Watch The Doors spellbinding performance at the Isle of Wight Festival, 1970
The Doors remain a pillar of rock music when looking back at the last century’s sonic victories. Jim Morrison and The Doors’ influence on contemporary music is undeniable, but their importance to an audience in 1970 is vastly more imposing.
We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to look back at The Doors’ final filmed performance at the legendary 1970 edition of the Isle of Wight Festival. It’s a sound so immersive and impressive we’re sure it shook the British shores.
One of the band’s last ever performances before Morrison would leave the intoxicating inner circle of Los Angeles for Paris in an attempt to clean up his act. Sadly, it would end up being the place he would ultimately lose his life. Since then, the Isle of Wight show has recently been released as a brand new live album and comes with an accompanying video of the performance.
The songs featured on this legendary set in the UK are all efforts that fans are familiar with. There’s nothing too obscure to put off fairweather supporters, with the exception of a somewhat trippy version of ‘Ship of Fools’. Apart from that, the performance features much of what one could imagine hearing when seeing the band in 1970. That means there are renditions of ‘Light my Fire’, ‘Break on Through’ and many more, spellbinding and sumptuous as they are.
The band’s performance is engaging and exciting to a tee. Every song ringing out with the artistic prowess which left audiences open-mouthed in awe when seeing them—it was a sizeable crowd too. Over-selling their original ticket allocation of 150,000 by nearly half a million, the event became a wild party on wheels. The Doors wouldn’t disappoint their newly acquired fanbase.
Perhaps seeing the energy of the audience that had begun to swirl and sway with menace, The Doors matched those around them and provided a curious sound akin to comfortable danger. Each song was given its room to breathe and float, while Morrison’s vocal is near-perfect in such an unpredictable setting and considering he was reported to have downed two bottles of Southern Comfort with The Who’s Roger Daltrey before going on stage—probably the best one could hope for.
It’s a performance from Morrison which actually offers a key insight into his life at the time. Far removed from this energetic reign as The Lizard King from a few years before, now Morrison was more firmly gripped by his growing addictions. There are no leather trousers or conch belts, this is the bearded and broken version of Jim, it can be a sad sight to see.
Not long before Morrison would leave what had become an untenable situation of hangers-on, drunks, drugs and debauchery in his native L.A., the performance is a reminder of the fragility of the singer and poet under the spotlight. It was a realisation Morrison himself had noticed, choosing to escape to Europe to focus on his art and craft before his untimely death.
Still, on this performance, that moment was far from anyone’s mind. Morrison’s charmingly hoarse crooning reaching dizzying new heights with the crowd and his commanding screams were enough to gather armies—such was the power of his poetic performance. Keyboardist Ray Manzarek also lends his virtuosity to the standout solo on ‘Light My Fire’ and guitarist Robby Krieger lays some mean psyche-tinged flamenco licks in there too.
While this footage and accompanying live album may not be the best live recording you’ve ever heard, what it does hold is worthy of revisiting. The Doors remain a pillar of our musical Coliseum, that is undeniable, but what this performance adds credence to is Morrison as the bloodied and beleaguered gladiator in the pit.
Fighting his own demons and ultimately gazing upon the unwanted ‘thumbs down’, this footage and this performance remain a touching moment in the saddening end of one of the greatest leading men we’re ever likely to see.