Many critics have recently been bringing up artists’ “quintessential” concerts, citing The Rolling Stones’ Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out or The Who’s Live At Leeds as examples. With the newly-remastered release of the Doors’ 1968 concert at the Hollywood Bowl, cleverly titled, The Doors Live at the Bowl ’68, this filmed performance is being hailed as the closest thing to a “quintessential” Doors concert that audiences will ever get. I would almost certainly disagree, but since critics are not diehard fans like this author, their only real exposure to the band will sadly be these new releases mailed out to them to review, or the Best of albums they got high to in college and that now saturates FM radio.

Barring that, the brand new CD/Blu-ray/vinyl release of Live at the Bowl ’68 is certainly a must have for super-fan and novice alike.

This Doors performance is certainly legendary in its own right, but I sadly would not stake it up there with the aforementioned Who and Stones shows, due to the enormous catalog (mostly audio, but some film) that the band has compiled that can be more aptly termed the “quintessential” performance.

That said, this re-release definitely has its selling points, and luckily is not just a dressed up “remaster” of the type that often happens in the music world.

Live at the Bowl

The biggest thing here, aside from a complete audio and digital remaster for a spiffy Blu-ray release, is the first-ever inclusion of two songs that were originally left on the cutting room floor due to technical issues at the actual performance. Initially Hello I Love You and Texas Radio and the Big Beat (along with the first-half  of Spanish Caravan) had to be omitted due to Jim Morrison’s microphone cutting out. But technology now has made it possible to take the remaining band audio as originally recorded, and add in vocals from other live performances in order to match the songs’ tempo, as well as the lip-sync of the film footage.

These inclusions make for an overall great performance, and finally bring the legendary missing piece of this noteworthy show to fans.

The remastering was done by none other than legendary Doors engineer Bruce Botnick, who did a stellar job bringing the slight nuances of each song, along with the audience interaction, back to the modern listener’s ear. Along with audio, there has been an intensive visual remaster of the film for the Blu-ray release. The result is a crisper, sharper image than this concert’s mid-1980s original release.

The image looks as good as it’s going to get, while dealing with the limitations of the actual film shoot, since 1) it was basically shot by friends of the band, including Harrison Ford, on three cameras (Ford was doing carpentry work on Doors producer Paul Rothchild’s house when he was asked to help photograph the show); and 2) the massive stage in the opera theater was lit so conservatively that it really limited what could properly be photographed besides the immediate band.

The performance itself is quite tame by Doors standards, partly because of the worry of any cock-ups within the band, as well as the exposure the concert had received leading up the show. The band purposely rehearsed prior to the show and compiled a setlist, which didn’t always happen. Beyond that, Morrison wanted to not ruffle any feathers with the overly dramatic performance that his fans were sometimes accustomed to. Here is the personification of the soft-spoken, shy poet; when management and band members expressed concern about how the show would go, it only led Morrison to wall himself up and deliver a quite tame performance.

Which leads to another piece of information that many critics seem to want to cite (or should I say flaunt) when reviewing this concert: the well-known fact that Morrison had dropped acid prior to the show. This author finds it completely irrelevant, especially in light of how relaxed the show actually was, and I would press those same critics to go dig up what mind-altering substances other musicians and bands were on while delivering great  performances. Hank Williams Senior drinking before a show? Louis Armstrong smoking a bone out in an alley prior to a performance? Jimi Hendrix putting acid into his headband before going out to perform at Monterey or some other venue? Silly at most, if not completely irrelevant. I think it is an example of how good Morrison was as a performer to potentially do that and still be able to deliver and not skip a beat—much like the stories of Richard Burton and Richard Harris competing to get blinding drunk and then going out on stage to see who could deliver the best, most flawless Shakespeare performance. (Rumor has it Burton would always win!) Notwithstanding Morrison’s notorious onstage issues, we’ll confine our review to just this show to give the guys some credit.

Here, I’ll let you in on another piece of intel I think is just as juicy, and more relevant to Morrison’s Hollywood Bowl performance, that is little known: He’d gotten into a rather big row with his girlfriend Pam Courson just prior to the show. Then during the show, Morrison had to watch none other than Mick Jagger, seated in the front row, flirting and hitting on Morrison’s girl for the entire concert. I think that piece of information is more telling than what drugs he did prior to the show.

Robbie Krieger about to execute Morrison in the middle of The Unknown Soldier

Though Morrison is generally sedate through, he does come alive during the middle of The Unknown Soldier, painfully reenacting the execution of a soldier; as well as his dancing in celebration during the climax of their epic song, The End.

The setlist they prepared is also a great example of their catalog. They open up with the epic When the Music’s Over (another song critics like to point out, saying Morrison lets out a “burp” during one of the song’s pauses, when he was in fact joking with the audience, making a popping “P” sound with his lips), before going into a great medley the band had made famous on their tour that year: Alabama Song into Backdoor Man into Five to One, before going back into Backdoor Man to wrap the little jaunt up. The restored Texas Radio and Hello I Love You, are next, followed by Moonlight Drive which leads into Horse Latitudes.

Morrison is able to deliver a lot of his poetic pieces like Texas and Horse, as well as the next two pieces, A Little Game and The Hill Dwellers, which were excerpts of the singer’s massive opus The Celebration of the Lizard. This really illustrates the forethought that went into the setlist. The restored Spanish Caravan followed and then, in classic Doors fashion, Morrison asked what the audience would like to hear. As always, almost to tease them and even more to stress they were not just a teen-pop flash-in-the-pan, they delve into another Morrison poem Wake Up!, before seamlessly breaking into the iconic hit the audience wants to hear, Light My Fire. The band then closes out the evening with two amazing performances of The Unknown Soldier and the usual show closer, the band’s legendary tour-de-force,The End (both of which found themselves included on the prior Best of  live album, Absolutely Live).

Overall the 1968 July show is a great add-on for any fan or collector, though this author wouldn’t call it their “quintessential” filmed performance; I would say that was the show from earlier the same year filmed at London’s Roundhouse Theater Club, while the group was on their European tour. Also included are a slew of new docs, along with two rare live TV performances—Light My Fire on The Jonathan Winters Show from 1967, as well as an ultra-rare Wild Child on The Smothers Brothers from 1968—and a music video of the band’s edited cover of Gloria.

So if you are looking for a rock-solid performance while the band was in top form, as well as a little piece of restored history, please go pick up The Doors Live At the Bowl ’68. You certainly won’t be disappointed.