This isn't Elvis at his live best (try anything from 1954-57, or the
sit-down shows at NBC studios in June, 1968), but it is the best of Elvis in 1976. It is a better performance than the immensely overrated "Aloha" broadcast from 1973 and superior to any of the 1974 shows one can now hear on "private" releases where he's audibly unwell, yet still on stage performing (to learn more, try 'Desert Storm' for starters, or investigate the box set 'A Profile - The King On Stage Vol. 2'). In Birmingham (as in Pittsburgh on the 31st) he goes for the high notes and sings with power to spare (in private interviews Elvis gave at the time he discussed taking some time off in 1977 ... wish he had).
Besides solid renditions of "C.C. Rider" (listen to the energy in his voice from the first word) and several other more familiar tour songs, he sings a rare, off the cuff rendition of "For The Good Times" (it's quite likely this hadn't even been rehearsed in the four years since he'd recorded it) and a version of "Trying To Get To You" where he hiccups, Buddy Holly-style ("you really loved me true-ohh-ohh-ohh-ohh")! "Early Morning Rain", hardly ever played to its entire length on-stage, gets the full treatment by Elvis on a whim, mid-song ("one more verse"), while "Hurt" is delivered with the
reprised ending he only did when he was feeling good. He even throws a crazy joke at the Sweet Inspirations, asking "you got a new wig, Estelle?", during "I Got A Woman"! He's in a wonderful and gracious mood -- and it doesn't sound "medicinally-influenced", either.
Two of the peaks of the show come back to back. First of these is his amazingly sweet, tender and unexpected performance of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face". This isn't the most memorable number Elvis did in the 1970's, and not even Roberta Flack's original 1971 performance redeems it. But here, the unique Presley magic weaves a spell over the listener, making it seem incandescent by comparison. And this song is the key to the entire concert, for it is here that one realizes that the entire show must've been inspired by his affection for new girlfriend Ginger Alden! He begins "First Time" by saying "we'll do this for you, sweetheart" and during certain parts of the song he says "listen". That wasn't for the 18,000
paying customers. For the final "ever I lay with you" verse (which he never recorded in a studio) he orders an on-the-spot arrangement of voice and electric piano ("everybody lay out here except David Briggs") which results in a spine-tingling moment that is the essence of Elvis Presley, vocalist supreme and great American artist.
Elvis, the artist, continues to slay the audience (and try to win Ginger's love) when he announces "if you don't mind, I want to play piano and sing 'Un-chained Melody' for you" -- which he does to perfection, save a few bum piano notes and Sherrill Neilson "helping" at the very end. The passion and commitment, as usual, is full-on, making it every bit as wonderful as the definitive version he created two days later in Pittsburgh. The gig is capped off with a very decent "Mystery Train/Tiger Man" medley and a more engaging version of "Can't Help Falling In Love" than was the norm by late
1976. Even here Elvis speaks to Ginger, as he tells her in mid-verse (!!) to "stay here ... on the very end" -- he wanted her to see his grand exit, often just as frenzied (and filled with exploding flashbulbs) as his entrances.
There's something quite precious and empowering when a person feels
uplifted by love, and in Birmingham on December 29, 1976, that's the person the audience sees -- as a bonus, it's one of the finest shows the late seventies Elvis ever gave. Now, thanks to 2001, anyone can hear it and in superb soundboard quality to boot! If one's choice of "import" soundboards is limited, this comes with the highest recommendation.
Sound rate **** +
Show ***** +++++++
On the back of the cd is a note from the producers of this record: It's now or never was damaged on the mastertape, therefore we had to edit it for your listening pleasure. The consequens is that the 2nd verse is missing. Elvis continues with good renditions of Trying to get to you, My way and a very energetic Polk salad annie. After Polk.. Elvis
comments that the drummer can't hear himself on stage, in fact Elvis complains about the sound now and then during the whole show. The usual introductions (with solo's) follows, including a good full version of Early morning rain. The house lights are turned up and of course... Funny how time slips away is performed. One of the many highlights of the concert is Hurt (with reprise), followed by a throaway (as usual) Hound dog. Someone in
the audience requests For the good times, obviously it's an unrehearsed version, but it's nice anyway. (seldom performed since 1972)
The best song for me is The first time ever I saw your face. It's also an unrehearsed version but very well performed. The 3 rd. verse is only performed by Elvis and David Briggs (elec. keyboard), they manage to create a very intimate effect for over than 18,000 fans: BEAUTIFUL !!!!. Then Elvis does a good version of Unchained melody at the piano and closes the show with Mistery train/Tiger man and of course Can't help
falling in love. If you don't have this disk and you want to hear Elvis at one of his
best shows, GO AND Get it !!!!!!
Reviewed by Bert Willemsen , Netherlands