Quality live release from The Doors’ Archives
Apart from 1970’s Absolutely Live, Live Pittsburgh Civic Arena 1970 is the sixth (and almost) complete live archive release on The Doors’ Bright Midnight label and, it could be argued, one of the best. At just under 80 minutes, this is the full set as recorded 2nd May 1970 (despite a few missing bits of audio here and there), and finds the group in extremely fine form, especially Jim Morrison, who could be electrifying one night, then a complete train wreck the next. But unpredictability was The Doors middle name, where often virtuosic interplay between Ray Manzarek (keyboards, vocals), Robby Krieger (guitar) and John Densmore (drums) would combine and complement Morrison’s own capricious on-stage tendencies.
The show starts off with a cover of Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man,” a song the group was no stranger to (having appeared on their 1967 debut), followed by a brief recital by Morrison titled “Love Hides,” before launching into a fierce “Five To One,” with Morrison rallying the troops (i.e. crowd) against a corrupt establishment. “Roadhouse Blues,” the sole track performed this night from their latest LP Morrison Hotel, was regularly played during what would turn out to be their final tour, and the band’s rendition here is as combustible as it gets.
A lengthy medley beginning with Junior Parker’s classic “Mystery Train” follows, including Morrison’s “Away In India” and an enthusiastic interpretation of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads Blues,” proving that in spite of all their psychedelic tendencies, The Doors were always a blues band at heart. Throughout Morrison guides the other members into previously charted, as well as plenty of uncharted waters, although Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore never miss a trick, keeping up with the singer in what could be described as a form of collective ESP.
The spacey, moody “Universal Mind” inexplicably never made it onto LP, likewise the ominous “Someday Soon,” so their inclusion alongside more widely known material is most welcome. A version of “Universal Mind” was included as part of Absolutely Live, but that recording originates from The Aquarius Theatre, LA on 21st July, 1969.
The highlight of the evening might well be an epic “When The Music’s Over,” where The Doors powerful ability to improvise behind Morrison’s near-stream-of-consciousness outpourings has rarely been matched in the annals of Rock. For some 16 minutes, the listener is taken on a musical-theatre roller coaster that never once seems pretentious or boring. In between they throw in epigrammatic outbursts of “Break On Through” and “Push Push” (a Soft Parade outtake), along with a heavily improvised version of The Soft Parade itself, titled as “The Soft Parade Vamp” (but you’d be lucky to discern any similarity with the original).
After a little stage banter courtesy of Jim (he humorously refers to his infamous Miami incident from the year before), the audience is treated to another Willie Dixon tune, in the form of “Close To You,” with a rare lead vocal by Manzarek, as if to re-establish their blues roots even further.
Appropriately, the show concludes with a spirited 11 minute “Light My Fire.” The very fact that Morrison was prepared to sing it indicates the sort of mood he must have been in that day. According to the booklet, the first 16 bars of the recording were missing, hence the necessity to splice a section from another recording in order to include it as part of the concert. Not that the average listener would be capable of noticing.
For the last 20 years or so, the surviving Doors and their associates have done a outstanding job in excavating and preserving the band’s legacy in a way never before thought possible in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Thanks to digital technology, and ever growing interest in all things Doors, releases such as this have been made available for all to enjoy. Live In Pittsburgh 1970 serves as another vital piece in the historic puzzle of one of Rock’s most unique and enduring musical combos.
As Bruce Botnick says in the liner notes: “Thirty-seven years and six months later. Man, it was just yesterday, wasn’t it?”