Classic Rock Review

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The Doors Live in New York, Felt Forum (January 1970) (2009)

51sD7gW40dLFrom amazon.com

The Doors, well known for releasing the same material over and over again in a new package (hello original six albums), have done much to atone for those sins since 2000. That year, they set up Bright Midnight Records, which was dedicated to releasing uncut, un-doctored live material from the band’s archives…the same archives they claimed were barer than die-hard fans knew. They’ve released some very excellent product, including most of the material recorded for Absolutely Live. This includes full, uncut and professionally recorded shows from Detroit, LA, Philadelphia, and other locales. They haven’t released as many shows as originally envisioned, but what they have put out has been reverent. The only real hiccup along the way was the Matrix release from 2009, which was a great opportunity to finally provide an official outlet for well known bootleg material (the four Matrix shows over two days in early 1967).

Finally, finally, they deliver what fans have been clamoring for, especially since Bright Midnight was established: all four Felt Forum shows in their entirety, uncut, and (for the most part) un-doctored. We get six CDs, and only a little bit of this was ever officially released before; bits were included in Absolutely Live/In Concert, and the 1997 box set had a single disc that cherry-picked tracks from the four shows.

This release, another highly recommended gem, just about rounds out the Absolutely Live material. In January, 1970, The Doors played four shows over two consecutive nights at New York’s Felt Forum, the smaller concert venue under the main Madison Square Garden arena. (They played the main arena in January 1969, but for their new tour, post-Miami, they opted for the superior acoustics and intimacy of the Felt.) Both nights they played an early and a late show, and packed a lot of material into each. Not only were these shows recorded in their entirety, but they sound (for the most part) like great shows.

While Absolutely Live and other older Doors live material were the product of Paul Rothchild’s great talents as a producer, splicing together numerous takes of a single song to create the best-sounding concert album experience, the Bright Midnight releases revel in what fanatics and the bootleg-obsessed have always been interested in: complete, un-doctored shows. The good news is that the band and particularly Bruce Botnick (original Doors sound engineer) are very open with exactly what was done with the source tapes. Since those tapes were cut up for previous releases, there are gone-forever snippets here and there, and they went through a painstaking process to review the two-track live tapes versus the eight-track masters in order to determine exactly what was missing. In those cases, they swapped in parts of another 1970 show that fit the mood. You would be pretty hard pressed to identify these snippets in your ears, the work is seamless.

The biggest manipulation here is actually the overdubs done by John Sebastian, who joined the Doors on stage for one of the shows but whose harmonica was not picked up by the mic. I believe the ‘bare’ tracks will be released online, so fans can get both.

Many will note the differences between the early and late shows on each night. Typically, the later shows are longer and a bit more revved up, including longer jams and more improv. However, having four professionally recorded shows is a major bonanza. Once again, all of the in-between tuning, crowd noise, and chatter is included (tracks are titled ‘Tuning / Breather’, for instance). Yes, these tend to break up the momentum, and we now realize that bootleggers were regularly trimming these breaks to death in order to fit shows on a record or CD, but they reflect how the band performed. You’d be much harder pressed to see a band today that took a long breather between songs, and indeed, The Doors famously never agreed on a set list before each show, but rather let the vibe and the audience dictate where they would go. This was the band getting back to just the music, and returning to the blues work that defined their earlier club days. They also play several tracks from the not-yet-released Morrison Hotel.

Despite the glut of recent quality releases, Doors fanatics know that there is a good chunk of material still out there, ripe for the official outlet. This includes a number of professionally recorded or broadcast shows, including Seattle, 1970 (by many accounts a poor show with a very drunk and distant Morrison), Vancouver 1970 (significantly better), and the Isle of Wight performance, a crisp, broadcast version having been available on bootleg for over a decade. And there’s plenty more if they want to get back into releasing audience stuff (the Boot Yer Butt box, while expensive, had some very, very rare material, though some of it was in horrendous quality).

Highly, highly recommended for the Doors fan. New fans, too…if you want a great intro to the live Doors, and a lot of value, this set is a great boon. Note the cover of the box, which reproduces an actual ticket from these shows, and the $5.50 price of an orchestra ticket. You can still go to the Felt Forum today (which has since gone through about 100 name changes), but for $5.50 you might only be able to get a box of Cracker Jacks.

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May 21, 2013 Posted by | The Doors Live in New York Felt Forum | | Leave a comment