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‘Rockken with Dokken’ takes on new and improved meaning at Tobin Center

From the moment he took the stage Friday night at the Tobin Center For the Performing Arts, Don Dokken was toeing the line of not being recognizable. In fact, if some fans were wondering whether Dokken the band had changed singers, they could’ve been excused.

Gone was the bloated vocalist that played Scout Bar in 2009. The 2012 Dokken, who played a Fiesta concert at HemisFair park almost entirely with one hand in his jeans pockets while going through the motions, had also vanished. The 2015 version that forgot the lyrics to "Too High to Fly," leaving his bandmates looking at him as if he came from another planet and causing Dokken himself to say, "Well, I f—— that song up," was also nowhere to be found. And what was that around the singer’s neck? Why yes, Don Dokken had become a guitarist, even if only for the first song.

The message being sent to the audience was clear: this is a new and improved Dokken.

Even the setlist varied from the identical-except-for-one-song shows from 2009 and 2015. Taking the stage after direct support Warrant and opening act Trixter, the group came out blazing on 1983 barn-burner "Paris is Burning." The band’s namesake served notice he has been getting his life back together after years of chain smoking he often blamed for causing his voice to deteriorate, sounding better than in recent memory. The vocalist even accompanied lead guitarist Jon Levin with an axe of his own, cementing the fact he wouldn’t be playing this show almost entirely with hand in pocket.

Dokken then surprised many by unleashing the rarely played 1984 track "Don’t Close Your Eyes," switching up the printed setlist which had placed the song fourth. The evolution of classics continued as the first four tunes came from the group’s first four albums throughout the 1980s, with "The Hunter" following next, then "Kiss of Death" from the disc celebrating its 30th anniversary, Back for the Attack. The parade of ’80s tracks rolled on for another half hour, highlighted by Dokken’s most popular power ballad "Alone Again."

Backed by Levin, original drummer "Wild" Mick Brown and new bassist Chris McCarvill, Dokken turned reflective when he shared that in the late ’90s he was "losing my mind, talking to rabbits." The mini-story gave way to the most surprising song of the night, "Maddest Hatter," with Dokken finally unveiling a track from the vastly underrated 1999 album Erase the Slate, the lone studio disc that featured Winger and Whitesnake guitarist Reb Beach. Starting with the lyric, "Talking to my rabbit friend, he seems so bright and deep in conversation over tea," Dokken had upped the ante, especially when Brown played his small kit faster and faster during the increasingly furious ending.

Levin was a magician on the guitar all evening, performing as unassumingly as a guitarist can while still mesmerizing the audience. No, he won’t make Dokken fans forget George Lynch — especially with the original Dokken lineup having reunited for shows in Japan late last year and being rumored to eventually do some in the States this year — but that’s not his role anyway. The guy can flat-out play, and he’s been doing so in Dokken for several years.

Considering the vocalist’s prior problems with "Too High to Fly," it wouldn’t have been surprising if the band dropped it from the set. Instead, the 2017 Don Dokken sang it decently and left the stage for a few minutes while the rest of the group, particularly the spotlighted Levin, enjoyed a lengthy jam session.

From there, Dokken threw another curveball at the crowd by performing "Will the Sun Rise" (AXS footage below). Many stood still as they looked on with unfamiliarity despite the track coming off 1985’s Under Lock & Key. But when Dokken followed with two more tracks from the same album, video smash hits "It’s Not Love" and "In My Dreams," the general-admission contingent and those in the Tobin’s second level were up to the task of singing along.

No, Don Dokken’s voice doesn’t sound like the 1985 version, nor will it ever again. In fact, this Dokken at one point requested of the venue, "I think we could use a little less smoke. It’s making me choke." But the showing at the Tobin Center was positively a far cry from the man’s recent San Antonio visits. Consequently, Dokken had demonstrated you don’t have to be too high to fly.

You can stay grounded and still turn out just fine.

SETLIST: "Paris is Burning," "Don’t Close Your Eyes," "The Hunter," "Kiss of Death," "Into the Fire," "Breaking the Chains," "Dream Warriors," "Just Got Lucky," "Alone Again," "Maddest Hatter," "Too High to Fly," "Will the Sun Rise," "It’s Not Love," "In My Dreams," "Tooth and Nail"