In the realm of influential and controversial sixties rock bands, few reigned higher than the Doors. Fronted by “Lizard King” poet Jim Morrison and rounded out by innovative guitarist Robby Krieger, gutsy drummer John Densmore, and incredibly talented keyboardist Ray Manzarek (who managed to play bass lines with one hand and fancy melodies with the other), the quartet is still as revered as ever. Recently, an expanded version of their 1968 concert at the Hollywood Bowl (which originally came out in 1987) was released, and it’s easily one of the definitive live releases for the group.
In terms of additions, they mostly consist of introductions (“Show Start/Intro”), segues (“The End”), reprises (“Back Door Man” and “Light My Fire”), and extended additions (“Spanish Caravan”). There are also a few new bits, including “The WASP”, “The Hilly Dwellers”, and “Hey, What Would You guys Like to Hear?” It seems like the original release was an abridged, to-the-point version, whereas this comes closer to capturing the entire performance with all of its madness, in-between banter, etc. Fans will definitely appreciate the added material, as it’s more involving, accurate, and authentic.
As for the material itself, just about every listener should be satisfied. Of course, classics like “When the Music’s Over”, which includes a nice bit of audience interaction, “Hello, I Love You”, “Light My Fire”, and “The End” are here, and as you’d expect, the energy is through the roof during their durations. Of special note is the way “The End” is extended several minutes by jamming, added space (for tension), and various other subtle techniques. It’s clear that the audience was hypnotized during the track, as they’re mostly silent until the conclusion, when they erupt into applause.
Elsewhere, plenty of other great tracks reside. “Alabama Song” sounds quite focused and perfected, while “Back Door Man” (a title that’s inarguably a bit of sexual innuendo) features a great solo by Krieger. “The WASP” displays Morrison’s trademark narration and poeticism (he was hired because of his lyrical imagery, after all), and “Horse Latitudes” and “A Little Game” feature some dissonant keyboard work and askew playfulness. The melodic romanticism of “Spanish Caravan” is a nice treat, and it provides a nice contrast to the aggressive nature of “Wake Up!” All in all, there isn’t a single wasted moment here.
Beyond the tracks themselves, the production and performances must be acknowledged. This is one of the best sounding live LPs I’ve ever heard. Every note of the music, sentiment from the band, and reaction from the audience sounds dated yet pristine, which is wonderful. Also, the group’s enthusiasm and excitement for their material and crowd shines through, as many of the songs sound more raucous and fearless than their studio counterparts (which is certainly not unique to the Doors, but it’s still worth mentioning). Morrison was always known for reveling in the spotlight, and he definitely does here.
Live at the Bowl ‘68 is a fantastic album through and through. Most, if not all, of the fan favorites are there, as are plenty of other gems, and they’re all recreated expertly. Also, the shared enthusiasm and energy between the Doors and their devotees really makes the music come alive and feel special. If you’re a fan of the group (or prototypical rock music in general), there’s no reason not to enjoy this.