The first event contained here is a surprisingly good, off-line stereo
recording (the disc credits "two mikes in the showroom") of the midnight
gig from August 20, 1973. Why this show is included from a label that has
set a precedent for soundboard-only releases is a mystery. The program is
fairly standard -- Elvis is evidently bored with the Vegas routine, as
reviews from this time indicate. As usual, his classic fifties numbers are
rushed through, some shoved into that horrific "medley" found in official
form on the Memphis '74 live album. The fluffy version of "Release Me"
here pales in comparison to the version he burned onto recording tape just
three years prior, while "Mystery Train"/"Tiger Man" just limps along.
There's virtually no sparkle or energy in what he's doing. He simply
doesn't want to be there!
A few rarities appear in the set, including "Trouble" (which doesn't touch
his raw 1968 TV special re-recording or the 1958 original), "My Boy"
(nearly four months before his Memphis studio recording, utilizing the
exact same arrangement) and "Help Me Make It Through The Night". My
favorite moments feature Bob Hope, who was in the audience that Monday
evening, when Elvis references him in song ("I saw Bob Hope, with
bald-headed Sally ...") and salutes him from the stage. Hope gets a twenty
Before disc two swings into a crazed summer night in Kansas City, we're at
MGM's Stage 1 in Culver City, CA for a look into a pre-Vegas rehearsal
session from July 15, 1970. Remember in Jerry Hopkin's "Elvis" biography,
when Elvis' musicians referred to him doing rock songs off the top of his
head? This is it. All tracks are go, from the risqué "Stagger Lee" ("I
got three hungry kids and a very horny wife ... screw Stagger Lee!") and a
brief take on the folk standard "Cottonfields" to the four minute jam on
Muddy Waters' "I Got My Mojo Working" and the absolutely absurd "A Spanish
Folksong" (released on the 70's box in edited form as "Alla En El Rancho
Grande" -- play this one for non-Elvis friends and watch their faces).
Elvis worked a lot in 1974, maybe too much. He didn't make it into a
recording studio the entire year, but jumped onto a stage 155 times!
Coming near the end of a 25 date tour, the contrast between playing before
10,000 screaming fans rather than a sedate Vegas crowd of 2,000 is jarring.
The show is ragged but Elvis is in a great mood so everything flows. This
might be the most enjoyable concert in this box: while joking around after
"C.C. Rider" he goes into brief renditions of "When My Blue Moon Turns To
Gold Again" and "Blue Christmas" before kicking off "I Got A Woman"! It
feels like a hot, wild summer night -- when some girls apparently place a
huge stuffed gorilla on the stage and Elvis jokes "don't you move, you big
sum bitch ... " the audience roars. There aren't any real song surprises,
but then again, there aren't any hints of the on-stage problems to come in
1974, either. One wonders what happened to Elvis between this tour and his
Las Vegas stand in August?
The May to July 1975 appearances represent the last of the primarily
up-tempo live Elvis Presley experience -- producer Felton Jarvis observed
around this time that Elvis seemed to be getting more interested in doing
rock material, although this would be short-lived. The May 4th tape, which
disc three presents, is from Lake Charles, LA and is quite similar to the
June '75 amalgam found on "Elvis Aron Presley". He initially sounds a bit
tired (it's his second show that Sunday), but the Civic Center crowd brings
out some nice performances, including a nice T-R-O-U-B-L-E (a hit in the
90's for country act Travis Tritt) and a pretty "I'll Remember You".
Although the initial two songs were not caught on tape the third one was, a
rare stab at the Cajun-influenced Hank Williams classic "Jambalaya". It's
cute, but trivial -- barely a minute long it contains too much of Charlie
Less than four months from death, Elvis is on stage at the Crisler Arena in
Ann Arbor, MI with some inspired moments. Amidst the pain and loss of
ability, disc four includes a great "You Gave Me A Mountain", and a
surprisingly robust "Trying To Get To You". An impassioned "Hurt" is done
with reprise, although his voice isn't really up to it. As usual for 1977,
he just sounds so damn tired! Prior to "Little Sister" someone yells out
for "Blue Hawaii" and Elvis tries to run it down, but pianist Tony Brown
doesn't know it ("Do somethin' Tony ... right or wrong, it don't matter!")
This April 24th evening is where RCA took "Unchained Melody" and "Little
Darlin'" from, overdubbing a rhythm section and placing both cuts on the
'Moody Blue' long player. Here they are presented as performed, which
means Elvis solo at the piano for "Unchained Melody". He does well,
although Sherrill Neilsen "doubles" the falsetto ending and Elvis claims "I
have done it better" (maybe he was thinking about the previous New Year's
in Pittsburgh?); ironically, on "Little Darlin'" he executes the falsetto
As a bonus, three songs are included from the Florida tour of February
1977; unfortunately, two feature just Sherrill Neilsen ("Danny Boy" and
"Walk With Me"). The other tune finds Presley sliding pianist Brown off
his seat (poor guy!) to play and sing a spontaneous rendition of "Blueberry
Hill" ("You are a fantastic piano player, but you are warped, son ... I'm
gonna show you how to do that"). It's a nice moment in a life that would
soon no longer have any.
Thanks are due Fort Baxter for a mostly superb look at Elvis on stage,
warts, indifference and magnificence for all to hear.
Sound rate ****