Review By Forest George – Richmond, Virginia – United
States (March 2007)
There is nothing more exciting to me than finding a
re-mastered soundboard of an Elvis Presley concert. Audience recordings are
fine, but sometimes you just want to hear the entire band and Elvis rock and
roll. If one happened to own the old import album “The Bicentennial Elvis
Experience,” you would believe by the soundboard quality and the way the
opening rift begins with Tony Brown going across the piano, that this would
be a great performance.
Sadly, you would be wrong. Elvis Presley was very
questionable as a performer during most of the summer of 1976. This concert
from August 1, 1976 in Hampton Roads, Virginia would be no exception. The
fans cheered and screamed anyway just to be able to witness such a rock and
roll icon in the flesh as he sang “See See Rider.” What some of the audience
missed was Elvis’ voice was very hoarse, and off-key.
The opening song alone was evidence enough that this
was going to be a very long concert. Elvis seemed coherent enough to know
something wasn’t right that night, and at tried to explain (excuse) himself.
“We had a late show last night, and I only got two hours sleep.” After a
fair version of “I Got a Woman/Amen,” Elvis introduced himself to the
evening audience by saying “Good afternoon. God that sounds strange good
afternoon. I just go up.” While it could be assumed that Elvis was joking,
it sounded very pathetic coming from the man that took Hampton Roads by
storm just four years earlier, as shown in the documentary Elvis on Tour.
After a fair, but a lazy version of “Love Me,” Elvis proceeded with “If You
Love me (Let Me Know).” This was another disappointment, as Elvis struggled
as his background singers tried to disguise his mumbling. “You Gave Me a
Mountain” had about the same results, including some embarrassing off-key
Elvis then decided to do his usual “throwaway the
classic songs” melody, and “All Shook Up” lived up to that claim modern fans
and critics have claimed. On the other hand, Elvis made a more sincere
effort on the “Teddy Bear/Don’t Be Cruel” melody with a high note on “put a
chain around my neck,” and sounded like he was having fun with it. The
streak of fair performances would continue with “And I Love You So,” which
was similar to his June 19, 1977-version that was re-mastered for the “Elvis
in Concert” album. It was actually a good version here, but Elvis did
slightly struggle with some of the key changes again. It was, however, much
better than the June 19 version, which was so off-key, it had to be
overdubbed and reprocessed to sound descent. “Jailhouse Rock,” on the other
hand, was horrible.
Elvis would redeem himself, however, with a fairly
decent version of “Fever,” as Elvis sounded a little more like himself here.
Elvis then tried to do his standard of “America the Beautiful.” From
December 1975 until December 1976, Elvis Presley’s version of the song was a
triumphant musical experience, as it was evidence of Elvis’ remarkable
voice. During this concert, however, the song was not too good, with Elvis’
talking portion sounding really weak, and possibly bored or sick.
At this point Elvis would go into his long “Band
Introductions” routine. A fan screamed for Elvis to sing the song “Return to
Sender.” Elvis seemingly smiled at her and replied, “Please sing Return to
Sender? Honey if we know it.” What occurred next was amazing, as Elvis and
the band go into an almost full impromptu version of the song. While the
singing was not great, Elvis sounded very happy and motivated to do the song
and would end up being the best song of the night. For one moment it seemed
like all the previous bad songs of the night were all washed away. After
ending the song with a simple, “that’s it” and expressing the song hadn’t
been rehearsed, it was back to the usual band introductions. There was a
glimmer of hope that Elvis might actually get a second wind after that fair
performance, but sadly the dismal performances would continue.
“Early Morning Rain,” “What I’d Say” and “Johnny B.
Goode” were done very poorly, with no redeeming factors, outside of Elvis
flubbing lead guitar players, James Burton’s name. “I’m going to ask John to
play the guitar with the back of his head.” After getting his backup singers
laughing, Elvis responded with “I mean James, (not) John,” and proceeds to
read off books of the New Testament to explain the confusion: “James, John,
Matthew, Mark, Luke.”
After some Instrumental solos, Elvis would then try to
sing the song “Love Letters” with the same voice that did passable versions
of “And I Love You So,” and “Fever.” He tried, but he just couldn’t sing it
on that day. Elvis did get a little more energy singing the excerpt of Chuck
Berry’s “School Days,” but “Return to Sender” was only a memory.
Before singing his recent single record, “Hurt,” Elvis
paused to tell the audience, “Hold it a minute, I got to get this girl’s
underwear,” as women would throw their underwear on stage to Elvis.
Richmond-Times Dispatch and News-Leader music critic, Clark Bustard, once
claimed most of the women that threw underwear were planted in the audience
by Colonel Tom Parker, or some part of the Elvis entourage. There has always
been some evidence of planted fans for every mainstream performer in the
past and present, and that probably included Elvis. Although, there were
plenty of women that were held captive by his charm in spite of being old,
fat, over medicated, and sick.
As for the performance of “Hurt,” Elvis made an effort,
but sounded flat and “out of breath” at certain times, although he does a
passable reprise of the ending. “Hound Dog,” was just “par for the course”
at this evening’s concert. “Funny As Time Slips Away,” was much better, but
Elvis just was having major problems with staying in tune, and luckily Elvis
finally ends the show with “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and thus ending a
rather miserable concert.
With the sole exception of a rather fun version of
“Return to Sender,” Elvis Presley needed to be anywhere, but on a stage
performing. Majority of the songs were struggles for him just to stay on key.
He seemed actually ill, rather than just being over medicated. Unlike some
other poor concerts from that year, he wasn’t intoxicated enough where he
didn’t care, as he really tried to make an effort to keep the concert from
falling apart. In the end, the concert was one of the worst concerts of
1976, and completely forgettable.
Volume 7 of Fort Baxter's "From the Mastertapes" series offers us a show from Elvis'
late summer tour of 1976. This time the sound engineer decided to set the tape rolling in
Hampton Roads, Virginia on August 1st. As one starts listening to the CD, the first thing to
stand out is the better than average sound quality for a soundboard recording. The sound is clear and well balanced, with drums, bass and guitar dominating. The piano, which usually can be heard all too clearly on these recordings, can barely be heard this time.
Elvis opens the show with "C.C.Rider", as usual. It is immediately clear that this
concert won't be a classic: Elvis sounds very tired from the first notes on. His vocals seem very strained and weak. The band, however, really rocks and the good sound really makes one appreciate the talent in the TCB band. Before the medley of "I Got a Woman / Amen " Elvis tells the audience that " we had a late show last night and I only got two hours sleep, so..."
He apparently realizes himself that he's not really up to it this night. The above medley
doesn't differ from the hundreds other versions of it by Elvis. "Good afternoon", Elvis greets the audience, which is a little bit strange, since this was a 8.30PM show. "God, that sounds strange: 'Good afternoon'. I just got up!", he adds and goes into "Love Me", which is as lack-lustre as so many other versions before and after.
"If You Love Me" follows and this is a probably the worst version of this song I've ever heard from Elvis. At times he sounds like an 80-year old, especially on the line 'grew to love you more each passing day'. A bad performance. "You Gave Me a Mountain" is usually a strong song for Elvis whatever the circumstances, but this time he seems out of breath. It gets better as the song goes along, but it still isn't what one would expect from him.
There's not much one can say of following "All Shook Up" and the "Teddy Bear/ Don't Be Cruel" - medley, either. On "And I Love You So" Elvis' vocals are still somewhat shaky but it seems as if he was starting to wake up by now. It's easy to guess that the following "Jailhouse Rock" is nothing to write home about, but as these versions go it's surprisingly good. Again, the band really rocks here. "Fever" is up next and we get to hear an OK version of it, performed straighter than usual by Elvis. He also repeats the last verse this time.
The "since-it's-our-bicentennial-year" speech precedes "America the Beautiful", which is a much weaker version than usual, somehow lacking in conviction. Then it would be time for band intros, but... Someone from the audience makes a request "Please sing Return to Sender!". Elvis complies with this request by saying "Honey, if we know it..." and then he throws the band (and the audience) by actually singing a full version of the song. It's a pleasant and good-natured performance of a song that he only occasionally sang on stage (only other time I can think of was in July 1975 in Ashville). He substitutes the word the 'zone' with 'phone' but otherwise he remembers the song quite well. "That's it!", he suddenly says after a minute and a half and this fun excursion into more adventurous material is over. "I'm sorry, but we hadn't rehearsed that too much", he adds apolegetically. If only he'd had variation like this in his shows more often!
The band intros follow and there's nothing really special here. Elvis asks John (!)
to play the guitar on the back of his head, causing some amusement among the musicians. "I mean James... James, John, Matthew, Mark, Luke...", clarifies Elvis the reasons of this mix-up. Of special mention is Ronnie Tutt's solo which lasts close to two (2) minutes. "Love Letters" is sung as part of the intros and once again it's not top-grade Elvis; his vocals sound whining here.
After telling everyone to "hold it a minute, I gotta get to this girl's underwear..."
Elvis' latest record, "Hurt" is next. Usually a showstopper, it falls short of the mark
this time. In fact, this version sounds downright awful at times. The audience doesn't seem to notice, as the ending is reprised to enthusiastic applause. "Hound Dog" is thrown away yet again and then the houselights are turned on, as Elvis greets the audience by saying 'Good golly miss Molly' and singing an OK version of "Funny How Time Slips Away". Then it's time to say goodbye: "I'd like to tell you that you've been a fantastic audience to work to, and anytime you want us back here just let us know and we'll come back, really." The familiar closing song, "Can't Help Falling in Love", is up next and then Elvis leaves the building. It's on to Roanoke for the next day...
This concert is probably the worst concert out on Elvis bootlegs as far as Elvis'
performance is concerned. It seems that summer of '76 was the low point in Elvis' touring years. That's way this CD cannot be recommended for a casual listener. But it might be an eye-opener for some people: Elvis did give lousy concerts from time to time, and this was one of them. Soundwise it's one of the best bootleg CDs of concerts out there, so it can be recommended to the collector. But bear in mind, Elvis was capable of far better; even during his last years.
Review by Aki Korhonen