The Doors: Live at the Matrix 1967

The Doors
Live at the Matrix 1967

Barrett Strong’s “Money” has the distinction of not only being Motown’s first hit record (on the Anna label), but also is the only song to be covered on studio recordings by both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The Doors never recorded this title on any of the studio efforts, but long after Jim Morrison’s death, live versions of this song found its way on various Doors’ collections. There’s a version on this new release of a Doors concert from back in 1967, which is appropriate as this live double-disc set certainly seems like a greedy attempt to wring more cash from Doors fans.

The question of what should be done with 40+ year tapes of old Doors concerts is problematic. On the one hand, there is nothing to be gained by keeping the music locked away. Fans willing to pay to hear the music certainly would feel entitled to do so.

On the other hand, the situation is not so simple with this particular release. The record company (Rhino, a subsidiary of the Warner Music Group) claims that the music was restored and mastered from first generation tapes. Peter Abrams, the owner of the San Francisco club where the concert was staged, originally recorded the show and tried to sell them to the record company. However, the company claimed to have gotten the master tapes elsewhere and put out what’s here. Ardent Doors fans quickly noted the discrepancies between Abrams’ recordings and what the record company released. They believe this music was rerecorded from bootlegs while Abrams’ recordings were alleged to be much better in quality, especially on tracks like “Money”, that have audible wow and flutter.

Doors fans have posted warnings on the bands’ website and shopping pages like asking people not to buy this product. The fans want the record company to pay Abrams for his efforts and put out recordings made from the real, first generation tapes. This is still possible, according to Doors Manager Jeff Jampol.

Complicating the issue is the issue of integrity. Various members of the Doors have sued each other over fair use of the music. For example, keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger allegedly want to allow Doors tunes to be used in commercials while drummer John Densmore sees this as a desecration of the band’s heritage. Is this release of substandard tapes such a desecration?

D’uh! If better quality recordings exist and the owner is willing to sell, the record company should use them. The Doors and their fans deserve this. This is not a matter of making a profit. This is a matter of greed.

That said, what about the music that is presented here? This concert was recorded back between March 7-10, 1967 at a small club in California just after the release of the first Doors album and before “Light My Fire” was a hit. They are a somewhat obscure band at the time. The audience here does not intrude on the music by yelling, screaming, and applauding. In fact, sometimes the audience seems not to be present and it seems as if the recordings were made at a sound check or rehearsal.

That means that one can hear the Doors play live just before the circus began. Morrison and company can kick out the jams, forget the words, hit wrong notes, and just play without worrying about their immortality. No one interrupts the intro to hit songs with applause, because the band had no recognizable tunes. This leads to some magic moments. One can hear all the words to a song like “People are Strange” or “The Crystal Ship” because Morrison cares enough about the lyrics to carefully enunciate the words rather than just perform them. This also leads to some drab efforts. The eight-minute-plus instrumental, jazz-rock rendition of Gershwin’s “Summertime” yields no revelatory moments.

Live at the Matrix 1967 works as an archival document of the Doors before the band exploded and fame overtook them. Casual fans would be better off skipping this, but ardent adherents know there are weird scenes within the gold mine and there are some bright nuggets to be found here.

RATING 6 / 10
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