The Doors supplied plenty of post-Independence Day fireworks on July 5, 1968 when the legendary quartet played the Hollywood Bowl, a concert that is considered to be the band’s finest on film. For the first time, the film from the historic performance has been painstakingly restored using the original camera negatives and the audio has been remixed and mastered from original multi-tracks by the group’s engineer Bruce Botnick. This new restoration offers a stunning visual upgrade from earlier versions and will give fans the closest experience to being there live along side Jim Morrison, John Densmore, Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek, who opined, “You can hear it as if you were at the Hollywood Bowl, on stage with us.”
1. Show Start/Intro
2. “When The Music’s Over”
3. “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)”
4. “Back Door Man”
5. “Five To One”
6. “Back Door Man” (Reprise)
7. “The WASP (Texas Radio And The Big Beat)”
8. “Hello, I Love You”
9. “Moonlight Drive”
10. “Horse Latitudes”
11. “A Little Game”
12. “The Hill Dwellers”
13. “Spanish Caravan”
14. Hey, What Would You Guys Like To Hear?
15. “Wake Up!”
16. Light My Fire (Segue)
17. “Light My Fire”
18. “The Unknown Soldier”
19. The End (Segue)
20. “The End”
On July 5, 1968, less than a week before the release of their third album, Waiting for the Sun, drummer John Densmore, guitarist Robbie Krieger, organist/background vocals Ray Manzarek, and singer Jim Morrison played before a hometown crowd at the Hollywood Bowl, headlining a show that included The Chambers Brothers and Steppenwolf. If you're wondering who played bass, Bruce McCullough from The Kids in the Hall proclaims in his funny "Doors Fan" monologue, "The Doors had no bass… Don't let that scare you. Let that free you; let that liberate you."
The band's stage set-up is simple and straightforward, looking no different than you'd expect to have seen when they performed at tiny clubs on the Sunset Strip. Morrison is usually front and center. Manzarek is on his right, Kreiger to his left, and Densmore is on a riser behind him. The stage is lined with amps, but it turns out they weren't allowed to use the majority of them. White light bathes the stage, and the only bits of colors are Morrison's tan leather pants and behind the drums a red curtain of some type can be seen.
As has been noted in books, Morrison had a love/hate relationship with being a rock star and would have preferred being a poet. During the opening number, "When The Music's Over" (an ironic song to open a concert), he shushes the audience during a quiet part of the song. A few members can't take the quiet and begin to shout out, which finds Morrison's responding with a belch. It gets laughs, but it didn't come across as him being humorous.
Towards the end of the show, Morrison teases the crowd, asking them what they want to hear. They shout out titles, including "Light My Fire", their first Number 1 single and their most popular song at that point in their careers. In response, he chastises them, "No, you do something!" Naturally, they don't play what the crowd wants and instead give them "Wake Up!", one of three pieces played from "Celebration of the Lizard". When they do get to "Light My Fire", Morrison appears bored by it, wandering the stage and grabbing a smoke and light from the crowd. The acid he dropped right before the show started, which was likely kicking in about then, likely magnifies his disinterest. When he shouts along to the conclusion of the bridge, it sounds like he occasionally slips "fuck" alongside with his unintelligible grunts, though I am not certain.
While a talented and revered rock band, in this live setting the roots of jazz and beat poetry can be heard during an early version of "The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)", which was released in a different form on their final album, L.A. Woman. Manzarek provides the main accompaniment to Morrison's poetry while Densmore and Krieger each add flourishes of their own throughout. As "Moonlight Drive" comes to an end, they segue into "Horse Latitudes", switching the order the songs appear on Strange Days. The band evokes the chaos of the horses being jettisoned and the effects from the album aren't missed. Also, impressive are the flamenco riffs Kreiger plays on acoustic guitar leading into "Spanish Caravan".
They close fittingly with "The End". Morrison repeatedly begs to have the lights turned down to help set the mood and in response to what are surely by now dilated pupils, but is ignored since those shooting the film need them. During musical interludes, he recites poetry, including the silly improvisation "Ode to a Grasshopper". The creature is seen getting his interest as the song begins, but to amusement of many, including Morrison, he soon learns it's actually a moth.
Though portions of this concert have been made available before in various formats, this is the first time the entire '68 Hollywood Bowl performance has been made available and it has been re-edited. As revealed in the extras, "Hello, I Love You"; "The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)"; and "Spanish Caravan" hadn't been made available before because Morrison's microphone was having issues during the recording. While fans should be happy to now have the complete set, purists will likely squawk because the vocals have been taken from other performances. I couldn't tell and am overjoyed to have the concert in my collection.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The Doors – Live at the Bowl '68 is a 25GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a blue keepcase. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. Included is a four-page booklet containing pictures and liner notes by longtime Doors associate audio engineer/record producer Bruce Botnick, who worked on the new edit of the film.
Shot on 16mm by their friends from UCLA film school, the image is rather disappointing due in large part to the limitations of the source. A newly remastered 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer has been struck yet the visuals remain underwhelming.
The image is frequently soft, though out of focus seems a more accurate assessment as the cameramen don’t adjust as quick as needed. All the long shots of the band on stage are varying degrees of blurry. This results in limited depth throughout.
Blacks dominate as the band plays at night under minimal lights and they frequently crush hard. Manzarek appears to be the only one not wearing black as Morrison's torso, Densmore's arms, Kreiger's entire body frequently blend into the background, which may be considered a bonus if you are watching in the same state as Morrison was this evening. It's not until late in the concert when a camera shoots Densmore from behind that he is shown to be wearing red, but it doesn't register that way with cameras in front of him. There is some color that stands out, like Morrison's tan pants and bits of red on the drums and Krieger's guitar strap. Morrison's fleshtone is lifelike and consistent.
In an extra, Manzarek reveals the image was expanded from full frame to an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. That digital manipulation doesn't cause any distortion in the image, though it may be contribute to some of the focus-clarity issues. DNR is evident in the lack of grain where there should be a great deal of it. However, it doesn't impact the limited texture detail that's available, like the creases seen in Morrison's pants.
Of more importance is the remixed soundtrack, which is very impressive for its age, which is only revealed through some hiss. As is usual for Eagle Entertainment, there are three options: DTS-HD Master 5.1 Surround, DTS 5.1 Surround Core, and LPCM 2.0.
The DTS Surround track does an outstanding job of transporting the viewer to the show. The music is immersive yet the instruments sound distinct from each other as they were recorded, allowing the talents of all three to shine through. The guitar and organ have more emphasis from the channels that match up with their position on stage. The vocals and music are treated as equals and are well balanced. Manzarek's supporting vocals sound solid and responses from the crowd are clear.
It also does a great job of replicating the wide dynamics of the show, from shouts and wild cacophony to whispers and gentle sounds. The LFE delivers a powerful bottom end from the bass of Densmore's drums and Manzarek's keys.
While I highly recommend this release for Doors fans, even casual music fans interested in the history of the art form should find this concert of interest.
Though some may be put off by the diminished video quality and the blending of sources to create a complete performance, the historical significance in creating a complete concert and the quality of the audio should win the day.