Friday, July 26, 2013
Put The Boot In: The Doors-'The Palace of Exile' Live at the LA Forum 12-14-1968
For today's 'rock room' entry I will be revisiting an old bootleg favorite of mine that luckily is now available from multiple sources. Fortunately for rock fans three versions of the Doors subversive performance at the Los Angeles Forum on December 14th of 1968 circulate in collectors circles. For this review I will be listening to a first generation copy off of the audience recorded master reel. This period in Doors history is unique as they were in the midst of recording 'The Soft Parade', playing legendary shows, bigger arenas, and drawing closer to the destructive Miami performance which was only three short months away. In a way this era is a pinnacle for the group. This particular concert is a priceless document that captures Morrison's growing lament with rock stardom as well as preserving a provocative performance and set list. The band is hot and willing to go wherever Morrison's words take them.
Playing in front of 14,000 people (a big jump for the band in 2 years), a good amount of them screaming for 'Light My Fire' for the entire show, the Doors play a set peppered with brand new songs as well as completely blowing their minds with an entire 'Celebration of the Lizard' played at the end of the performance. This show is also unique for the reason that the band featured a bass player (Harvey Brooks) for one of a handful of times in concert, as well as a small on stage orchestra that is quite faint on the recording. The capture itself sounds quite good for its age and is the 'best' of the circulating tapes. While lacking some dynamic range, Morrison's vocals are clear, Manzarek's organ is crunchy goodness with a dirty vibe, and Krieger and Densmore are up front and audible. The bass and orchestra come and go like a distant conversation caught on a passing breeze, but nonetheless do not take away from enjoyment of the show. There is some light hiss, intermittent distortion, but all in all a solid listen. The band is a tightly coiled spring, slightly tense and ready to be released at any point, which eventually culminates in a amusement park 'Light My Fire' and exploratory and dark narrative of 'Celebration of the Lizard'.
The concert begins with Morrison greeting the crowd with multiple hollered 'All-right's' followed by the MC's short introduction. The Doors open with 'Tell All the People' an as of yet unreleased song from the upcoming 'The Soft Parade' LP, with Morrison showing off his finest 'stoned crooner' throat. To these ears the song is actually more impressive than the studio version, with a subtle power audible on the recording that is lacking from the somewhat antiseptic studio recording. Manzarek's knife edge organ contains a funky sheen that magnifies the tune to great heights. The band sounds excited to be introducing new music to the crowd and presenting their artistic growth on the stage. Also worth mentioning is Krieger's delicious clean tone guitar on the song.
The very end of 'Tell All the People' is clipped and runs into the slightly shaved intro of 'Love Me Two Times' that continues the trend of snug playing by the group. Morrison has loosened up already, and interjects a plethora of groans, grunts, and flashing screams after Manzarek's agitated organ flashes. This is a great version of the song. The band slithers across the sand and down the hole following Morrison's every inflection. Bringing the dynamics down to a simmer they return to the framework of the tune, then take it into a swirling and proper conclusion.
Having just given the crowd something to chew on that they were already familiar with, the band comes back with a rare performance of the 'B' side, 'Who Scared You', the flip to 'Wishful Sinful'. I absolutely love this, and while the song stays true to the recorded version, Morrison really gets into this one striking fast and singing blue. The band is in a psychedelic syncopation, strutting through the starts and stops with reckless abandon. Krieger and Manzarek embrace during the solo section popping out from behind trees and ancient boulder,s then disappearing behind ominous licks. The volatile middle section is played 'smooth as ravens claws' as the group feels their way through the changes. I cannot say why this one dropped out of the rotation, but Doors fans should be thankful that this powerful version is available to be enjoyed. The conclusion of the track develops nicely as all four members turn the outro into a cats cradle of roller coaster riffs with Morrison snarling the concluding vocal lines.
Coming up next is another amazing choice in the context of the set with 'Spanish Caravan'. A major reason why this is one of my favorite Doors boots is the organic flow of the song choices. The set feels like a direct response to the tame crowd feedback regarding the new songs, with the band playing some different songs in different places. While the set features unknown tracks, deeper cuts, and tunes that the crowd must 'listen harder' to, they still keep the attention of the audience with some 'old' favorites. Following Krieger's perfectly played classical guitar opening the band coagulates into a fuzzy waltz supported by Densmore's melodic drums and the phosphorescent key strokes of Ray Manzarek. Jim is again on point, in tune and performing with passion. 'Spanish Caravan' gets a positive response from the crowd that eventually deteriorates into shouts and requests.
Another ace choice is drawn from the deck with the following version of 'The Crystal Ship', this reading is a prismatic and colorful sail through smooth water. Manzarek's middle solo is divine, ascending above the earth in delicate tastefulness. Densmore's attentive drumming actually comes through pretty well on this, and the entire band is finding the sweet spot. Morrison invests plenty of emotion into one of the many highlights of the concert. The crowd seems appreciative, I sure am, as I replay the song for another taste. Perfect.
The 'Doors' follow the well known 'Crystal Ship' with another new song, 'Wild Child'. Krieger dons his slide for a watery display of slick stringy licks draped over the tribal rhythm. The band thrashes forward like a desolate woodland tribe with Morrison carrying the stick, leading the pack. A few priceless Morrison's screams push the band forward with Krieger strangling the neck of his guitar as the band reaches another peak. Morrison circles the tribe, asking the crowd the lyrical question, 'Do you remember when we were in Africa?'
Another pause follows, and another few moments of humorous responses from the crowd take place until the band explodes into 'Touch Me'. I've heard varying feedback on this version, but I feel the band gets into it rather well. Morrison sounds somewhat lackadaisical, but the song is fresh and has an apprehensive vibe to its pulsating groove. The sound quality is able to pick up the details, and by the time the band hits the outro, Manzarek brings the group into a movin and shaking jam session. Metallic strums abound as the band stacks bricks pushing harder until the song ends with the same intensity as it began. The response seems a bit tepid by the crowd, but that all changes as they finally get what they have been shouting for since the beginning. You have to wonder what Morrsion was thinking of the assembled spectators who seemed to refuse anything but the bands number one hit. Ask and you shall receive.
I can tell you one thing, this is one of the finest versions of 'Light My Fire' I have ever heard. Manzarek receives multiple moments of applause from the crowd as he stokes the musical ashes into resplendent flame. His sustained and tempestuous flourishes drift like smoke across Densmore's solid groove. Morrison lets forth an unintelligible scream that acts as the bridge to Krieger's solo spot. Krieger follows Manzarek's lead and responds with a superlative guitar display. At 6:25 Krieger fingerpicks his way into a twangy and rubbery string bending extravaganza, as well as quote 'Eleanor Rigby'. By 7:25 Manzarek and Krieger have both worked their way into a disorienting and euphoric return to groove. A short call and response follows that is very impressive and eventually leads back to the body of the song. Wow. Do not pass go without checking this one out.
The preceding jam could have sent everyone home happy, but there is much more to come. The next few minutes of the tape are worth the price of admission and are one of the great performer/audience exchanges I have enjoyed on a boot. Witnesses and reports have Morrison sitting down at the edge of the stage silent and looking into the vast arena. He then asks the crowd 'What are you guys doing here?' to scattered responses and cheers. He is silent for a bit, letting them shout continuously, getting more impatient and agitated by the second, before asking them, 'What do you really want?, You want music?, Or do you want something different, something you've never seen before?' The crowd responses near the taper are varied and intense. Some people call Morrison an 'asshole', some defend him, some want more music, some hang on the precipice of every word he offers.
Jim then begins to recite the opening stanza to the 133 line 'Celebration of the Lizard'. This epic would only be familiar to the crowd through its textual rendering on the inside cover of the 'Waiting For the Sun' LP. Morrison speaks with a poets voice, his lines dripping with emotion, sarcasm, and intensity, containing great volume and range. The 'Doors' get truly weird contributing color, space, and visualizations to Morrison's narrative. They sound as if playing from a deep dream, shaded with 'liquid night', where they are the directors of the trip. They aggressively erupt into the 'Wake Up' section of the piece transforming into a thick sludge of hallucinatory sounds. Krieger coaxes noises that seem to originate from the darkest blue depths of a space ocean. His guitar prowess throughout the entire work is mind blowing, and definitive. Densmore punctuates Morrison's every move with perfectly placed exclamations, becoming a plasmatic percussionist of expanding and contracting drum hits. The 'Little Game' song segment appears from the madness and lasts only a brief moment before dropping of the edge into a melody of mystery.
The 'Hill Dwellers' segment dances like an Indian spiritualist, using ceremony drums and shifting transparent instrumentation. Morrison is fervent, striking out with his words, causing varying degrees of astonishment throughout the crowd. Peaking, the song falls into the 'Wait, there's been a slaughter here!' line. The band slowly and hypnotically reveal the mantra of 'Not To Touch the Earth' that begins crawling on its belly, eventually gaining its legs and running at full sprint. Morrison sings like a man possessed, performing at his best, bringing the band with him. His investment in the show, drives the 'Doors' to swing open revealing a world without laws or limits, pushing them to places they never dreamed their playing could travel too. Morrison's intense diction and clear factual stating of his words is a beautiful thing to witness. This performance a concrete example of the Doors playing at their best and turning a concert hall into a sensual and magical experience. If it ever appears in soundboard quality it would be a day of celebration for this 'rock geek', but admittedly it would lose the confrontational and 'put you there' aspect of this fine field document. The 'Celebration' moves through its final stanzas and concludes with Morrison's solitary voice.
The 'Doors' then return to the stage for a rare whiskey soaked version of 'Maggie McGill' that heavy steps with a barroom attitude. Krieger lets go with some bottleneck slide while Morrison sings (and blows a quick harp blast) with his best 'bluesman' rasp. The crowd picks up on the back porch beat and stomps and claps along. This track feels late night, shuffling along like a clandestine wino looking for sleep. After a smoky version of the unreleased song, it would appear that the concert has concluded, as the tape cuts. The recording then picks up again and captures Morrison asking the crowd, 'What do you wanna hear next?', I can pick up a few scattered requests, and then the reel concludes.
I have always wondered what the recording may have missed. How many songs did the crowd get? Did the 'Doors' get the plug pulled again? Regardless, this is easily one of my favorite "Doors' concerts and an enjoyable capture. Like I had previously stated, there are three versions available, so pick your poison, but this one has the complete 'Light My Fire' which is a must have. The next few months would prove pivotal for the 'Doors', Morrison would announce 'Rock is dead' on tape and then murder it in Miami, and 'The Soft Parade' would march to the beat of a different drum. This show for me signals some sort of grand summit, but also signpost to the uncertain future. The young crowds that the band was facing, similar to the one on this recording would drive the band to new heights to prove their worth, or sometimes cause them to lash out from the stage in disgust. Morrison's struggle between being the 'young lion' or the poet started to play out on stages across America. His battles were internal as well as external. Luckily the band was always there to pick up the pieces, building bridges with the remains, always leading to new musical horizons.
The Doors LA Forum 12-14-1968 Alternate Source