memorial show began coming together just two weeks ago, Krieger said from the stage. Manzarek had been gone over two years, and a planned live tribute by Krieger and Densmore had yet to happen. With Manzarek’s birthday again approaching, the guitarist said, “Ray has been haunting me.” In the lobby was a silent auction, featuring a Gibson SG autographed by Krieger and prints of Henry Diltz photographs from the Morrison Hotel album cover session. Proceeds would go to the Stand Up to Cancer charity for cancer research.
On keyboards for most of the night was Rami Jaffee of the Wallflowers and Foo Fighters. Sitting in on the occasion’s most crucial position, he opened the night with the funky, festive organ riff from “When the Music’s Over.” At the mic was Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes, as the crowd shouted along to the chant, “We want the world and we want it now!”
Krieger and Densmore, both white-haired and four decades past their final gig with late frontman Jim Morrison, shared a smile and fist-bump after the first song. Densmore took turns at the drum throne with Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction. “Back in the day,” Densmore explained, “I blew my ears out bashing those cymbals.”
Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins sang “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar),” his foot up on the monitor, hitting the right tone and swagger. It was followed by “Love Me Two Times,” as Perkins pummeled and Jaffee recreated Manzarek’s baroque solo. On bass was Robert DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots.
Before leaving the stage, Hawkins described the former Doors in rehearsal the day before, still slipping into their original groove: “They sound like they never got off the stage.”
Aside from the remaining Doors, the artists with the longest collaboration with Manzarek were Exene Cervenka and John Doe of the band X. In the early 1980s, the keyboardist embraced another generation of challenging L.A. rock by producing X’s acclaimed first four albums and played organ on several tracks. Onstage Friday, Doe said that on X’s early tours, fans would sometimes shout, “Where’s Ray?” Doe and Cervenka performed the Doors’ stormy “Soul Kitchen,” with Perkins pounding the drums and guitarist Brian Ray ripping up a Billy Zoom-tweaked riff. They followed with X’s “Nausea.” “I was lucky to be a human being on he planet when the Doors were around,” Cervenka said. “I think the Doors changed culture forever.”
Singing on Willie Dixon’s “Backdoor Man” was a forceful Emily Armstrong of Dead Sara, barking and strutting across the stage. Krieger ignited some bluesy electric bottleneck on “Moonlight Drive,” the first song the band ever played together. Doe returned to sing “Riders on the Storm,” and joked, “This is a top-three song to drive 80 miles an hour.” Densmore was back on drums, Perkins on shimmering percussion, while Krieger mingled cascading melody with Jaffee.
One of the night’s peak performances came from L.A./New York singer-songwriter Andrew Watt, tapping into the unpredictable energy of Morrison during “L.A. Woman.” He arrived drinking from a bottle of wine, hair to his shoulders and clapped to the beat. He barked the lyrics and fell to the floor to deliver a heavy breathing mantra of “Mr. Mojo risin'” then leapt into the crowd for a few moments of crowd surfing.
For the Doors, there had been disagreements and lawsuits for years over use of band’s name and licensing, but the night was all good memories from their shared history. Densmore noted the special connection between Morrison and Manzarek, who met in the Sixties as UCLA film students: “Ray saw something in Jim before anybody.”
Krieger remembered a 3 a.m. phone call from Morrison: “Robbie, me and Pam took too much acid. You gotta come over.”
The night’s encore was “Light My Fire,” returning most of the night’s singers and players. It was one of the Doors’ biggest hits and is the first song Krieger ever wrote, but he spoke only of Manzarek’s contribution. “It might be the most iconic Ray solo ever,” Krieger said, then added, “actually, the most iconic organ solo ever.”
As the performers slowly exited the stage, the crowd began shouting a spontaneous “Happy Birthday” to the late keyboardist. Densmore and Krieger returned alone at centerstage, and took a bow together one more time.