The Doors

Boot Yer Butt!

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Despite the bald-faced references to bootlegs in the title, this is a totally legit four-CD box set release of live 1967-1970 Doors from numerous shows, all of it previously unissued. À la Frank Zappa before them, the surviving Doors here took an opportunity to beat the bootleggers at their own game, releasing material that's circulated on various unavailable live tapes, though putting it in better packaging and (of course) getting a piece of the retail action themselves. All that should be good news for Doors fans, and it kinda is, but the clichéd warning "for fans only" applies doubly or triply so to this particular package. For the sound quality here really is of bootleg standard, and not good bootleg standard. Virtually all of it sounds like it came from hissy audience tapes, and the best remastering technology in the world can't make it sound much better than it does on actual under-the-counter boots. Only hardcore devotees are going to want to spring for the set, and even hardcore devotees are going to find it tough to play for repeated pleasure.

All that noted, for the very serious fan-verging-on-scholar, this does offer a lot of unusual live performances, the excerpts spanning the very first known live recordings of the band (on March 4, 1967, at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco) to their second to last show with Jim Morrison (on December 11, 1970, in Dallas). Along the way, you get quite a number of songs that don't surface in many live versions on Doors bootlegs, like "Wild Child," "Spanish Caravan," "Who Scared You?," "Blue Sunday," "People Are Strange," and (from the 1970 Dallas concert) several songs from the then yet to be released L.A. Woman album. There is also a bunch of covers the Doors never put on their albums, including "Little Red Rooster," "I'm a Man," "Money," "Carol," "Rock Me," "Mystery Train," and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," though truth to tell these are generally pretty dire. There are also some pretty offbeat arrangements of more familiar standards, like a "Break on Through" from 1968 with Ray Manzarek subbing for an indisposed Jim Morrison on lead vocals, and a 20-minute "Light My Fire" from 1970 in which Morrison briefly intersperses bits from "Fever" and the Doors' own "Love Hides" in the instrumental break (which also features brief quotes from "My Favorite Things" and "Eleanor Rigby" in Robbie Krieger's guitar solo). And finally, there are some between-song raps as well, including a couple excerpts of such from the infamous March 1969 concert in Miami that eventually dragged Morrison through the courts on charges of lewd public behavior.

Nevertheless, it's often a challenge to cut through the sonic fog to appreciate the tracks to their fullest, though the performances are largely good to excellent. Morrison's vocals in particular often suffer from hollow faintness in the mix, and though two or three times the fidelity improves to verge on decent (the August 1968 "Wild Child," the September 1969 "The Crystal Ship"), those prove to be false alarms, the quality immediately slipping back into cardboard sludge. That's too bad: even if the sound quality was 80-90 percent of official release standard, it would be an extremely enjoyable survey of live Doors. Even on the 1970 Dallas show -- from an era usually portrayed as a juncture when the band and Morrison were struggling to keep the ship afloat (or, more properly, the other bandmembers were struggling to keep Morrison afloat) -- they sound vital, running through "Love Her Madly," "The Changeling," and "L.A. Woman" with real intensity, in arrangements differing slightly but notably from the familiar studio versions. Also, considering how much better-sounding stuff exists on isolated bootlegs like those of their March 1967 shows at the Matrix in San Francisco and their June 1970 concert in Seattle, the selection seems to be quirkily perverse, as if some of the better-sounding boots were deliberately avoided. At least it's augmented by decent liner notes featuring comments by Krieger on many of the tracks, and doesn't skimp on quantity at all, adding up to five hours of music. [This CD is only available for purchase over the Internet, from www.rhinohandmade.com.]

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