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Dokken 2004
By Chuck G.

Rhymes With Rockin'

Taking the darkened stage to the synthesized strains of “Unchain The Night’s” intro, Don Dokken wore dark sunglasses and a facial expression you’d expect to see on someone who, during an expensive night out, suddenly realized all their money was gone. Inexplicable puzzlement and regret.

Don’s namesake band, who’s heyday was a solid 18 years ago, launched into “Kiss of Death.” And judging by the sparse crowd in attendance, this might have been wholly appropriate if not for a set-list that included hit after rockin’ hit.

A notorious stage diva, Don Dokken lamented the days when they’d come to Cleveland and play for five to eight-thousands rabid fans. This show, originally scheduled for a larger venue, was set up in a 500-capacity hall. But the roughly 200 people had plenty of elbow room. One wonders that if late-blooming metal bandwagon jumpers Jackyl hadn’t also been on the bill, that Dokken would’ve been doing basically a sound check for their road crew. 

The mighty may have fallen and their music may be completely out of sync with the times, but give Dokken some credit...what they do, they do well. Dokken’s brand of metal is all juxtaposition. Don’s delicate and nasally vocal treatments against the rough canvas of George Lynch’s guitar-hero thunder. Alas, this yin and yang...the very essence of Dokken’s sound...could not co-exist and Lynch jettisoned himself years ago.

Filling in for the under-rated Lynch this time around is former Dokken band lawyer (you heard me right), Jon Levin. Commenting that this was only their 5th live show with the new lineup, Dokken was probably half-apologizing. While the three mainstays of the band, Don, drummer Mick Brown and bassist Barry Sparks (think C.C. Deville on bass) were note perfect, Levin struggled.

Robotic and mechanical throughout, it’s clear that Levin and Lynch are not cut from the same cloth. Levin missed several cues and played with a heavy-handedness that belied a Dokken cover band, not somebody emotionally involved with the music. By contrast, Lynch’s playing was a thing of beauty in the Dokken setting...cerebral, artistic, fluid and emotional. 

Levin simply played Lynch’s notes and struck Lynch-esque poses. Bottom line, he’s an imitator and a pretender. 

This may sound harsh, but take a quick look stage-left of Levin and you’ll find the exuberant Barry Sparks.  He might be the best of what I call the 2nd generation
of 80s rock stars. Those filling in for past glam-metal heros, but carving his own niche.

He plays, sings and has a stage aura all his own. Pilson comparisons are a moot point. He is not former Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson because he is not trying to be...Barry Sparks is THE man...and his own man. His no-look bass solo during an extension of “It’s Not Love” was a thing of beauty. Who loves playing bass more than Barry Sparks? Possibly no one. 

But I come to praise Dokken, not to bury them. And with a brand new album (Hell To Pay) getting ready to drop in just a month and probably a larger, multi-band tour pending, this show was merely warm-up and the small but vocal Dokken fans, many sporting tour shirts of past glories, were fine with that. 

Claiming that they were going to play longer and with more hits for this “devoted” crowd, one was reminded of a Spinal Tap moment when “documenter” Marty DeBurgi asked Tap road manager Ian Faith if the band’s popularity was waning since they were going from playing 10,000 – 20,000 seat arenas to playing 1,000 – 1,500 seat halls. Faith marginalized the band by stating that the fan base had simply become “more selective.”

But the hits churned with Don Dokken air drumming the entire way. “The Hunter,” “Into The Fire” and “Breaking The Chains” begat “Alone Again” and “When Heaven Comes Down.” Dokken focused mainly on the ’85 to ‘87 catalog from the albums “Tooth And  Nail” and “Under Lock And Key.” The lone exception was the overly-done (and overly preachy) “Too High To Fly” from 1995’s “Dysfunctional.”

Don and the band performed honest versions of all the songs, but gone are the days of Don hitting high notes. Sparks hit those while Don and Mick fill out the background vocals with some mid- and low-tones. This was extremely apparent on set closer “In My

Warming-up or warmed-over, it’s too close to call. Dokken rocked the less-than-packed house on a night when they could’ve mailed it in. But it was the Dokken faithful that just got lucky. 

Purchase Dokken's music and listen to samples.

Visit the official site for Dokken

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