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The Doors' Live at the Bowl '68 captures a magic band on a magic night.

Music Blu-ray Review: The Doors – Live at the Bowl ’68

On July 5, 1968, rock fans flocked to the Hollywood Bowl to see the triple bill of Steppenwolf, the Chambers Brothers, and The Doors. As it happened, The Doors were in the process of collecting footage for a documentary that would ultimately be called A Feast of Friends. Since they already had a camera crew following them around, they decided to record their Hollywood Bowl gig.

Forty-four years later, with the concert film digitally scanned and restored and the sound remixed and remastered by Doors co-producer Bruce Botnick, Live at the Bowl ’68 is another feast for friends of The Doors.

Among the many treats vividly offered anew are two previously unreleased performances. Long before he shaped “THE WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” into its final form on L.A. Woman, Jim Morrison recited many of those lyrics as a poem at the Bowl before launching into the band’s then current hit, “Hello, I Love You.” Unless you were there, you haven’t heard these songs like this before. Despite allegedly tripping on acid, on this night Morrison was fully engaged with his audience, laughing and improvising lyrics such as his “Ode to a Grasshopper” in the middle of “The End.” He thinks he sees a grasshopper on stage, creates lines in its honor, only to discover it was really a moth. Now, that’s a psychedelic moment captured live for the ages.

As they discuss on various bonus feature interviews, surviving Doors John Densmore (drums), Robby Krieger (guitars), and Ray Manzarek (keyboards) remember the night as being a highlight of their careers. They rightly claim the band was in top-flight, very tight form that night. True, Krieger laments his plans to use up to 50 amps on stage was crushed by the fire marshal and was reduced to using only one. This resulted, to his ears, in a tinny sound for his guitar. I suspect few listeners will be as critical.

Beyond Krieger’s distinctive rhythms and leads, we can also revel in Manzarek’s impressive organ and bass pedal work. To pull off being essentially two instruments in one, Manzarek had to demonstrate the same independence in his limbs as a drummer. Take, for example, the explosive and dramatic Densmore as a model of hands and feet independence on drum heads, cymbals, and assorted percussion.

Apparently, the Bowl concert was one of the very few gigs for which The Doors had a more or less pre-arranged setlist, put together while Mick Jagger looked on. But the overall feel of the concert is one of unexpected shifts and turns as The Doors seamlessly move from one song, or part of one song, to the next in often surprising ways.

It’s strange to hear “When the Music’s Over” as the opener, not the grand finale. It’s followed by an unbroken stream of “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar),” “Back Door Man,” “Five to One,” and “Back Door Man” again. Likewise, the band melds together “Moonlight Drive,” “Horse Latitudes,” “A Little Game,” “The Hill Dwellers,” and “Spanish Caravan.” Before the encore, Morrison screams out “Wake Up!” which segues into “Light My Fire.” According to a bonus interview, The Doors themselves were surprised by how things turned out, not remembering how they returned to “Back Door Man” as a reprise.

One of the attributes of The Doors live is that they never attempted note-for-note recreations of their studio recordings, which means each Doors concert was a unique event. Of course, they couldn’t reproduce the sound of “The Unknown Soldier” on stage, and extended songs like “The End” begged for different treatments at different venues based on the crowd’s reactions and Morrison’s moods and/or state of mind. In addition to the grasshopper improv in “The End,” for example, Morrison repeatedly asks the light man to please turn down the lights. He doesn’t get his way. Turns out, he’d forgotten those lights were present for the filming. That, among many other light moments, are evidence this was a one night only event.

In addition to the concert itself, the Blu-ray package provides a solid hour of very worthwhile features. Short documentary films focus on the history of the Bowl, the concert itself as recalled by The Doors and members of the Chambers Brothers, as well as an analysis of how the film was restored. The icing on the cake are three bonus performances: “Wild Child” from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968, “Light My Fire” from The Jonathan Winters Show in Dec. 1967, and a version of “Gloria” with new visuals.

It’s worth mentioning that the “Reworking the Doors” bonus is especially revealing as to how the sound and visual quality was enhanced for this package. Engineer Bruce Botnik shows how painstaking it was to find useable vocal tracks for two songs as Morrison’s onstage mic went out during “Hello, I Love You” and “Texas Radio and the Big Beat.”

For the former, Botnik had to find often short clips from other performances to mix them into the band’s playing. For “Texas Radio,” he had to carefully cut out many crackles as the mic, again, wasn’t working properly. Likewise, the original 16 mm film footage wasn’t spectacular. So they went back to that footage, digitally enhanced it for the widescreen, and again painstakingly used what the two cameras captured and went back and forth between what they had on film to try to sync the sound and visuals.

All involved were astonished to see how the process of putting it all in a high definition format eventually came together. True, some trickery was involved—as in using audience noise in the back speakers to give the film a full concert feel-but the team claims telling the fans up front they made these changes should please everyone. Otherwise, presenting the entire concert wouldn’t have been possible. Personally, I’m grateful this sort of care and attention went into the project. It’s more than worthy.

What more do you need? Cancel your subscription to the resurrection and stick around long enough to experience this very special time in rock history. If you have children or grandchildren who know nothing of The Doors, this is a perfect introduction. For the rest of us, this is a wonderful flashback without unwanted side effects.

About Wesley Britton

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