Featured Album

RELEASE
November 18, 2008
LABEL
Rhino
GENRES
Pop/Rock, Rock & Roll, Psychedelic, Hard Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Proto-Punk, Album Rock, AM Pop

Album Review

When the Doors were playing at the Matrix club in San Francisco on March 7 and March 10 of 1967, unofficial tapes were made of their performances. Music from four sets (two each night) of these gigs has long been available on bootleg, and a couple tracks did show up on the Doors' 1997 box set. This two-CD package, however, marks the first official release of material from these shows in bulk. They represent the earliest concert recordings of the band that have been made available, dating from just two months after the release of their debut album (and a few months before the "Light My Fire" single would catch on and make them superstars). While this by no means has the complete recordings from these two nights that have circulated on bootleg, it does contain one version of every single song captured on the tapes. The sound quality, too, is substantially improved from those bootlegs (though it's not true, as the liner notes claim, that all of those bootlegs had "the worst quality imaginable"). If it's not quite up to the level of the fidelity heard on most official live albums (or even some more adeptly recorded Doors live shows from later in their career that have seen official release), the instruments and vocals come through pretty well, and can easily be listened to for pleasure as well as historical archival value.
More important than the technical and discographical details, however, is the quality of the performances themselves. And while they're occasionally a bit ragged, and certainly not as sleek and cleanly balanced as their studio recordings, you could make an argument for this as the finest Doors live release, from the musical if not the fidelity point of view. For these are the Doors, and Jim Morrison in particular, when they were still hungry and eager to make an impression, with little of the somewhat self-parodying theatricalism that Morrison would sometimes lapse into on-stage after reaching superstardom. There are lean, urgent versions of most of the songs from their classic debut album, as well as, more surprisingly, about half the numbers from the yet-to-be-released Strange Days. "Unhappy Girl," "Moonlight Drive," "My Eyes Have Seen You," "People Are Strange," and "I Can't See Your Face in My Mind" especially have notably sparer arrangements, betraying the band's roots as more of a straight-ahead rock outfit prior to these songs getting effectively psychedelicized studio treatments. There's even a version of one tune, "Summer's Almost Gone," that they'd wait until their third album, Waiting for the Sun, to put on a studio LP.
Filling out the set are a good number of cover tunes that the Doors didn't release in the '60s, including several blues and R&B covers. While these have their interest for documenting aspects of their repertoire that aren't fully evident from their studio albums, they also reveal the group to be much less interesting when playing such cover tunes -- among them "Money," John Lee Hooker's "Crawling King Snake," Lee Dorsey's "Get out of My Life Woman," and Them's "Gloria" -- than they were when doing their own material. Still, even these selections include some standouts, especially a burning version of "Who Do You Love" that outdoes the more laid-back one on Absolutely Live, and an instrumental version of "Summertime" that gives Ray Manzarek a chance to showcase his organ chops. It's also odd to hear such a cool, almost non-reception from the sparse audience, giving the impression the Doors were playing to a near-empty club, though they seem to be putting as much or more heart into their performance as they would later do for most of their arena concerts. All told, it's an excellent document of their early days that's strongly recommended to Doors fans. It would have been even neater for hardcore fanatics had all four sets from the two nights been included, but admittedly the elimination of multiple versions and resequencing makes this a much more listenable product for the general audience.
Richie Unterberger, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Break on Through (To the Other Side)
  2. Soul Kitchen
  3. Money
  4. The Crystal Ship
  5. Twentieth Century Fox
  6. I'm a King Bee
  7. Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)
  8. Summer's Almost Gone
  9. Light My Fire
  10. Get out of My Life Woman
  11. Back Door Man
  12. Who Do You Love
  13. The End
  14. Unhappy Girl
  15. Moonlight Drive
  16. Woman Is a Devil/Rock Me
  17. People Are Strange
  18. Close to You
  19. My Eyes Have Seen You
  20. Crawling King Snake
  21. I Can't See Your Face in My Mind
  22. Summertime
  23. When the Music's Over
  24. Gloria