Coming in light of the infamous Miami concert of ’69, the return to form in their recent ’70 album ‘Morrison Hotel’, and Morrison’s evolution from the leather-clad, Lizard King to a bearded, drunken poet, Absolutely Live (now available as part of ‘In Concert’) captures The Doors at a pivotal point in their brief career. The album, a hodgepodge of shows from ’69 and ’70, was created to represent the perfect possible Doors show, and features most early Doors songs, a few covers and a hand-full unreleased original material (including the epic poem ‘The Celebration of the Lizard’, as of the time of release unavailable to the public).
Truly reflecting the paranoia of post-Miami Doors concerts is the MC’s address to the audience, where he urges the rowdy fans to remain seated in threat of the fire department canceling the performance, to much booing and jeering. This is promptly forgotten as The Doors take the stage and launch into a cover of Bo Diddley’s ‘Who Do You Love’. Densmore’s drumbeat dominates the song, and Robbie throws some crazy wah-wah-esque guitar into the mix later in the song. It’s a tight, lively performance (but a little on the long side), and sets the mood for the rest of the album.
Following is a rapid-fire medley of two early songs (Alabama Song, Backdoor Man), an original song (Love Hides) and the climax of their third album (Five To One). The songs are performed with exceptional charisma from Morrison with characteristically great backing from the band. Alabama Song is better on the studio album, but still works well live; God knows why they kept playing it. Back Door Man is simply amazing, Morrison’s screams are both cringe-worthy and spine chilling at the same time and Robbie’s guitar solo is nothing short of exceptional. Love Hides is basically a continuation of Back Door Man’s blues beat set to poetic lyrics, this leads directly into Five To One. If the studio version was one of The Doors’ heaviest songs, this live recording is the “Helter Skelter” of the Doors catalogue, Morrison at his insane best, Densmore better than ever with that instantly recognizable beat, all while Krieger and Manzarek punch into all the empty spaces.
‘Build Me A Woman’, an original song, is unremarkable by The Doors’ standards, being merely a plain blues song. See it as a hint of what was to become the bluesy “LA Woman” album later, but still nice to see here. ‘When The Music’s Over’, however, is unsurpassable on the excitement scale, the quiet mid-section so tense that you can barely imagine what it must have been like to be in the audience that night. Ray’s organ playing shines here, as he extends the bouncy intro riff into a hypnotic whirl of chords and lets it all go after the amazing “we want the world and we want it now” part. Note that, while Jim had clearly stated that they were in Philly before ‘Who Do You Love’, he now says that they’re in New York: “That’s New York for you, the only ones who rush the stage are guys” (this occurrence is explained in No One Here Gets Out Alive, as a homosexual male jumped on staged and fixed himself around Jim’s legs before security pried him off, though it makes little sense here).
After a humorous intro from Jim, promising the audience “a special treat” and referencing his alleged indecent exposure in Miami (“last time that happened, grown men were weeping”), The Doors play a cover of the legendary Willie Dixon’s ‘Close To You’. The “treat” is that ‘Close To You’ features Ray singing lead vocals, and he ain’t bad either, he sounds almost just like Jim (he also sings on the b-side “Don’t Go Any Further” and on the posthumous Doors albums)!
‘Universal Mind’ sounds very much like most of the ‘Morrison Hotel’ material, I’m surprised it’s not on the album. It’s one of the better original songs off of the album, more mellow than the other songs, but still interesting. Dig Jim’s iambic pentameter singing. ‘Petition The Lord With Prayer’, the spoken intro to ‘The Soft Parade’ is featured here, lacking the preacher-like delivery on the original album, but still awesome. You can definitely hear that the audience is digging it. ‘Dead Cats, Dead Rats’/’Break On Through #2’ is basically ‘Break On Through (To The Other Side)’, uncensored with extra lyrics before the familiar ones. Another nice early Doors rendition.
‘The Celebration of the Lizard’ is an epic amongst the likes of ‘The End’, ‘When The Music’s Over’ and ‘The Song Parade’, only longer. Unavailable in it’s studio form until nearly thirty years later, The Celebration had only appeared live and an abridged section (Not To Touch The Earth) on ‘Waiting For The Sun’. The song splits up like this:
-Lions In The Street: A spoken word section, no real input from the band. Features maracas, or perhaps a shaker, prominently.
-Wake Up: Really jarring, beware if listening with headphones on high volume, the band begins to join in, adding in background noises to accentuate the freaky words.
-A Little Game: A sing-song sort-of part, led by a single organ note chiming on and on. Builds up to include a keyboard bass echoing the chime and guitar fills by Krieger.
-The Hill Dwellers: The song begins to turn into music now, an almost tribal beat established with organ and guitar battling each other as Morrison sings the complex poetry. Builds up to a climax towards the end.
-Not To Touch The Earth: Begins on a dissonant organ drone before delving into the all too familiar bass line of the only formally released section of ‘The Celebration’. While the studio cut is more freaky and progressive, this version is more basic with stranger organ noises by Manzarek, but focusing mostly on Morrison’s charismatic delivery. Robbie doesn’t quite pull off the guitar fills, sadly, but makes up for it in the amazing climax of the section.
-Names Of The Kingdom: The song now mellows out after the madness. Morrison softly chants the names of various cities/states with quiet backing from the band. Prominent organ drone and muted guitar arpeggios.
-The Palace of Exile: We return to the spoken word section with maracas/shaker. The audience’s response is ecstatic.
After that amazing display is what can be assumed is an encore, “Soul Kitchen”. The song is extended to include extra guitar and organ solos. Morrison doesn’t sing the lyrics as passionately as he does on record, and the backing vocals are in different sections that usual, but this version is simply superb. So ends Absolutely Live, one of the best live albums ever, and a true document of The Doors talent. This is a must have for any Doors fan. It is available as ‘In Concert’ (with ‘Close To You’ placed on a separate disc due to space limitations) along with other superb Doors live material, I highly recommend you pick it up, though it has a hefty price tag.
(I'd give it perfect, but there are some imperfections)