Friday, May 1, 2020

The Doors – Live In Pittsburgh May 2,1970 –‘Protect and Serve’

In July of 1969 the Doors played two intimate concerts at the Aquarius Theatre in Hollywood, California in the hopes of recording a live album. For reasons known only to the band they decided to not release the tapes of the performances (until over three decades later). Following the famous Miami debacle on March 1, 1969, and eventual Jim Morrison arrest) the Doors wanted to tighten up and righten their musical ship. Because they were unable to get a performance in the can at the Aquarius that they felt good about, the Doors continued to record concerts for the next year and into 1970’s Roadhouse Blues tour. These tapes would be mined and collaborated to make the Absolutely Live album released in July of 1970. These pro recorded 8 track recordings have since been used for a plethora of Doors live releases on the band’s boutique ‘Bright Midnight’ label.

Today in the ‘rock room’ I pulled one of these beautiful sounding CD’s from the shelves, the 2008, 75 minute archival release hailing from Pittsburgh, PA on May 2, 1970. This was the second of three shows from May, (Philadelphia on May 1 and Detroit on May 8) all professionally recorded and posthumously released. A bit shorter and more restrained than the previous evening’s performance in Philadelphia, here Morrison is measured and almost laid back in the early stages of the show. The other three Doors are, similarly other shows on the tour latched tightly to one another. The trail behind Morrison following him wherever he needs to go, while also blazing new trails through already familiar territories. The Pittsburgh show does not feature a drastically inebriated Morrison like Boston 1970, an incendiary blues explosion similar to Detroit or the intimacy of the Felt Forum shows; but it does spotlight a well-played performance including a number of unique musical statements. There is a focus that is not always present in this era including the aforementioned ‘pensive’ Morrison who by shows end ignites into a spectacular electric shaman. It must be added that the previous evenings performance in Philadelphia featured an animated Morrison, so it is possible he blew out his voice and was being tentative in the Pittsburgh shows early stages.

As I previously mentioned the sound quality is stellar with all instruments and vocals in total balance. What is an extra treat on the release is the interaction between band and audience, especially Morrison which is no surprise. Listening to the crowd’s requests and reactions is a positive joy. The concert begins with the musical pairing of ‘Back Door Man’ and ‘Five To One’. Dropping the usual ‘Alabama Song’, this ten minute duo contains a well vamped on ‘Love Hides’ tucked into the folds of the two songs segue. ‘Five to One’ continues the patient groove and is text book perfect with the band finding their footing for the evening.

‘Roadhouse Blues’ follows, displaced from its usual opening slot it is a welcome recipient from the prior songs providing a warm up. Surpassing six minutes the band digs into what is in the ‘rock room’s opinion one of the finest renditions from the 1970 tour. Robby Krieger is hot to the touch as he coaxes slippery lines out of his SG, building his solo spot to a longer than usual shimmering peak. While Morrison has been somewhat chill thus far, following diverse Krieger’s solo the band descends into Morrison’s wordless ‘roll roll roll’, vocal rap segment. Here, Morrison raises the intensity as he moans and yells his way through a number of variations on his usual themes.

A standard of the Doors 1970 set lists was their extended medley of ‘Mystery Train’ which could include references to a number of different songs. This evenings version includes Robert Johnson’s ‘Crossroads Blues’ and a melodic detour through ‘Away In India’, a Morrison snippet. The Pittsburgh version approaches 14 minutes. Per usual Morrison sings a verse of ‘People Get Ready’ urging the crowd to ‘get on board’. The band elicits the slow start of a freight beginning to chug down the track, Manzarek’s  piano bass gains tempo as Krieger lends some swooping railway sounds. Densmore lays down his dependable metronome rhythm while the band blows smoke. Ray plays huge icy swells throughout a solo that gets better as he goes. The band deftly moves through a unique set of changes making the “Mystery Train’ their own private ride. Before long Morrison sings the ‘Away In India’ melody to which Krieger joins in harmony. Densmore slams around his kit lending metallic spashes. Krieger then takes off quoting the ‘India’ melody then dismantling it. Morrison drones his vocals as music increases in an invisible tension.
Morrison moans softly as the band suddenly reaches the ‘Crossroads’ in seamless fashion. Manzarek pumps out the recognizable bass line of ‘Crossroads’ as Jim and Robby again duet the central melody. The group coagulates into a high tempo visit to the historic intersection with Krieger flashing fuzzy licks as quickly as passing cars. Morrison screams for the songs second chorus, bigger than he has all night, including a falsetto train whistle. His train call signals the band approach to the station as the band herky jerks their way to the songs conclusion.

‘Universal Mind’ follows, a Jim Morrison ballad that never found a home on a studio record. A version did appear on Absolutely Live but was ‘frankensteined’ by producer Paul Rothchild. The Pittsburgh version is contemplative and played well, with Morrison in fine fettle. The irony in the line, ‘I’m the Freedom Man’ cannot be lost on the listener as at this point in Morrison’s career he was anything but. Except for one forgotten lyric, this is a stunning reading and a blunt statement on the fragility of life.  The song begins almost a capella and plays like a dark 1950’s doo-wop. After the first chorus the song becomes aggressive with a syncopated groove reminiscent of ‘Five to One’. Krieger’s guitar playing on this track is spot on, in addition to Manzarek’s horror film keyboards that shiver through the songs solo section. While Doors aficionado’s are familiar with the version
What makes the Pittsburgh show unique and special is after playing an unreleased Doors cut, the band follows with the premier of another, ‘Someday Soon’.

Ray Manzarek had the following to say about the song, “This song was never recorded in the studio. I always thought of it as a Hollywood Hills hippie pad song. The hippies are lazing around and Jim walks in and lays this happy song about death on them. He freaks them out and blows their minds. He could be such a tongue in cheek devil that Morrison”. The whole band leans into ‘Someday Soon’, with its gently shuffling groove. The song begins with Krieger’s undulant riff while Manzarek splays funeral organ across the song. Densmore’s playing causes the song to rocking horse, lending an adolescent quality to the melody. Quite ironic when one looks at the lyrical content. This is a highlight of the performance. While Doors aficionados are familiar with the version of ‘Someday Soon’ from June 1970 in Seattle (appearing on the release Essential Rariries), that version pales in comparison to Pittsburgh. Generally the Seattle show in the ‘rock room’s opinion is a step below the shows surrounding it.

The centerpiece of the concert comes next with a substantial version of ‘When the Music’s Over’. Surpassing 20 minutes the band freely moves between song fragments and Morrison’s lyrical diversions in this epic improvised rendition. While the version the evening before in Philadelphia is fiery, the internal makeup is generally per usual. In this version Morrison let’s go of the wheel and the rest of the band takes it and steers us into a disorienting musical journey.
Things begin normally enough, but by the time Krieger enters into his first solo I can tell the band has found something that want to explore deeper and in greater detail. Krieger sounds if he is shoving his guitar through hunks of space steel….. Morrison sings the ‘Something wrong, something not quite right lyric after Krieger’s solo which sends a musical flare signaling the unique music to follow. Manzarek is already getting strange with glittery punctuations following Morrison’s improvised lyrics. Morrison returns to ‘Music’s” normal lyrical content preceding the ‘We Want the World’ segment. Typical to live versions Manzarek plays the two note bass thump while Morrison remains silent and the crown goes crazy. Suddenly, Morrison starts to play with his audience. What starts as some funny hoots and bird calls in short order becomes a shifty hallucinatory break down. Morrison moans, Manzarek takes us from the pub to a space shuttle, Densmore tip taps around his kit waiting to see what Morrison will do next. Ray scatters hallucinations, Krieger continues to coax strange feedback squeals from his rig. All of this chaos congeals into something resembling a rhythm right in time for Morrison to signal, ‘We want the world, and we want it now!’ Morrison lets three distinct screams go that elicit rock, fear and murder, making up for his somewhat ‘mellow’ beginnings.

The band rubber bands around the arena with a substantial climax bordering on the edge of white noise. They take their time with the landing, descending dynamically to the return to the verses. But, instead of concluding the song Morrison begins to sing, ‘There you sit all by yourself’. The band latches in and enters into a delicious funky interlude matching Morrison’s diversion.  Morrison had used the ‘There you sit’ diversion the previous evening in Philadelphia but it appeared in ‘Break on Through. This makes sense in hindsight as Morrison begins to sing the ‘Break on Through’ lyrics to which again the band jumps on but then discards quickly when they decide to return to the ‘Music’ groove.

Morrison then quickly signals the band by singing ‘Push, Push’ to which Manzarek replies by quoting a bass line from ‘The Soft Parade’. As soon as this print is left on the glass Morrison starts to sing the ‘Soft Parade’ lyrics from the song’s final movement. The band falls into place and start to hammer musical nails. Morrison digs and tears into the concluding lyrics in convincing fashion. Ray whitewashes everything in day-glo as Densmore slams his snare landing the band into ‘When the Music’s Over’ and its concluding statement fresh from the ‘Soft Parade’ coda. What a freaking highlight, not only of the evening but possibly of the entire tour.
Morrison then speaks to the crowd (this dialog would be used on Absolutely Live) in a wonderfully humorous prelude to the closing sexy good time romp ‘Close To You’ featuring Ray Manzarek on vocals. Morrison lets the assembled throng know that they are in for a ‘special treat’. I won’t spoil the surprise if you are not familiar with this introduction, but it is so typically Morrison. Densmore rolls his snare, ‘Screaming’ Ray starts the ‘Close to You’ bass line and we are off with a rockin’ send off to Pittsburgh PA. Morrison joins on the choruses and just like that, the Doors are gone, have taken the crowd from the pub, to the beach, to the grave and into the psychedelic skies.

Just when the venue thinks the Doors have given all they have the band begins , 'Light My Fire', the crowd roars for what many of them have been waiting for all evening. A small snippet of this performance (first segment of Ray's solo) has been replaced with music from the previous evening in Philadelphia because of missing tape. Otherwise what follows is a fluid and precise version of the Doors most famous song. While Morrison sounds a bit distant at this point, the band is brisk and sends the venue off on a well played and exciting set of notes. A fitting send off.

While some fans and critics say the Doors had already peaked after the Miami debacle in 1969, that statement is not necessarily true. While some of their experimentation had waned, the band after 4 years together had started to come to terms with their musical strengths and weaknesses. While more blues covers and originals had creeped into their sets and compositions, which some attribute to Morrison's lethargy and addictions, in truth the band was also returning to their roots. In hindsight the band was reassessing and retooling for a future that would never come. They were still a band to be reckoned with on the live stage and Morrison on a good night could still raise the dead. The trio of instrumentalists could still corner on a dime, but in all honesty were always subject to the will of their front man. See for yourself, there are a plethora of crispy eight track board recordings available for the Doors fan who wants them. Dig in and see just how good the Doors were in 1970.




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