Seldom is one inundated by stimulating activities in Bakersfield but today I must decide whether to go to an arts and crafts fair and other exhibitions up the road in Shafter, or watch the CSU Bakersfield league-champion men play basketball, or see Wild Child, the consensus best tribute band to The Doors. As it develops I work at home a little too late to look at art in the afternoon, and call the gym and learn my essential chair seats are sold out and only a few hard bleacher spots remain, and decide since Wild Child will be preceded by two acts the band won’t start until after ten p.m. so decide to stay home and watch the documentary Muscle Shoals about how many of the greatest singers ended up in a small Alabama town to record music.
Down in the land of high humidity and slow-talking, Aretha Franklin enlivens everyone with pure and powerful vocals like those of Wilson Pickett and the Rolling Stones and others in an all-star cast, and as they finish I look at a digital clock showing nine-fifty-five and say to my wife, “We’ve got to get out more. Hurry, get dressed.”
I’m never a stylish dresser but she usually is and surprises me by simply putting on a jacket over an old shirt that meshes with her gray sweat pants and tennis shoes, and I drive authoritatively but legally to a nightclub on Chester Avenue I haven’t visited, find a parking space not too far from the door, and hustle to the ticket table out front where I ask a man featuring linebacker biceps, “Do you still have any tickets?”
We pay forty bucks for two and enter a darkened club with few tables on the main floor downstairs and dining tables upstairs on the left side overlooking the stage at the far end of the building. I estimate three hundred people are present, a majority waiting in front of the stage, and half are in their twenties and thirties and therefore born long after Jim Morrison, likely laden with heroin and booze, passed into a 1971 Parisian night. A quarter appear to be in early middle-age, and only the final quarter, my contemporaries, are old enough to have been fans when the Mojo Man yet lived. We join the large group, standing behind a dozen deep in front of the stage.
I’ve never seen a tribute band live. Somehow the notion seemed hidebound and inferior but I read a little online about frontman Dave Brock and was impressed he toured almost three years with Doors guitarist Robby Krieger and organist Ray Manzarek, both rock and roll hall of famers who, unlike surly drummer John Densmore, wanted to go out and play. Densmore even insisted his bandmates couldn’t call themselves The Doors since the heart of the band stopped that night in Paris. Litigious punches were exchanged in court, and the boys had to tour as Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek of The Doors. All three surviving Doors – Manzarek died later, in 2013 – publicly praised Dave Brock’s interpretations of Morrison.
Tonight, Wild Child eases onto the stage. Brock looks like Morrison would have in middle age if he’d lived temperately and gone to the gym. Like his idol often did, he’s wearing a black T-shirt and white-shell necklace, and holds the microphone in his right hand and covers that hand with his left, placing his lips near the mike, caressing it, controlling it, assaulting it with strong smooth vocals enhanced by tight accompaniment on guitar, organ, and drums. They start the concert with the legendary ass-kicker “Roadhouse Blues,” and I know Brock isn’t Jim and these guys aren’t really The Doors but it’s pretty damn close, enough to make me feel the hot nineteen sixties, and I must be yelling too loud because my usually dependable vocal chords crack. They’re tested again during the driving tempo of “Break on Through” and the vocal virtuosity of “Touch Me” and funky “Soul Kitchen” and the cool “Love Me Two Times” and melodic “Crystal Ship” and the hip “Love Her Madly” and soothing yet sad “Riders on the Storm” and more. The young people know the lyrics better than I, but I know the names of all the songs and write them on a pad, and without waiting I write “Light My Fire.” You damn well know they’re going to play that one. And they do. They play it well, the haunting organ, the driving vocals, come on, baby, I can’t believe how good these guys are. Don’t tell us goodbye. Get back out here. Encore. Please. Just one more. Here they are. Please let them perform “L.A. Woman.” I swear. That’s what they sing, following one of the greatest songs ever with one just as strong and moving. If I weren’t a sober man, I might believe Jim Morrison’s returned.
The band, which hasn’t talked to each other or the audience, leaves the stage at the rear, and I shout, “Dave, Dave Brock. Can I talk to you a second, please? It’s for my website.”
He can’t hear me. I assume that’s why he doesn’t turn around.
“Whatdya want to talk to that guy for?” asks an old man.
“To learn about the band.”
“No, I already know about them. Wild Child.”
“You need to learn more about The Doors.”
“Okay,” I say, “what do you want to tell me?”
“I’ve been listening to Chopin almost half a century.”
“You go to the symphony a lot?”
“In Paris, amid carved stones and tourists and nights very still and quiet,” he says, and turns away.
“Just a minute.” I reach for his right shoulder but it isn’t there. I reach for the other. It’s gone, too. “Sir, hold on, please.”
“Who’re you talking to?” asks my wife.