American music critic/historian Greil Marcus, speaking from his seminal
book "Mystery Train" (1975, fourth revised edition 1997), is referring to
the famous "sit down" shows given by Elvis for inclusion in his 1968 TV
special. This disc contains exactly half of the rock'n'roll that he
Elvis never looks more handsome, or seems more vibrant than the two weeks
in June, 1968 when he taped his TV show. And the most glorious portions of
the program, save the opening "Trouble/Guitar Man" and closing "If I Can
Dream" segments, are the "sit down" shows. From visionary director Steve
Binder's idea to capture informal jamming (done in Elvis' dressing room
with original bandmates Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana), an evening was set
aside to simply tape these moments and see if they yielded anything
worthwhile. They succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams.
This disc, unfortunately taken directly from the original 1978 vinyl
release rather than a tape source, remains essential because of its
content. Here is Elvis, clothed in black leather, in front of a real
audience for just the second time since the March, 1961 Pearl Harbor
Benefit show in Hawaii (the first time was just an hour before!). Tomorrow
is a long time, indeed. Sitting on chairs in the now-familiar "boxing
ring" stage, Elvis chooses songs more by memory than a script. He is looser
and somewhat cocky during this second "sit down" show, due as much to the
screaming girls at this taping as to his apparent realization that he's
just as good now as he ever was.
As the second show begins, Elvis handles acoustic guitar, Scotty picks
electric lead, D.J. taps his sticks on a guitar case (!) and Charlie Hodge
sings some harmonies and strums an unamplified electric. But after a few
numbers Elvis, as in the first show, "switches axes" with Scotty and
attacks the electric with the same power he invests in his singing, running
his fingers up and down the bass strings just like in the early days. It's
simple, basic and magnificent.
For whatever reason, guilt, anger or fear, Elvis Presley sings these songs
with an absolute fury; his voice hits the listener with such force it's
akin to defining the difference being dead and being alive.
After this night he never sung this way again.
The highlights are everywhere on this disc, among them a mature yet
aggressive rendition of "That's All Right, Mama" (Scotty's lead is note
perfect -- in a heartbeat Elvis proves he's lost nothing from those classic
days at Sun Studios!), a slow blues version of "Baby, What You Want Me To
Do", a totally committed version of "Love Me" (harmony provided by Charlie
Hodge -- these shows were Charlie's finest moment as well, feeding Elvis'
passion by egging him on to do more, go farther on each song), "Tiger Man"
done in the style of Rufus Thomas' 1953 Sun single, and possibly Elvis'
greatest five minutes with his lung-bursting, life-affirming workouts on
"Trying To Get To You" and "Lawdy Miss Clawdy".
Additionally, you hear Elvis fooling around with lines from "MacArthur
Park" a couple of times and learn that his "favorite Christmas song, of all
the ones I've recorded" is "Santa Claus Is Back In Town"! He can't
remember the lyrics so he deftly segues into "Blue Christmas", but NBC cut
the Lieber/Stoller number, so it's never made it to official release.
Perhaps "Blue Christmas" is really his second favorite holiday number.
Elvis also trashes "Heartbreak Hotel", but unlike the 70's, this is not due
to lack of inspiration or respect, he's just having fun on stage.
In comparison to the 6pm gig, RCA selected several songs from this 8pm show
for official release. Elvis had, in the space of an hour, refined his
performance to an almost white heat intensity. He's confident, assured and
out of this world. To paraphrase Mr. Marcus, this is music that bleeds.
And it's very nice to hear this performance in its entirety.
Every second of each of these shows should be in one's collection, and this
cd is undeniably essential.
Sound rate ***