Previously available only in severely truncated form, The Doors’ legendary July 5, 1968 Hollywood Bowl gig has been restored and released in complete form on Blu-ray and also as a CD, both titled Live at the Bowl ’68. A little cheating was required in order to deal with a few songs that had considerable audio problems—namely, Morrison’s vocals were either not recorded or were rendered unusable due to distortion. The engineers have “fixed” the affected songs (“Texas Radio and the Big Beat,” “Hello, I Love You,” and portions of “When the Music’s Over”) by inserting vocals from other live recordings.
This may ruffle a few purists’ feathers, but honestly the finished effect is seamless. The alternative was leaving these songs out of the video and off the album, so I think they definitely made the right choice. The band was in fine form that particular summer night, with tight playing and a well-rehearsed set. They stretch out on the opening tune, “When the Music’s Over,” as well as the closer, “The End,” with some spaced-out ad-libbing from Morrison (I guess that acid he reportedly dropped before the show was kicking in by that point).
With the release of their third album, Waiting for the Sun, only days away, the set naturally leans somewhat in that direction. “Hello, I Love You” rocks along nicely, while “Five to One” gets bookended in a medley with the first album’s “Back Door Man.” Providing the most dramatic moment, “The Unknown Soldier” includes a staged “firing squad” routine with guitarist Robbie Krieger miming an execution of Morrison, as the song’s title character. Speaking of Krieger, his fluid soloing is a highlight throughout. It’s Ray Manzarek’s organ lines that can grate on the nerves when they carry on too long (which is anytime he solos). John Densmore’s drums are the glue that rather deftly holds their sound together. He works up a pretty good head of steam on many of the more uptempo numbers.
As a live album, Live at the Bowl ’68 makes for quite a satisfying listening experience. Morrison is fairly subdued visually, but he was in strong voice. Thankfully, Rhino’s CD has a few spoken bits and segues isolated as their own tracks. That way, songs like “Light My Fire” begin cleanly. The mastering is excellent, with a mix that retains a very “live” feel. The digipak includes a booklet with a new essay by engineer Bruce Botnick and a paragraph of reminiscing from each of the three surviving Doors.
Eagle Rock Entertainment’s Blu-ray soars with an absolutely terrific 5.1 DTS-HD MA lossless soundtrack. Every click of Densmore’s drumsticks is clearly audible, as is any flubbed riff by Krieger or Manzarek. That’s not to say the band isn’t wasn’t on point—they were. It’s just that the sound is so clear and the mix so well-defined, we can easily hear everything the band is doing. It’s the closest we’ll ever get to experiencing The Doors live (well, unless another concert video of this caliber emerges at some point). The 1080p image is good, though less impressive. The image is a little flat and unnaturally grain-free. Maybe this has something to do with the various sources that were utilized to create this longer edit. It’s not bad at all, it’s just lacking a little in fine detail.
Doors fans, no second thoughts required here. I say grab both the Blu-ray (it’s also available on standard DVD) and the CD.