Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

The Doors Absolutely Live (1970)


The only live album released when ol’ Jim was still prowling around, this one was intended to showcase the Doors at their live best, and it does.

Well – almost does. Because the album also showcases the Doors at producing the kind of show they’d never ever allow on their studio albums, and I’m speaking of the 14-minute long ‘Celebration Of The Lizard’ suite which is the usual Jim kinda suicidal/necrophilian wailings (ok, ok, it’s not really about that, but you know it’s all the same to me) and it’s brain-muddling. It does include ‘Not To Touch The Earth’ as a substantial chunk of it, but the rest is just not music at all.

Which is not what they used to do in the studio. The only quasi-musical piece is ‘A Little Game’ which is indeed monotonous, a little ode to schizophrenia (‘I think you know/What game I mean/I mean the game/Of go insane’) based on one nursery chord; apart from that, it’s just Jim reciting his poetry bits to bits of acid noisemaking. I can’t really tell you if I like it or not – at least they don’t set his poetry to disco backing like they would do it eight years later – but nothing is really exceptional or particularly memorable or impressive; not being a fan of Morrison’s life attitude, I will never drool over his poetry when it’s not stuck to the actual instrumental background. Face it, the Doors could have been a band with just instrumental compositions; but without the instrumental background, Jim was just Jim. Do you like Jim? I don’t. Not particularly, in any case.

But if you throw that 10-minute stinker away (and you should), you get yourself an excellent document with brilliant playing, clear vocals and an overall great sound. The funny thing is that while by 1969, when the performance was recorded, the Doors had already gotten rid of covers and were successfully penning all the material themselves, they still do a lot of covers, most notably classic blues covers, on stage. Thus, both ‘Alabama Song’ and ‘Back Door Man’ are present, albeit in a medley which also includes ‘Five To One’ and a little ‘previously unavailable’, but very pleasant ditty called ‘Love Hides’; and you also get acquainted with their interpretation of Bo Diddley’s ‘Who Do You Love’ and Muddy Waters’ ‘Close To You’.

The first one sounds particularly Doors-ish, as if the main vocal melody was written specially for Jim to perform and the stomping Bo Diddley rhythm written specially for Ray to imitate on his organ. ‘Close To You’ is less comfortable, though, as the lead vocals are taken by Manzarek himself, who overgrumbles and overhoarsens his voice quite a bit and makes things look somewhat cheaper than they actually are. ‘Build Me A Woman’, though, is a good Jim vocal highlight. Ah well, anyway, I suppose the fact that all of these songs sound so good in the hands of Jim are obvious proof that blues is an offspring of Satan, don’t you think? Morrison’s Blues Wears Satan’s Shoes…

In general, though, I’m rather pleased that Absolutely Live never actually equals a ‘greatest hits live’ album and offers the listener enough diversity and little hidden gems that he won’t find on any studio records. Apart from the already mentioned ‘Love Hides’, for instance, there’s also an introspective, deeply moving ballad called ‘Universal Mind’ (yeah I know the title can be offputting, but give it a try, it’s actually a nice song), and a new hilarious – if you get black humour, of course – introduction to ‘Break On Through’ called ‘Dead Cats Dead Rats’… these guys were sick, really.

Meanwhile, the oldies are all performed with enough vehemency and enough little details to distinguish them from their studio peers. Naturally, they’re all extended: the Doors used to build up tension very slowly, which, unfortunately, doesn’t always come out well on an album. For instance, they used to stretch out the organ intro to ‘When The Music’s Over’, slowly wearing out the listener with repetitive keyboard riffs until all of a sudden Densmore kicked in with the drums and Jim threw out his mighty ‘YEAH’ roar and the quietly dreaming listener was kicked out of the seat with a sonic wave. Which sounds cool in theory, but in an audio version it quickly becomes unbearable. Thank God the version on here is shorter than on the Hollywood Bowl concert recording.

But then again, Jim does compensate for all the fuss with his wonderful crowd interaction during the short pieces. ‘SHUT UP’, he roars, ‘is that the way to behave at a rock’n’roll concert?’ And as he bellows out ‘we want the world and we want it…’, the whole audience keeps howling ‘now, now, now!’ to him. Later on: ‘That’s New York to you. The only people that rush the stage are guys.’ Things like that really turn the simple listening process into… well, into an experience.

‘Soul Kitchen’ is brilliantly chosen as an encore (brilliantly, since Jim wisely changes the closing lyrics to ‘Well the cop says it’s time to close now/I think we have to go now/I’d really wanna stay here all night…’), and overall, the album leaves a very good feeling. The sound is excellent (although I feel the organ and drums are mixed way too high, overshadowing Robbie’s guitar all the time), the song choice is wise and entertaining, and you can actually feel the audience if you want to.

Not that the record lacks any defects – I think I’ve listed some of them above – but you can’t get any better with a live Doors album, and really, with the Doors, you oughta be there to truly understand the event. Such a pity I wasn’t…

May 21, 2013 - Posted by | The Doors Absolutely Live |

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