March 7, 1967: The Doors Play The Matrix

The Doors at The Golden Gate Bridge
At the Golden Gate Bridge, 1967

It was an in-between moment for The Doors. They had attracted the attention of Jac Holzman and Elektra records, and their first album had been released but the single “Break on Through” wasn’t burning up the charts. The future of The Doors is still in doubt as to whether they will live or die as a band, and they still haven’t stepped through the door to become a national act, a door that “Light My Fire” as a single will open. Despite this The Doors are a congruent and focused group and at the height of their musical prowess as they play The Matrix theater in San Francisco on March 7-11, 1967.

The Matrix was a renovated pizza shop owned by Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane. Balin opened the club to showcase the Airplane early in their career. The venue was small, only holding about 100 people, and the atmosphere was subdued. On one wall was a mural of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse armed with musical instruments, and Hunter S. Thompson frequented the nightclub. This was the scene and the atmosphere The Doors played in at The Matrix.

Jefferson Airplane at The Matrix
Jefferson Airplane at the famous interior wall of The Matrix. L-R: Marty Balin, Jorma Kaukonen, Paul Kantner, Spencer Dryden, Grace Slick, Jack Casady. “The wall” also appeared on the cover of their classic record Surrealistic Pillow.

At The Matrix The Doors were sort of revisiting their days at The Whisky. It was an extended booking for five nights in which they played three sets a night. The Doors burned through their entire repertoire quickly and fell back into some of the things that lengthened their songs. Jim Morrison would add poetic interludes into the songs, people’s idea of what constituted a Doors song hadn’t yet solidified, and that lack of audience expectation, plus the fact that The Doors didn’t feel locked in to playing rote renditions of their songs, allowed the band to do what they did best, improvise. They played instrumentals and fell back on some of the cover songs from their Whisky and London Fog days. This may have been one of the last opportunities The Doors had to play with such abandon and freedom.

Balin and partner Peter Abram had installed a reel-to-reel recorder to tape the various bands that played at The Matrix, and The Doors were one of the bands recorded. Over the years bootleg copies of The Doors’ Matrix shows circulated among fans, and it came to be known as one of bootlegs you had to have. To some, The Doors’ recordings at The Matrix seem subdued; whether that was due to the atmosphere of the club or whether they were trying to get excellent recordings out of the shows is a subject of debate. The recordings of The Doors at The Matrix come from the March 7 and 10 shows. In 2008 The Doors published a compilation titled “Live at The Matrix 1967” and there was some controversy as to whether the master tapes from Abram’s recordings had been used or if they were second generation. The Doors were able to purchase Abram’s master tapes and there was supposed to be a subsequent release of a Live at The Matrix ‘Golden’ set, which so far hasn’t appeared. Whatever the status of the tapes and the controversy surrounding them, The Doors at The Matrix is one of the best recordings of The Doors at the height of their powers.

Originally published March 3, 2015.

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