American pop culture critic and music historian Greil Marcus, after attending a 1972 Elvis concert in Oakland, makes a keen observation.
Indeed, between December '73 and March '75, Presley appears again and again, giving nothing but live concerts across America and in gambling havens like Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas. He totals over 158 shows in 1974 alone, even returning to rock the Houston Astrodome twice to the tune of over 85,000 people. Backstage in Las Vegas during the summer of 1974 he receives and initially accepts an offer from Barbara Streisand to be her co-lead in an updated remake of the classic drama "A Star Is Born". Presley will play the fading star husband to her rising star wife. To many around him, this is the type of role he¹s coveted since the great reviews he receives for 1958's "King Creole". But somehow it never happens. He also does a two week run at Baptist Memorial Hospital from January 28 to February 14, 1975, for what his doctor calls a "general medical workup".
At the time many people wonder why he can't make it into a recording studio for those fifteen months between the summer of '73 and the spring of '75; sadly, audio evidence from in between reveals a man in deep trouble, a musician losing his will to make music. At the start of his fall tour in College Park, MD, an out of control, cussing Elvis is heard on a soundboard tape. A band member's comments in Jerry Hopkins' "The Final Years" ("He fell out of the car... he was all gut... he hung on to the mike for 45 minutes"), only enhance the ample evidence of Presley trashing his own magnificent legacy, song after song. But, of course, following Elvis is like following a ping-pong ball. A week later Elvis plays two sets in Dayton, Ohio, and both are sharp and fun.
Taken from a superb soundboard tape, one may for the first time enjoy the complete evening performance from 06 October 1974. Unlike just a week prior, Elvis flies high on the collective spirit of 13.500 fans attending the gig. Like the matinee set, available from a mixing board tape on Fort Baxter¹s 4x CD set "A Profile - The King On Stage Vol. 2", Presley is more focused, a lot less chatty. They¹re both superior to the Maryland debacle. Although low in the mix, it's obvious from the moment Presley hits the boards that Dayton is wild for the man from Tennessee. Elvis dances through his usual set openers like "C.C. Rider", playing the crowd's affection, hard. The University of Dayton is awarded three more songs than earlier in the day, including Presley taking a spin on acoustic guitar for "That's All Right, Mama" and "Blue Christmas"! "I have a lot of people that ask me if I play the guitar and the answer is no ... I mean, uh, yes I can!" Elvis claims. And he backs up those words. His very first single from 1954 is given a nice ride, Presley even asking the band to slow it down a bit. What a treat!
Most of his other 50's tunes are run through with the same unfortunate casualness that makes one wonder why he sings them at all. Presley chooses to dig down, in his own magical way, on the uptempo blues of "Big Boss Man" and both of Olivia Newton-John's current hit singles, "If You Love Me (Let Me Know)" and "Let Me Be There". Imagine how enjoyable creatively arranged, well-recorded studio versions of these singles might have been, given Presley's obvious affection for them! Deep bass gospel singer J.D. Sumner's spotlight number "Why Me Lord" (with help in the choruses and jokes throughout by Elvis) and "Hawaiian Wedding Song" are extended with Presley-led reprises. "The whole ending was wrong, it wasn't romantic enough, we have to re-shoot it", jokes Elvis to backing vocalist Kathy Westmoreland at the conclusion of the Hawaiian classic Presley originally recorded in 1961. Not surprisingly, laughter replaces romance during a second stab at their harmony ending.
The night concludes with a decent run through Chuck Berry's peerless 1957 single "Johnny B. Goode", lead guitarist James Burton "ringing a bell" on his red Fender Stratocaster guitar as usual, and the Elvis concert-closing staple, "Can't Help Falling In Love". This isn't Elvis Presley at his most intense, but the mutual warmth between singer and audience makes for a perfect time capsule of something now a quarter of a century gone: the 1974 Elvis Presley Show.
Sound rate ****
Reviewed by Johnny Savage