The Doors of the 21st Century

L.A. Woman Live

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Despite the rather controversial nature of this 2003 Doors "reunion," the result is professional and intermittently impressive. While hired-hand drummer Ty Dennis is no match for the creative, jazzy swing of original stick man John Densmore -- who was so vehemently against the concept of re-forming the band that he went to court, ultimately forcing an alteration of the name -- and singer Ian Astbury seems uncomfortable in his role as a 21st century version of lizard king Jim Morrison, this 100-minute performance from a 2003 show proves the concept is at least practical. The idea, as keyboardist Ray Manzarek explains in the liner notes, is that since Morrison died before the Doors could perform L.A. Woman in concert, this is the tour that never was. Although not played in order, and with John Lee Hooker's "Crawling King Snake" inexplicably omitted from the set list, the album still sounds vibrant and alive. Relative rarities such as "The Changeling," "Hyacinth House," and "L'America" are well worth reviving and sit well with the album's better-known classics "Riders on the Storm," "Love Her Madly," and the title cut. Both Manzarek and guitarist Robbie Krieger -- oddly looking like a kid dressed up for Halloween in his army fatigues, boots, and cap -- sound terrific, possibly better than they did 30 years ago in their commercial heyday. For his part, Astbury brings just enough "Jim-ness" to the proceedings without obviously aping Morrison, thereby excelling at what is basically an impossible task. But while the band plays with a tight and terse professionalism, there is no sense of the dangerous here, the je ne sais quoi, edge-of-the-seat unpredictability that Morrison's presence brought to the table even on one of his many off nights. The L.A. Woman songs, fleshed out by some hits, don't seem dated, and the well-rehearsed band plays with loose restraint. Everyone is obviously enjoying himself, especially when the audience is invited on-stage to dance along to the closing "Soul Kitchen." But the element of surprise is gone. You wonder how things would have changed if Morrison were still navigating this ship. Would the arrangements and words have altered or mutated instead of adhering to what was recorded and what the audience expects? That doesn't make this show any worse -- the playing, lighting, camera work, and especially sound are all top-shelf -- but it does leave a slightly bitter taste in your mouth. How much of this is financially driven, and is this what Morrison would have wanted? Brief but illuminating interview interludes with the three primary players between a few songs try to prove that the intent is musically driven. But this DVD -- as enjoyable as it is -- doesn't necessarily confirm that.

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