DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

The Doors – Live At The Bowl ’68, Blu-ray (1968/2012)

A restored concert film adds to the mystique of a legendary rock band.

Published on November 8, 2012

The Doors – Live At The Bowl ’68, Blu-ray (1968/2012)

Featuring: Jim Morrison – vocals; Ray Manzarek – organ; Robby Krieger – guitar; John Densmore – drums
TrackList: Show Start/Intro; When The Music’s Over; Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar); Back Door Man; Five To One; Back Door Man (Reprise); The WASP (Texas Radio And The Big Beat); Hello I Love You; Moonlight Drive; Horse Latitudes; A Little Game; The Hill Dwellers; Spanish Caravan; Hey, What Would You Guys Like To Hear; Wake Up; Light My Fire; Light My Fire (Segue); The Unknown Soldier; The End (segue); The End; Bonus Tracks: Wild Child/from The Smothers Brothers Show; Light My Fire/from The Jonathan Winters Show; Gloria (Music Video)
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment [10/22/2012]
Video: 1.78:1 for 16×9 1080p HD
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 96/24, PCM Stereo
Extras: Echoes From The Bowl; You Had To Be There; Reworking The Doors
Length: 135 minutes
Rating:   Audio: ****     Video: **** Extras: ***1/2

Although they came of age in the Summer Of Love, The Doors were nothing like their contemporaries. From Los Angeles, the group had a jazzy instrumental lineup: guitar, Robbie Krieger), drums (John Densmore), and organ Ray Manzarek). However, their front man was special. Jim Morrison, a shaman-like charismatic poet, became the epitome of a rock legend. His post-beatnik disturbing imagery combined with eerie musical arrangements and produced a sound that was like no other. Certainly like most rock acts, there was a blues derivative, but the group broke out of the customary rock mold. More importantly, they made an impression on the Los Angeles club scene that eventually resulted in a record deal.

Their first album (self-titled) was released in 1967 and contained the hit, “Light My Fire”. The single received AM radio play with an edited version. The nearly seven-minute version played on FM and turned the group into underground stars. They connected with a broader fan base with their live act, and especially Morrison’s controversial (including an obscenity arrest in Miami) onstage antics, The Doors became legends. Subsequent releases included Strange Days (1967), Waiting For the Sun (1968), The Soft Parade (1969), Morrison Hotel (1970) and L.A. Woman (1971). At the peak of their success, Morrison was found dead in a Paris bathtub in 1971. The cause of death is still uncertain. Ten years after his death, his image graced the cover of Rolling Stone with a caption that read…”He’s Hot, He’s Sexy, He’s Dead!”.

The DoorsLive At The Bowl ’68 is a carefully-restored concert film that showcases the band at the peak of career ascension. The Doors are like no other band, and that includes their live act. They open with a long extended song, “When The Music’s Over”. After a spacey, trademarked Manzarek organ run, the group breaks into an hypnotic musical flow, with hushed interludes and a distorted guitar solo by Krieger. All of this surrounds the ‘free-form,” almost violent, imagery of Morrison’s lyrics. He delivers these lines in a detached manner  with his hands choked around the microphone. Without any audience banter, “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)” morphs into Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man”. Musically, Manzarek and his classical/jazzy organ runs anchor the band. Krieger is a nimble soloist and Densmore’s impeccable timing moves the sound-shifting melodies. The closest performance to normal is “Hello, I Love You”

But there is a “circus” ambiance to the arrangements. “Moonlight Drive” has a swirling organ and slide guitar to create an off-center mood. Morrison’s occasional improvisational poetry somehow fits this mood. Again, lengthier versions of their material define the set list. “Light My Fire” showcases the moody organ shadings. Morrison actually emerges from his shaman trance to exhort Manzarek. He is not a typical rock singer, almost low-keyed in delivery. Then suddenly on “Unknown Soldier” he will collapse, singing with his face against the stage.

Only The Doors would end a concert with “The End”. This oedipal nightmare combines a slow-burning intensity with ominous narratives that are psychologically morbid and spellbinding. It is no wonder that this piece of music was used prominently in the soundtrack of the film Apocalypse Now. Yet the overall chemistry of the group is at its zenith.

The transfer to Blu-ray is better than most vintage concert films. The focus is sharp, and the black levels are excellent. Long-distance shots feel too remote, but the close-up images of the band are clear in detail. The audio is impressive in both formats (DTS-HD MA 96/24 and PCM stereo). The instruments have ample separation and balance. All of the vocals are intelligible, although Morrison’s proximity to the microphone produces sudden jumps in volume. The bonus features include a strobe light, funhouse mirror video of “Light My Fire” from a TV appearance on The Jonathan Winters Show. Another extra is a rare performance of “Wild Child” from The Smothers Brothers Show.

Not many groups were as unconventional as The Doors. Live At The Bowl ‘68 is proof of that!

—Robbie Gerson




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