Mili-mouthing: Local man fronts Doors legends Manzarek-Krieger
RICHMOND–- For just $20, concertgoers got to hear songs of the 1960s rock group whose frontman combined poetry, sex appeal, and self-destruction so powerfully that Oliver Stone made a film called simply The Doors. And now a Charlottesville man has been tapped to step into the leather pants of the late Jim Morrison.
However, Miljenko Matijevic, who maintains his own recording studio on East Market Street, has yet to literally step into any spotlights with the band now called Manzarek-Krieger. Despite his Morrisonesque gryrations and ear-busting intonations, Matijevic performed without direct illumination throughout most of Monday night's greatest hits concert.
To be sure, the new frontman, at 45, is older than Morrison, who never got past 27, but why is Matijevic–- on the job for a week and a day–- confined to the shadows? Is this just an audition? A pre-concert phone call to the band's publicist offered little.
"We're not doing any press right now," says Tom Vitorino of L.A.-based Tom Vitorino Management. Click.
It's not that Matijevic isn't handsome. Although he hasn't yet grown Morrison's curly Alexander the Great hairstyle, he possesses a chiseled face and reveals through an open shirt an impressive stack of workout-toned pecs and abs.
Still, the overhead lights shine brightest on keyboardist Ray Manzarek, the savvy septugenarian who first enthused over Morrison's poetry on Venice Beach and began assembling this band in 1965 when Matijevic was still in diapers. As the act's name suggests, the other original member is Robby Krieger, the former flamenco guitarist who penned "Light My Fire"–- the biggest hit, Manzarek reminds us, of 1967, the so-called Summer of Love.
Inside the 1,500-capacity National, the crowd appears ample but allegedly smaller than in 2008 when the band, as Riders on the Storm, played here with a different frontman, Brett Scallions of Fuel fame.
"It was packed last time," says a 40-something man sporting a tie-dyed Doors shirt and an ample waistline, "but now you could do cartwheels out here."
Fifty-seven-year-old Linda saunters up to a reporter to reveal that her ticket was a same-day, spur-of-the-moment purchase–- though she had the foresight to tote her original vinyl copy of the band's fifth album, Morrison Hotel. "I'll take $100 for this right now," says Linda, a rare woman in a room where the male-to-female ratio appears much higher than five-to-one.
The crowd at the National, a restored theater of the same vintage and architect as Charlottesville's Jefferson, trends older than the average rock show, though 20- and 30-something men seem to actually outnumber Baby Boomers, the only ones who could have actually seen Mr. Mojo Risin, who died in 1971.
And when it's time to express appreciation, the glow of cigarette lighter flames outnumbers cell phones by, yes, about five-to-one. Meanwhile, the man tapped to carry Jim Morrison from the Age of Aquarius to the Age of iPhones appears to be chewing gum.
Matijevic was born in Zagreb in the former Yugoslavia and raised in the leafy American enclaves of Greenwich, Connecticut and Scarsdale, New York. Twenty years ago, when hair-metal raged, he achieved million-selling success as the frontman of MCA-signed Steelheart. But during a 1992 Denver concert, his on-stage theatrics resulted in a career-altering head injury. Matijevic eventually nursed himself back to the point of providing the vocals to Mark Wahlberg's character in the 2001 film Rock Star. But by then hair-metal had been relegated to Mark Wahlberg movies.
Originally performing as "Michael," Matijevic now uses his birth name, Miljenko, or "Mili" for short. And inside the National, the soundman has inexplicably cranked up Mili's mic to ear-crushing levels, such that it becomes difficult to hear the words, an ironic twist for a band whose original frontman–- despite myriad drunken on-stage antics–- wanted to be remembered as a poet.
With Robby Krieger (unafraid to sport candy-stripe pants at age 64), Manzarek now appears to rule this roost. Right after playing "Strange Days," Manzarek engages in an on-stage scolding of his new singer over which song comes next. The frontman complains that his setlist is hidden backstage. Who says unpredictability died with Jim?
By the time it's over two hours after it started, a sweat-drenched Mili has transformed himself from an unknown soldier into a smiling object of applause. The general admission crowd is quickly ushered outside to make way for a $30 per person autograph session.
"Too cool for school," declares fan Greg Warrick, standing along East Broad Street. "He was a little too full of himself, but that in and of itself isn't a problem."
"Jim's too hard of a singer to cover," says Myles Milner. "You really can't copy his energy."
Neither of these guys looks to be past age 30.
"Morrison was a complex singer," says Marty Free, a Baby Boomer. "This guy was just belting and belting. I think I'd look for another singer."
"I think you're chasing a dream there," responds his friend Scott Fisher. "There's not another Jim Morrison."
And therein lies the problem.