After I became a Doors fan some of the first concerts I started hearing about were the Felt Forum shows. Not only did it sound like a great name for a ’60s venue, but it was said the shows were great and you had to hear them. Until now I haven’t had the opportunity, so the anticipation has been building for 30 years. Rhino Records’ release of these shows as a box set, “The Doors: Live In New York”, is what fans have been looking for.
Over two nights, January 17th and 18th, 1970, The Doors did four shows and each show is included in its entirety in this box set. Some of the songs have been included on other Doors live albums. You’ll hear “When The Music’s Over” that was on “Absolutely Live”, but just when you think you know the song, you realize there’s more. “The Absolutely Live” version was edited.
For The Doors fan searching for something new, each CD contains a veritable plethora of previously unreleased versions of songs. It’s good to hear the songs in context with all the strengths and shortcomings The Doors had as a band. These recordings give the listener the full sense and feeling of the concert experience — the false starts, the band tuning up, Jim asking the audience what they want to hear, or the silences as the band consults amongst themselves what they want to play next.
Jim Morrison seems to excise one of his demons, his ongoing struggle with lightmen. His, “Hey, Mr. light man!” rap that he did at many shows chiding the lightmen who never seem to do what he wants, seems to resolve itself as he compliments the lighting level at the show!
The Doors were never a band to play the album version of songs, and Morrison tinkers with the words of songs as well. This was before concerts became slick clones of each other, where the same thing happens at the same time in the concert, identical from concert to concert, city to city. The Doors were stark theater, a portrayal of reality through music like a novel is a portrayal through words, or a movie through film.
The band opens each show with a couple of songs from “Morrison Hotel”. It’s cool to realize that as you’re listening to “Roadhouse Blues” or “Peace Frog” the audience is very likely hearing the songs for the first time. It opens you up to that experience. The Doors also experimented with the songs. “Who Do You Love” was played at every show yet no two versions of the song are alike! Curiously, in “Peace Frog” — easily one of Morrison’s most autobiographical songs because of the “Dawn’s Highway” interlude that recounts the mystical experience that Morrison had as a child of feeling as if the soul of an Indian had leaped into his — is mostly missing the “Dawn’s Highway” section at the Felt Forum. Only in the last show does he include the spoken portion of the song.
The last disc is a powerhouse of an encore with John Sebastian and Dallas Taylor sitting in. They play a bluesier version of “Maggie McGill” than is on “Morrison Hotel”, and this version fits the song and works much better as a straightforward blues.
The sound on the CDs is excellent. Bruce Botnik in a technical note says in parts that were missing from the 8-track master they inserted live 2-track and the sound might change in those parts, but I didn’t hear it. I listened to the CDs on a car CD player and on my computer. I didn’t hear any change of quality, in fact it seemed crystal clear. In one section you can clearly hear the maraca Morrison shakes.
The boxed set includes a beautiful 40-page booklet with an introduction by Jac Holzman, and Bruce Botnik provides background details about The Doors playing the Felt Forum. James Henke, a VP at the Rock “n’ Roll Hall of Fame and author of “The Jim Morrison Scrapbook”, has also written an essay for the book. The book further includes about 15 high-gloss photographs from the shows.
This is one of the last full tours of The Doors’ career. The next year would find the band finishing L.A. Woman and Morrison planning his imminent departure to Paris. These shows are The Doors as they wanted to be heard, in context and demonstrating the power of what a great rock band can be.
This article was originally published November 17, 2009 and appears in The Doors Examined.