DVD review: THE DOORS – Live At The Bowl 68 / Soundstage Performances / Live In Europe 1968

THE DOORS – Live At The Bowl 68 / Soundstage Performances / Live In Europe 1968

Eagle Vision [Release date 15.10.13]

The Doors ‘Live At The Bowl ‘68’ / ‘Soundstage Performances’ / ‘Live In Europe 1968’ triple DVD box set judiciously mixes recycled and restored concert footage with insightful bonus interviews from band members and their contemporaries. The carefully assembled box set manages to pull off the trick of presenting old wine in new bottles by retrospectively contextualising the music, while the whole project has been given extra poignancy with the recent death of keyboard player Ray Manzarek.

‘Live At The Bowl ’68’ (Eagle Vision EREDV 1005) is the excellent result of the diligent work that has gone into both restoring the concert soundtrack with remixes and re-mastering, and then pairing it with well researched interviews. In contrast, the final ‘Live in Europe’ offers far less in the way of interviews and no bonuses, though perhaps the power of the band’s performances resonate sufficiently despite the indifferent video quality, to make any further additions unnecessary.

You pay your money and you take your choice, but on balance there’s enough here in terms of new bonus material and restored footage to make the 3 DVD box set well worth purchasing.

Indeed both John Albarian’s ‘Echoes From the Past’  and ‘You Had To Be There’ are like mini documentaries in their own right, as drummer John Densmore and keyboard player Ray Manzarek trace the band’s career leap from their debut at Hughes aeroplane hanger, via the Whisky A Go Go with Them (both Morrison’s jammed together on ‘Gloria’) , before finding their natural habitat in the psychedelic ball rooms of the west coast (The Fillmore  and Avalon ballroom)  and their eventual 1968 triumph at the Hollywood Bowl.

Densmore astutely notes that the band’s imperious rise from the clubs to concert halls, via an exciting ‘incubation’ period when they were second on the bill, also paralleled Jim Morrison’s own development from an introspective performer to the flown blown ‘Crawling King Snake’

‘You Had To Be There’ also nicely frames the band’s  performances and nails some of the minutiae of the time through great anecdotes from people like Willie and Joe Chambers (The Chambers Brothers) and Bruce Botnick’s recollections of recording the band and years later restoring the audio soundtrack.

The box set is both a must for completists and coherent enough for generalised rock fans, as it provides us with premier footage of the beautiful keyboard and guitar interplay of ‘Spanish Caravan’, a jazzy version of ‘Texas Radio And The Big Beat’ and a complete version of ‘Hello I Love You’.

The ‘Live At The Bowl ’68’  concert footage is also superbly restored with startlingly good colour resolution as Jim’s tripped out, natural charisma overcomes the fact the band are spatially isolated on the huge Hollywood Bowl stage.

Morrison almost absent-mindedly works his way through an impressive ‘Moonlight Drive’ with great slide from Krieger, as the band show just how well they fitted into jam led milieu of the time on ‘Light My Fire’. ‘Live at the Bowl’ is a historic delight which still burns with the frisson of The Doors at their best all those years ago. *****

Originally released back in 2002, Disc 2’s ‘Soundstage Performances’ (Eagle Vision EREDV1005/B) culls its footage from Toronto ‘67,  and the black & white footage from a 1968 Copenhagen concert in Denmark, which includes the subtle groove of ‘When The Music’s Over’ and the  band’s collective performance art piece ‘Unknown Soldier’.

By the time of the 1969 New York PBS show (viewed through some third generation video) they are playing the ‘Soft Parade’ album straight to camera with no audience. They had found it hard to publicly play anywhere, since Morrison’s Miami bust for lewd behaviour.

The band kick into ‘Back Door Man’, as a plumper and fully bearded Morrison tops it with some extravagant phrasing, while on ‘Build Me Woman’, a forlorn looking Jim waits for the band to work their way through a workmanlike version.

It may not be the inspirational Doors at their best, but it does provide an authentic snapshot of the postMiamitimes. An interview at the time finds Ray Manzarek eruditely explaining the communality of rock concerts and its catalytic process for society as a whole, while Morrison is less clearly about shamanism. 33 years later, Manzarek still optimistically raps about the 60’s as: ‘a revolution of the spirit, opening the hearts of the people in charge’.

The Danish gig was a leveller for The Doors, as they had experienced the highs of the Roundhouse shows and the lows of a German tour but the footage shows just what they were capable of. ****

‘Live In Europe: 1968’ (EREDV1005/C) provides some of the most explosive live black and white footage, but without the kind of interviews that give the first two DVD’s their enduringly quality. Jefferson Starship’s Grace Slick and Paul Kantner do add a few sketchy recollections, and even though some of the video footage jumps and is positively grainy, it’s another timeless snap shot of both Morrison’s charisma and the band natural ability to jam. ‘When The Music’s Over’ and’ ‘Love Me Two Times’ are particularly outstanding. ***

Too late for Christmas perhaps, but this triple DVD box set is good enough to be appreciated by rocks fans at any time.

Review by Pete Feenstra

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