Every once in a while, things work out just about perfectly for a rock group. So it was for The Doors when they performed July 5, 1968 at the Hollywood Bowl. That performance has now been remastered from the original camera negatives and audio tapes. I have seen this concert film in the past and the upgrade in quality is startling, which is a testament to modern technology. The image on this Blu-ray disc has an aspect ratio of 1:78:1. The high definition transfer comes with both a 2.0 stereo and DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack. The original 16mm film also underwent a high definition scanning process. They even did an impressive job of reformatting the original 1:33:1 full frame to fill the widescreen frame.
The result is a very clear picture. There is a little flickering around the edges because of the reformatting, but it is not really noticeable or intrusive. The sound of each instrument is distinct and does not intrude on Morrison’s vocals. Every once in awhile there is an issue transitioning from one angle to another but again this does not handicap the overall visual experience. Maybe everything is a bit too perfect, which concerts are not, but for a glimpse of The Doors at the height of their powers, this is about as good as it gets.
The highlight of the release is the inclusion of three previously unreleased tracks, which had never been included due to technical difficulties with the original audio recordings. Now “Hello, I Love You,” “The WASP,” and “Spanish Caravan” have returned, making the original concert complete.
It was a different concert experience musically, as the The Doors were only three albums into their career. Many of their well-known songs had not yet been created, so the set list was limited to their early career period. Some of these songs would disappear from their set list as time passed and it is nice to see them performed with passion and power.
It is a rare concert when well-known songs such as “Light My Fire,” “Five to One,” and “Hello, I Love You” take a backseat to “Back Door Man,” “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar),” “Moonlight Drive,” and “Spanish Caravan.” The former have been overplayed and sometimes it feels as if The Doors are on cruise control while the latter contain surprises, plus they have more of a raw and spontaneous feel to them.
The concert ended with back-to-back performances of “The Unknown Soldier” and “The End.” Jim Morrison is at his best as he prowls the stage, bringing the concert to a satisfying climax.
While the focus was always on frontman Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, and drummer John Densmore were integral not only to the sound but to the visual concert experience.
There are a number of bonuses, including a history of the Hollywood Bowl, and explanation of how the film was restored, and the band members talking about the experience. Two rare performances, “Wild Child” from a 1968 Smothers Brothers television episode and “Light My Fire” from the 1967 Jonathan Winters Show, are resurrected.
The Doors as a band and Jim Morrison himself are long gone, but Live At The Bowl ’68 is a fine testament to their legacy as one of rock history’s better live bands. It’s the next best thing to being there.
Article first published as Music Blu-ray Review: The Doors – Live At The Bowl ’68 on Blogcritics.