Monday, November 01, 2004

Defending The Doors and Jim Morrison

Review of The Doors In Concert by Tom Graves

As much as I would feel vindicated by a kick ass live set by the Doors, who I have defended against some of rock criticism’s biggest hired guns, I’ve got to come to terms with the fact that the Doors live were a pretty lousy band – at least on every live document (including bootlegs) I’ve ever heard. It should be remembered that the Doors initially earned their stripes as a club band playing small, noisy venues such as the Whiskey A Go Go in L.A. – places where their sound and theatrics filled the room from wall to wall. I’ve known a few people who saw the Doors at the Whiskey before being signed to Elektra and consider the performances there among the high points of their life.

But as fame spoiled them and they began to play large halls and coliseums, every problem evident in the band’s set-up became magnified a hundred-fold. As many have pointed out, the Doors lacked a solid rhythm section. They desperately needed a bass player (Manzarek’s bass organ just couldn’t cut it) and an extra rhythm guitarist to shore-up their watery sound. Although John Densmore was certainly a gifted, tasteful drummer, he was a small man who lacked the physical power needed to propel the music into high gear. I think Robby Krieger was a stinging, highly original guitar player with a multitude of innovative texturings, but all too often in concert there was nothing to really anchor his guitar; it skittered over the numbing drone of Manzarek’s keyboards with no foothold to dig into. And Manzarek, although capable of stunning organ and piano passages (like “Break On Through” and “Riders On the Storm” if you want examples) was inherently incapable of pounding out a respectable rhythm and blues.

The Doors In Concert is comprised of Absolutely Live, the wretched Alive She Cried, and Live At the Hollywood Bowl, plus an unreleased live version of “The End.” Although I’m a strong and unapologetic supporter of Jim Morrison – I think he was one of rock and roll’s most charismatic and distinctive vocalists – what we get here is a man in a state of artistic and physical disintegration. Songs like “Backdoor Man” and “Petition the Lord With Prayer” are so histrionic that they are unintentionally hilarious, at least until one remembers how seriously the Doors took themselves. I think it’s fair to say that not a single track on In Concert wasn’t performed better on the studio LPs, making this set redundant and worthless.

I must admit I have never understood the complete dismissal of the Doors by so many notable critics, nor have I figured out the logic behind the “they were a great singles band” faction. The Doors, Strange Days, and Morrison Hotel were great albums, and those who focus only on the catchy fluff like “Hello, I Love You” and “Touch Me” to the exclusion of legitimate rock epics like “The End” and “When the Music’s Over” or biting, soulful white blues like “Soul Kitchen,” “Love Me Two Times,” and “Roadhouse Blues” are missing the whole point of what made the Doors a great band.

Yeah, Jim Morrison was a joke as a poet, but what so many miss is that he was a brilliant lyricist (check out “Moonlight Drive” for a taste). After listening to this dreck I plan to load up the player with Morrison Hotel or The Doors, head for the fridge, and grab myself a be-ah.


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