Music Blu-ray Review: The Doors - Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970

By , Contributor
Eagle Rock Entertainment has issued The Doors' Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 as a two-disc (one Blu-ray, one CD) set. A portion of their set from that legendary festival is included in director Murray Lerner's outstanding documentary feature Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival (1997), but here we have the whole thing. Restored, remixed, remastered—looking and sounding quite beautiful. (Audio is offered in lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 stereo.)

The seven-song, set was performed at the ungodly hour of 2 A.M. on August 29, 1970. Little more than a week earlier, court proceedings had begun against Jim Morrison for having allegedly exposed himself onstage in Miami the year before. Less than a year later, Morrison would die at the age of 27. In front of some 600,000-plus concert attendees, The Doors played what would become their last-ever filmed show. Running a little more than an hour, that show features Morrison in excellent voice but, with the weight of the impending trial hanging heavily, subdued in stage presence.

It's a bit overstated by The Doors' late keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who goes so far to say that Morrison "moved nary a muscle." Indeed Morrison doesn't do much more than stand in front of the mic and sing. But it seems clear he is focused intently on his bandmates' playing, turning to watch intently during solos. The musical interplay between Manzarek, drummer John Densmore, and guitarist Robby Krieger is adventurous as usual. Give The Doors credit—while they lacked the technical acumen to rise to the level of the jazz greats they aspired to emulate, their improvisational approach led to consistently fascinating takes on their own material.

Visually the concert is a bit plain, a result of apparent miscommunication between the band's management and the festival producers regarding who was to provide lighting equipment. The single, smoldering, omnipresent, deep-orange spotlight manages to complement the overall atmosphere of the show. There are no shenanigans or overt showmanship. This set is all about the music and the lack of visual pizzazz ends up suiting it.

The Blu-ray boasts a new featurette, "This Is the End" (19 minutes), which includes new interviews with Krieger, Densmore, and Doors' manager Bill Siddons. They discuss the circumstances that led up to the Isle of Wight gig and offer their reflections on the performance itself. Manzarek is seen in interviews taped in 2012 (he passed away at age 74 in 2013).

A few presentation-based notes: original director Murray Lerner didn't film every minute of The Doors' set. This was long before the advent of digital photography. Shooting on film cost a ton of money, so it had to be used sparingly. To account for the songs for which film footage was either slim (or non-existent), Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 director John Albarian cuts in various shots of the crowd. The only song for which zero footage exists is "Roadhouse Blues," and as such it is presented first rather than fifth. Purists may grumble, but I think given the absence of accompanying visuals, this was an acceptable aesthetic choice.

The entire set is offered on the audio CD. This is essentially the stereo soundtrack to the film, complete with "Roadhouse Blues" as the "opener," preceding the band introduction and the true set-opener "Back Door Man." Audio of motorcycle-revving was mixed in during the film's montage of concertgoers arriving at the festival. That sound is heard on the CD as well, which has ticked off some discerning fans who view the CD as a missed opportunity to present the set in its purest form. It doesn't bother me terribly as I'm thankful for Eagle Rock's inclusion of the CD. This is a frequent bonus of Eagle Rock's concert releases and I can live with a few seconds of motorcycle sounds at the start of "Roadhouse Blues."

Personally, I watch concert films once in a great while. But I listen to live recordings all the time, so it's great to have a convenient way to hear the concert without having to dedicate time in front of the TV. Kudos to Eagle Rock for an indispensable release of an important concert by one of rock's all-time greatest bands.

Full Set:

1) "Roadhouse Blues" (in reality, the fifth song in the show)

2) "Back Door Man" (in reality, the opening song of the show)

3) "Break On Through"

4) "When the Music's Over"

5) "Light My Fire"

6) "The End"

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Chaz Lipp is a Las Vegas-based musician and freelance writer. His new jazz album 'Good Merlin' is now available.

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