The Doors of the 21st Century, Wembley Arena, London
Monday 15 December 2003
Everything, they say, comes to those who wait, but Doors fans have had to be especially patient. Tonight's gig comes 32 years after the death of Jim Morrison, and is the band's first performance in London since 1968.
In the run-up to this, their last hurrah, the keyboardist Ray Manzarek and the guitarist Robby Krieger have been embroiled in some testing lawsuits. Having declined to play with his former bandmates, the original Doors drummer, John Densmore, won an injunction forcing them to operate under the moniker The Doors of the 21st Century. Then, in June this year, the former Police drummer Stewart Copeland successfully sued Manzarek and Krieger for breach of contract. To cap it all, Morrison's parents have also taken legal action, alleging that the current incarnation of the band has misappropriated their son's poetry and likeness.
For the fans at least, it seems there is nothing to forgive. Hence a huge roar greets Manzarek and Krieger as they walk on stage with Ian Astbury, former singer with The Cult. Behind them, Morrison's face materialises on a huge video screen, the legend "An American Poet, 1943-1971" beneath it.
From the outset, it's clear that Astbury is portraying Morrison, his voice, clothes, hairstyle and stage moves amounting to an Olympian Stars in Their Eyes performance. Indeed, when Astbury's image is first relayed in real-time by the video screens against a shape-shifting oil-lamp pattern, the "Morrison lives" illusion provokes is so convincing that it provokes an audible gasp from the crowd.
From "When the Music's Over" to "Love Me Two Times" to "Alabama Song", The Doors exude finesse, power, and a sussed use of dynamics. Krieger's stylish flamenco intro to "Spanish Caravan", and Manzarek's deft Baroque soloing on "The Crystal Ship" also make nonsense of the oft-levelled criticism that The Doors were merely a bloated blues band.
There is, however, something cringe-worthy about the 65-year-old Manzarek's hippie and free love-speak between songs. "Ian tells me you can buy magic mushrooms in stores here!" he enthuses at one point, while before "People Are Strange", he invites us to "play with each other's genitals ever so gently."
Still, the Doors' set has narrative drive and climax, and when they introduce a number of songs from LA Woman, the crowd voices deafening approval. That album, the punters know, was Morrison's swansong, and his untimely death in Paris precluded much of it from being aired live. Until now, that is. Thanks to Manzarek's ghostly electric piano, "Riders on the Storm" is a treat, but it's "LA Woman", replete with Super-8 footage of Morrison and a youthful Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore, which ups the poignancy quotient.
As they close, somewhat inevitably, with the Krieger-penned "Light My Fire", you can't help thinking Densmore's attempts to prevent Krieger and Manzarek performing what is, after all, their back-catalogue absurd. In Ian Astbury, moreover, the latter pair have an able, if shamelessly imitative successor to Morrison. "Me and this lot: who would have thought it?" the Merseyside-born singer asks of us before leaving. Who indeed?
The Doors 21st Century play Birmingham NIA Academy December 14. (0870 909 4144).
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