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The Doors Live At The Bowl '68

   On July 5 1968 just two weeks before the release of their third album  Waiting For The Sun, The Doors headlined the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California.  Performing in front of just under 18,000 people, the band delivered one if it's most precise and prepared shows.
   Although famously inconsistent in concert, for this gig the group showed enormous respect for the legendary venue by holding pre-show rehearsals, an almost unheard of concept for the spontaneity loving musicians. Jim Morrison in particular has a level of focus and concentration on delivering his vocals as faultless as possible which is noticed on film as the usually animated front-man spends much of the  first half of the show standing still at his microphone stand. As the gig progresses successfully, he gradually gets more physical, no doubt partly due to the LSD tab he took pre-show finally kicking in. By "Light My Fire" he's clearly enjoying the show (and the trip). The rehearsals paid off for the band big time, the swirling patterns leading to the climax of "The End" for example accelerate at a dizzying pace.

   The band are running a pretty tight ship on the stage. Songs are followed immediately after one another in rapid fire succession. Usually Doors concerts have long gaps of breaks for tuning and discussions over what to play next between the numbers. Here they have an atypical pre-written set-list and are actually sticking to it, also uncommon in it's own way.

   New CD and DVD releases of the Hollywood Bowl show greatly improve upon the previous versions. First of all this is an entirely new edit of the film. The original 1987 is very different than this new one in the choice of camera angles and pacing. This is apparent right away in the opening song "When The Music's Over". The new DVD includes footage not seen in the '87 edit of Jim running quickly towards the mic to begin the song, in the original we simply see him surround the mic stand after rushing it. Also during the "we want the world..." part of the song, the previous release stays on an upshot of Jim standing legs spread at the mic. The new cut adds a dramatic slow motion image of him jumping.

  Some of the changes are not for the better however. There is an insert shot during "Texas Radio and the Big Beat", a solo poem performance not included on the old release, that clearly shows Ray Manzarek from behind furiously playing his keyboards although there is no musical backing to this piece. Morrison's vocal on this piece has noticeably been taken from multiple sources.  There's also some odd insert shots of guitarist Robby Krieger during "Moonlight Drive" where his breath is visible which seems out of place for an outdoors summer show in L.A.
   The song "Hello, I Love You" was left out of previous releases because of technical problems capturing Morrison's vocals. As explained in one of the bonus features, here it is restored using vocal performances from other shows. Producer Bruce Botnick states that he built the vocal performance word by word using various versions of the song recorded in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, New York and Los Angeles. If he's talking about the concerts in those cities which were professionally recorded, he's confused as the song was not played at any of those shows meaning that no other multi-track live version of the song exists. What's more likely is that he used the studio vocal take from the album mixed somewhat with an alternate take. For a brief moment the sync is a bit off as well so it's not as unnoticeable as he thinks it is.
The song still sounds good and its nice to have the complete show available but lying about what was done behind the scenes certainly cannot create goodwill between the band and fans, already a delicate relationship due to the mishandling of past releases.

What we are not told is that tracks like "When The Music's Over" and "Light My Fire" also use vocal takes from shows other than the Hollywood Bowl gig.
Apparently even the audience got freshened up a bit in the post-production work as after the first song a member is heard requesting the tune "The Soft Parade" even though that album was a year away from even being released at the time of the Bowl show!

  A definite improvement with the new version is that the full song "Spanish Caravan" is now included. The previous release frustratingly only had the last half of the song, apparently edited as an "artistic" choice on then-producer Paul Rothchild's part (he also had Robby Krieger add new guitar parts to the tune, those overdubs remain on the 2012 edition) . Another noticeable benefit is the increased visual quality. The overall image is sharper and the colours more vibrant than ever. Morrison's gold and cobalt blue vest jumps off the screen compared to the dull original home video release.

  The DVD and Bluray editions also have some noteworthy bonus featurettes: "Echo From The Bowl" a interesting 20 min piece on the history of the venue with the surviving Doors giving background on the band's career leading to the show, "You Had To Be There"  19 minutes of more interviews with The Doors, producer Bruce Botnick and opening act The Chambers Brothers (Steppenwolf were also on the bill, incidently ) and the 14 minute segment "Reworking The Doors" which nicely, if not without controversy, shows the restoration work doing for the project.
Additionally there are a couple of early TV appearances which are lots of fun to see after all these years.

   The steady stream of excellant live archival releases from The Doors continues to add to the group's already formidable legacy while doing much to counter their sometimes notorious reputation as an irresponsible live act.
In truth, the band created that history themselves but its nice to see after all these years that the music is coming out on top.

R.L. 2012

The Doors Live In New York

  On January 17 and 18 1970 The Doors performed four explosive shows at Madison Square Garden's Felt Forum in New York City. Material from these concerts has appeared on Absolutely Live (1970), the 1997 boxed set The Doors and  Live In America (2000). All of those release have been heavily edited, doctored and even given new overdubs years later. To finally experience what really happened, we now have the new six-disc set Live In New York.

  The performances showcase the band operating at an extremely high level. Let's face it - Doors concerts were inconsistent at best. There were many shows where the group was out of control and would collapse in a sonic heap. But when they were on, when they were fusing together as a single unit, they were devastatingly good. The element of danger was there but it didn't overtake the proceedings. It inspired the band to reach for new heights.

   The January 18 early concert is easily one of the best shows in the band's history. A strong "Back Door Man" leads the way to the powerful one-two punch of "Five To One" and "Moonlight Drive" (featuring "Horse Latitudes"). During the instrumental portion of "Break On Through", John Densmore's manic drumming demolishes the landscape, then Robby Krieger scorches the remains with his molten guitar work. This is The Doors firing on all cylinders.

  Not to be outdone, the other three shows have some fantastic moments as well. Jim's raw scream at the beginning of "Roadhouse Blues" from the early show on the first night is as primal as rock and roll gets. The dramatic version of "The End" (first night, second show) begins with Morrison calling "Bring out your dead!" like a plague-era corpse gatherer, adding an extra sense of dread to the moment.

  Of particular note is the jam at the end of the last show with special guests John Sebastian (The Lovin' Spoonful) and Dallas Taylor (Crosby, Still, Nash & Young) joining in and helping to emphasize the group's blues roots.

  This isn't just another release in the seemingly endless stream of Doors reissues and pointless remixes (please do not get me started about the remixes...). This is The Doors being preserved as an exciting, strong and important musical force without any controversy or unnecessary drama. Which is how Jim would've wanted it.


Is everybody in?

Robert Lawson  2010.

This article originally appeared in the Jan 2010 issue of Needle Magazine.

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