April 26, 2003

Reviving the Doors, a Franchise in Flux


As travesties go, it could have been worse. At times during the concert by the reconstituted Doors at Roseland on Thursday night, the band briefly reawakened its indelible late-1960's sound, with Robby Krieger's jabbing blues guitar lines, Ray Manzarek's spookhouse-calliope organ and Ian Astbury's careful mimicry of Jim Morrison's voice. Then the illusion faded, and the new Doors became a passable Doors tribute band holding an invaluable trademark.

A Doors resurrection could never be easy. Morrison's dark charisma and unstoppable chutzpah held together the band's improbable amalgam of earthy blues, high-flown poetry, modal jazz, sardonic cabaret and Top 40 rock. Without Morrison, who died in 1971, the Doors would have been a pretty good psychedelic jam band. The Doors were also a band of their era, when Morrison's mingling of love and death, ecstasy and destruction was a revelation to audiences.

So Mr. Astbury, from the Cult, has an impossible job. The visions in songs like "Moonlight Drive" are not his own extemporaneous poetry compressed into song, and he won't be mistaken for Dionysus. Even in his leather jacket and leather pants, he was too mundane to capture either of Morrison's extremes: Baudelaire or the bawdy leer.

That left him with posturing and defensiveness. He tried vulgar ranting like the latter-day Morrison, making crude suggestions about the Dixie Chicks. Between encores, he speechified: "I mean no pretense. I know where I'm standing, believe you me."

The new Doors have revised the music as a nostalgia trip, adding videos of light-show blobs or 1960's riots. The original Doors were a four-man band onstage, with Mr. Manzarek playing bass lines on organ pedals. The band now includes a bass player, Angelo Barbera, and Ty Dennis on drums replaces John Densmore, who did not join the reunion. He lacks Mr. Densmore's jazz background, and lost the swing in songs like "Light My Fire." But "Light My Fire" had a worse problem: a pointless interpolation of the Wailers' "Get Up, Stand Up."

Mr. Manzarek has apparently taken over the Doors, adding unnecessary background vocals and redoing "The Crystal Ship" in a quasi-classical arrangement that would embarrass a lounge band. He announced that the Doors were working on a new album with lyrics by Jim Carroll, Michael McClure, John Doe, Henry Rollins and Mr. Astbury; a new song, "Cops Talk," sounded like a self-parody. Yet the old songs had their moments: "L.A. Woman" as a surging jam that seemed to presage the Allman Brothers; the band's meshing with Mr. Krieger's flamenco guitar to start "Spanish Caravan"; guitar and organ sharing "the scream of the butterfly" in "When the Music's Over." They were vivid flashbacks, doomed by reality.

"You won't see something like this again," Mr. Astbury declared near the end of the concert. That wasn't true. The Doors continue touring this summer, including appearances at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J., on Aug. 23 and Jones Beach Theater on Aug. 24.