Live At The Bowl ’68 (Blu-ray) by The Doors

December 1, 2012

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.

Ships w/ Sails 45 by The Doors

May 12, 2011

The Doors were about at the end of their career. Jim Morrison was dead, an although the band had tried to carry on, their commercial success was at an end.

Two post Jim Morrison singles had managed to reach the lower part of the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart, but “Ship /w Sails” received no chart action at all.

The music was fine but Jim Morrison’s vocals were missed. He was one of the great rock vocalists and when he was removed from the equation, it just wasn’t the same for The Doors.

And so “Ships w/ Sails” helped usher The Doors into retirement.

Light My Fire 45 by The Doors

July 26, 2010

The Doors released their first single, “Break On Through,” and it only reached number 101 on the American singles charts. If you don’t succeed, try try again. “Light My Fire” was the second single and it would top the American charts for three weeks during September of 1967. It is now recognized as one of the classic songs of its era.

The single was a shortened version of the album track. Jim Morrison’s vocal, and Ray Manzarek’s organ would propel the song and their debut album to massive sales and become the group’s first step toward The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993.

While most songs by the Doors would have writing credits attributed to the group, it would be Robbie Krieger who was mainly responsible for this song. If it had been the only song he ever wrote, his career still would have been memorable.

Today “Light My Fire” remains a radio staple and one of the cornerstones of rock ‘n’ roll.

An American Prayer by The Doors

July 25, 2010

An American Prayer by The Doors is definitely an acquired taste and for many it is a taste that is difficult to swallow. Whatever one’s feelings about the album, it does remain an interesting look into the mind and poetry of Jim Morrison.

I must admit it is an album I have not listened to for decades. If I want some Doors on my turntable, I usually turn to L.A. Woman, Morrison Hotel, or their debut. Whatever my feelings, though, American Prayer was a commercial success at the time of its release. It may have only reached number 54 on the American album charts but it did sell a million copies and receive a platinum sales award.

This was a posthumous album. Robbie Krieger, Ray Manzarek, and John Densmore reunited seven years after Jim Morrison’s death and recorded backing music to set to some of his poetry. While recognized as an official Doors studio album, it is very different from all of the band’s other releases.

The poetry is typical of Morrison. He had a way with words and was able to create images that would mesmerize. These words and images were not always clear or understandable but they have a weird depth about them.

The music tends to fit the words well. While the band revisited some psychedelic sounds from their past, they were smart enough to fit the music to the individual poems. Rock, classical, and even some smooth-jazz tones provide a nice background and add a positive effect to Morrison’s spoken words.

The only oddity is a seven-minute live version of “Roadhouse Blues.” While it does not fit in with the rest of the material, it is so good that it makes you wish for more of the same. It may have been included because of the record company’s desire for a single from the album.

An American Prayer is probably just for committed fans of The Doors. The 1995 remastered release is divided into sections and is a good deal longer. In the final analysis it occupies an interesting if nonessential place in The Doors’ catalog.

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Absolutely Live by The Doors

July 25, 2010

Absolutely Live was released during July of 1970 when The Doors were at the height of their creative and commercial power. The album remained the definitive document of their concert style for years. It was not until the CD era opened the flood gates of unreleased material that this album was superseded by better releases.

My only real complaint with this album is the method in which the songs were assembled or, I should say, put together. I have always preferred to hear a concert in its entirety, the good with the bad, as it presents an accurate picture of the artist live. Such is not the case here. Not only do the performances come from many different shows, but the actual songs are pieced together. Separate parts of the same song were originally spliced together in the hope of creating the perfect track. Legend has it that hundreds of song bits were used to create this double album. It all adds up to The Doors live but without a true concert feel.

The band’s choice of material was consistently excellent and interesting; it was not just a regurgitation of their greatest hits at the time. A number of rarely performed tracks made the album, which made it unique in The Doors’ catalog at the time. They also included complete versions of two of their lengthy pieces.

Their version of the old blues tune “Who Do You Love” gets the album off to a strong start. The ominous lyrics fit Morrison well plus the band was able to demonstrate their improvisational skills. Other rarely presented gems included “Love Hurts,” “Build Me A Woman,” “Dead Cats, Dead Rats,” and “Universal Mind.”

Among their well known songs to be included were “Break On Through (To The Other Side) #2″ — featuring some creative guitar work by Robbie Krieger — as well as“Five To One,” which is always welcome no matter what the format. This early live version of the latter finds The Doors at their best. A seven minute “Soul Kitchen” then brings the album to a nice conclusion.

The two long tracks probably sum up the live Doors best. “When The Music’s Over,” at sixteen minutes, and “Celebration Of The Lizard,” at fourteen-plus minutes reveal Morrison, Robbie Krieger, John Densmore, and Ray Manzarek at their most powerful. Morrison’s charisma, stage performance, and lyrics move front and center while the group expands the material into unexplored territory.

Today there are a number of other live performances by The Doors that are equal too or superior too Absolutely Live. Still it remains a nice look at the career of one of rock’s classic bands circa 1970.

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When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors (DVD)

July 25, 2010

From The Sundance, Berlin, Deauville, and San Sebastian Film Festivals to your living rooms;When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors.

I have always found any film or project concerning The Doors both interesting and problematic at the same time. The Doors and Jim Morrison remain shrouded in myths and legends almost forty years after their demise. Whenever someone pries into those mysteries it always ends up a little disappointing. Maybe its best to just let The Doors be and worship them from afar.

The latest entry into The Doors documentary sweepstakes was written and directed by Tom DiCillo with narration by Johnny Depp. This is a production of love for DiCillo. He considers their story the most compelling in American rock music. Sometimes, however, love does not allow a person to think and see clearly and so there are both positive and negative aspects to this film.

First the good news! The footage which is used is for the most part crystal clear and in many instances appears pristine. Whoever cleaned some of this archival material should be commended as it looks like it was shot recently. The story also makes sense and flows well while Depp’s narration is smooth and enhances its effect.

There is a lot of excellent and rare footage. The performance of “Light My Fire” on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Miami concert riot, the too short creation of “Wild Child” in the studio, and more help to create and make the story interesting. Bonus features include interviews with Admiral George Stephen Morrison and sister Anne Robin Morrison-Chewning. His father died during 2008 and this interview is all to short. He does not come across as the over bearing parent that history has portrayed him but rather appears caring and proud.

Now the not so good! The film could have made use of any number of interviews. There are still many people alive who could have added greatly to the story. There was also too much emphasis upon Morrison’s addiction problems. While part of the story, these problems are well known. There is also not enough accountability for the group’s problems. Manzarek, Krieger, and Desmore were just as responsible as Morrison and these issues should have been explored.

Sort of in the middle were clips from Morrison’s film Hwy – An American Pastoral. While they were used judiciously, it left me wanting to see the entire film.

When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors,while by no means exhaustive, is interesting in many places. It is a treat for the eye and examines their career from some odd angles. However at the end I find myself wanting more.

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L.A. Woman by The Doors

July 23, 2010

The Doors released their sixth studio album during April of 1971. Less than three months later Jim Morrison was dead bringing to a close one of the most powerful and creative careers in the history of American rock ‘n’ roll. The remaining members would carry on for a spell, but the band would be a shell of its former self.

L.A. Woman builds upon the foundation established by Morrison Hotel. It may be a little slicker and polished in places but the quality is about the same which is consistently excellent. It also has an ominous and moody feeling which dominates the release. The album would be a commercial and critical success. It would become their best selling album since their debut.Rolling Stone Magazine would rank it among their 500 greatest albums of all time.

The album produced two hit singles which perfectly summed up both sides of The Doors. “Love Her Madly” has a nice melodic flavor centered around Manzarek’s keyboards. According to Robbie Kriegerr, “Riders On The Storm” was the last song Jim Morrison recorded. If that is true, he went out on a high note as it was issued as a single after his death. The album cut clocked in at just over seven minutes and takes the listener on a journey, complete with sound effects, through the darker side of The Doors music. The song entered The Grammy Hall Of Fame during 2009.

“The Changling” was a good album opener as Morrison just howls. “Been Down So Long” contains some nice slide guitar by Krieger and the addition of an in studio bass player gives the track a full sound. “L’America” may not totally fit in with the rest of the music as it has a more psychedelic feel but it does have a nice spooky sound. It was nice to hear The Doors interpret John Lee Hooker’s blues classic “Crawling Country Snake” “Hyacinth House” was one of the saddest tracks Jim Morrison and The Doors would record.

The title track, at just about eight minutes, was one of those grand opus’ The Doors were so good at producing. It was a total group effort as the instrumentals by Krieger, Manzarek, and Desmore are all excellent. Morrison’s lyrics make sense as he takes you along for a wild ride after dark.

“L.A. Woman” was the final chapter of Jim Morrison’s recording career. It began with “Break On Through” and several years later ended with “Riders On The Storm.” In between those two tracks resides one of the best catalogues in American rock.

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