Remember back in high school when you were buddies with two people who didn’t get along with each other? You’d be at a party and didn’t know whether to pass the joint to the left or to the right because you didn’t want to piss anyone off? Welcome to the Dokken reunion!
By now, the story behind the reunion tour is well known. Don Dokken has been touring under the Dokken name with Wild Mick Brown as the only other original member, except for one appearance, for the last 15 years. It had been 7 years since the last appearance of George Lynch and Jeff Pilson, who joined Dokken onstage at an encore in Anaheim. And it had been 21 years since the original group toured Japan together (also recorded as a live album). But reunions are pretty popular right now, in case you haven’t heard. Maybe starting with Van Halen and David Lee Roth or Led Zeppelin, you can look at a number of acts that have reunited with whomever is left in the past few years, culminating in, perhaps, the best-selling reunion of Axl Rose and Slash (sorry, I’m one of those people who don’t consider it a full on GnR reunion).
So it was, perhaps, inevitable that Dokken would reunite at some point. Fast forward to 2016 and along comes a promoter from Osaka to get the band back together again. Dokken has been revered in Japan since their extremely successful 1988 tour and live album, so even though they had offers from various festivals around the world, they chose to come here. To paraphrase Don Dokken – he had a specific amount of money in mind, and this was the first offer he would accept. Maybe in a bit of a surprise, Don also ensured that each of the members received an equal share – a bone of contention in earlier days when the band couldn’t get out of its own way.
A week before our show, Dokken played the Loud Park festival, the biggest and best hard rock festival in Japan, which I missed, of course, to be on vacation. The reviews were not good. The show I saw was their last on the reunion tour, and I didn’t have high hopes. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
They opened with “Kiss of Death”, and went into bigger hits from there, but all eyes were on Don Dokken and axeman George Lynch. Notorious for their inability to get along, they mostly didn’t interact. In fact, the first time I even saw Lynch acknowledge Don was after the solo in “Unchain the Night” when he left his middle finger up after the last note. Don seemed to want to get some reaction from his virtuoso guitarist – for good or for bad – but nothing seemed to work. Lynch really just kept his head down and played his ass off, barely even looking at the crowd for the first half of the show.
Poor Mick Brown was that unlucky guy caught in the middle. Don frequently chatted with him in between songs, sometimes heading back next to the drum kit, but it all seemed tense and forced. Lynch would just catch Mick‘s eye and give a little smirk. Bassist Jeff Pilson, for all his time with the band in the early days, played a very small part – only saying a few words and getting little acknowledgment from Don. Clearly, they all just wanted to play and then get out of there. And play they did.
Say what you want about Dokken, they know how to write a great song. The music was sharp and the band played tight the entire show. And Don? He could have mailed it in – he had his money, it was the last show, his bandmates didn’t seem too excited to be onstage with him – but he didn’t. He couldn’t reach every note, and on at least one song, Mick even supported the vocals to help him out, but he never gave up and he never stopped singing. I can’t count the number of singers who let the crowd sing half the show and the backing vocalists the other half, but not Don. Sometimes he even grimaced when he realized it wasn’t the right note, but nothing seemed to stop him.
Don and Lynch did eventually share some onstage moments. The giant solo Lynch had before “Paris is Burning” (George is Burning?) resulted in Don bringing him a drink to congratulate him. And Lynch did the same after Don handled most of “Alone Again” by himself. But later they had a duet of sorts on guitar, where Don claimed they let the music take them wherever it went. I guess for George it took him stage right, since at the end when Don opened his eyes, George was nowhere in sight!
Was it worth it? Are any of the reunions worth it? The promoter came on stage during the encore to film some of the show, and Don said the show was all his fault. It was probably a dream come true for him. And for the fans, some of whom had never seen them live (such as yours truly), it was great to see them together again, playing what surely must be the highlights of their career. Somehow knowing that it was artificial and that there would be no future shows with this lineup, it definitely took away from the brilliant musicianship.
Kiss of Death
Unchain the Night
Just Got Lucky
Don’t Close Your Eyes
Will the Sun Rise
When Heaven Comes Down
Breaking the Chains
Into the Fire
Paris is Burning
It’s Not Love
In My Dreams
Tooth and Nail