Do they look a bit scruffy, the Doors on live Danish TV in 1968? My image of the Doors is forever colored by Oliver Stone’s The Doors. But the real Jim Morrison had even better hair than his doppelgänger Val Kilmer (“not a case of casting,” quoth Ebert, “but of possession”), even if the above performance is less Lizard King than lounge lizard. John Densmore lays back on the beat, gets out the way of Morrison’s free associative poetry. Guitarist Robbie Krieger riffs intently, looks subdued. Always the one to watch, the recently departed Ray Manzarek plays hypnotic baselines with his left hand while his right dances around melodic blue note phrases. It’s a very cool show, but the lack of an audience is palpable.
Morrison was at his best, and probably also worst, before crowds of admirers. He has no lack of them in another ’68 performance, this time at the Hollywood Bowl. Where the Danish gig is cabaret, this is a shamanistic happening: Morrison wears something like a sleeveless toreador’s jacket and the band plays loud, especially Densmore, who bashes his drums like John Bonham. Jim Morrison seems entranced, and really stoned. Densmore later said he’d just dropped acid: “I could tell once we hit the stage because his movements, his performance, was a little deliberate; a little like he was holding it together. But he was fantastic.”
The Hollywood Bowl is the show to see. It was a magical night. It was a big deal to play the Hollywood Bowl. We were all so excited. We’d had dinner with Mick Jagger just before the show and he was right in the front. For any fan of The Doors — young or old — this is really the way it was; this is the way to see what it was all about.
In neither of these concerts is Morrison quite the unhinged maniac of legend, but things, as they say, had already begun to unravel. Two years later the band would play its last show with Morrison at The Warehouse in December of 1970. Some believe the Doors peaked in 1967 and never topped their debut (a “stoned, immaculate classic” and the dark underbelly of Sgt. Pepper’s sunny psychedelia). I don’t buy that at all. But even if these shows catch them on the start of a decline, it was a long slow burn, and beautiful to watch.