DVD Review: The Doors - Live at the Bowl '68

DVD Review: The Doors - Live at the Bowl ‘68
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The Doors - Live at the Bowl '68
Holding his guitar like a rifle, The Doors’ Robby Krieger takes aim at Jim Morrison. Always up for anything, the singer wanted to stage a mock execution during “The Unknown Soldier,” and Krieger went along with the gag, simulating the recoil action of a gun as Morrison fell like a sack of potatoes. Only six months had passed since Morrison’s notorious onstage arrest in New Haven, Connecticut, and he was, perhaps, beginning to feel as if he had a target on his back, put there by his friends in law enforcement. Confrontations between Morrison, The Doors and the police in the aftermath of that incident would continue, confirming his suspicions.
Unlike that surreal evening in December of 1967 when Morrison fought the law and didn’t win, he wouldn’t be hauled away in handcuffs when The Doors – feeling on top of the world – brought their psychedelic circus to the Hollywood Bowl on July 5, 1968, the concert where Morrison took that imaginary bullet from Krieger. Filmed at the behest of The Doors, it turned out to be a landmark performance for the band and the unpredictable Morrison, ever the fearless shaman and the enigmatic poet. Now, at a time when pettiness and fear seem to have the masses in their clutches and Morrison’s philosophy of liberation is but an echo from the distant past, the definitive document of that celebrated event arrives, a DVD account titled “Live at the Bowl ‘68” that cleans out the dust and the cobwebs and showcases the focused synergy and hallucinatory fervor The Doors could muster when properly motivated. Rising to the occasion, The Doors run through rousing, spirited versions of “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar),” “Hello, I Love You,” “The Unknown Soldier” and “Back Door Man” with vim and vigor, their swirling mania and spirit of adventure driving them onward and upward.
And whenever Morrison gets the itch to veer off course and journey into the unknown, whether his fellow travelers are familiar with the imagined terrain or strangers in the strangest and wildest country one could possibly hope to explore, Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore are unafraid to follow. With their own loose, freewheeling and almost alien improvisation – oftentimes emitting harsh dissonance and throwing together shapeless sonic juxtapositions – negotiating safe passage through the borderless wilderness of “Horse Latitudes,” “A Little Game” and “The Hill Dwellers,” The Doors coalesce into the more recognizable cadre of gypsy artists commissioned to paint the rich, mysterious hues and golden frames of “Spanish Caravan.” It’s as if the know just what loose thread to pull and let everything unravel, before knitting the elements back together into stronger and more vivid weavings than those captured on in the studio.
Under The Doors’ hypnotic spell, the crowd jolts bolt upright when Morrison screams, “Wake Up!” And while Morrison lashes out with terrifying invective, that trio noisily devolves and breaks apart, embodying the decay and caged-animal frustration that drives Morrison’s delivery. Then, right on cue, The Doors launch into “Light My Fire” – which, along with “The Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” and the aforementioned “Spanish Caravan,” had been MIA previously from the film but are now part of it – with wild-eyed fury, building up to a powerful sonic orgasm of whirling organ, trampling drums and frenzied guitar. All of which leads them to the mysterious, apocalyptic visions of “The End.”
Restored to glorious effect, the audio and video of this event, one of the biggest and most transcendent events in the history of The Doors, couldn’t be more pristine. A vintage look is maintained, and the expressions on Morrison’s face, captured so artfully by the cameramen working this particular job, are priceless, although more close-ups on Krieger and Densmore, in particular, as they worked at their craft would have been appreciated. Even on that Spartan stage, so big and wide for three people intensely concentrating on their playing their parts and one snake charmer with a wry smile and a gift for making dream-like language submit to his will, The Doors – surrounded by an obscene amount of amps – seemed more gods than men. And the extra bonus features, including the mini-documentaries “Echoes from the Past” and “You had to be There,” are wonderfully informative nostalgia trips that tell the engrossing story of this occasion – as well as that of The Doors in general – in great detail, mining the memory banks of the remaining members of The Doors, the opening band The Chambers Brothers, and the Doors’ engineer Bruce Botnick in casual conversations that have the feel of barroom chats.
Unfortunately, we never do find out for sure if Morrison was on acid that night, as has been rumored over the years. Nevertheless, though somewhat compromised, the original footage is sublime, shot from angles that expertly capture the heightened tension and different moods of The Doors that June night in 1968, but never seeming intrusive or obnoxious. Quite lucid and even playful, Morrison was in rare form, and it’s apparent that the importance of this moment is not lost on him or the rest of them. And for those who worked on this new packaging, which includes fascinating liner notes culled from Botnick that read like a detailed tour diary entry from that special date in Doors lore, they recognize it as well.

-            Peter Lindblad

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