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Resurrected Doors, Seeds find the past closed, buried

In separate shows, Jim Morrison's old mates come up shorter than Sky Saxon's new crew because of higher expectations.

February 10, 2003|Natalie Nichols | Special to The Times

Both the Doors and the Seeds formed in Los Angeles in 1965, each with a lineup of vocals, guitar, keyboards and drums. They shared psychedelic tendencies, but the similarities pretty much ended there.

The Doors went on to become a rock icon, with their legacy of dark, sexual, personal and political urgency only deepening after singer Jim Morrison's death in 1971.

The Seeds, fronted by scruffy eccentric Sky Saxon, could claim only a niche in the obscure garage-rock pantheon.

Still, separate performances this weekend by what's left of both groups brought to mind puzzling and not easily answered questions about what, exactly, is being true to one's roots.

The issues weren't so urgent for Saxon, the only original member appearing with the Seeds at the Knitting Factory Hollywood on Saturday. You couldn't really accuse the colorful singer-songwriter and his latest lineup of younger musicians of cashing in on the band's relatively obscure legacy, which included one barely Top-40 hit, the driving 1966 single "Pushin' Too Hard."

Now sporting a bassist, the quintet mostly stuck to middling renditions of such trippy artifacts as "Pushin'" and the chiming ballad "Can't Seem to Make You Mine" that matched Saxon's enthusiastic, if not terribly gripping, performance. However, it was hard to feel outrage over the lackluster hour, mostly because there wasn't much at stake to begin with.

Not so for Friday's return of the Doors -- a.k.a. the 21st Century Doors, or the Doors: 21st Century -- at the Universal Amphitheatre. Also adding a bassist, original keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger appeared with Ian Astbury of English goth band the Cult handling vocals, but without original drummer John Densmore (or, for that matter, his replacement, Stewart Copeland, who was replaced, without explanation from the band members, by local drummer Ty Dennis).

Densmore has sued his former mates for using the group's old name, but Manzarek insisted throughout Friday's show that the Doors, while continuing to honor Morrison's poetic tradition, are a new thing.

OK, so what's this new thing got? A logo that looks a lot like the old Doors logo, a two-hour set of nothing but old Doors tunes and the promise of a new album later this year.

Repeated claims that this group is "keeping the music alive" felt disingenuous. The Doors' music seemed to be living on quite well already, and while Astbury filled the part visually, his faithful following of Morrison's texts didn't make up for his limited vocal range and lack of risk-taking.

The rented rhythm section did fine, but genuine sparks were minimal, furthering the sense that the whole affair was a sad replay of something that was once great.

The fans in the packed house certainly enjoyed themselves. But what sort of honor was it, really, for the Doors to resurrect their singer's memory, just so they could bury him once and for all?

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