Elvis Rings In '77 At the Civic Arena

Pittsburgh, PA. December 31st 1976 

By Mike Kalina


While many Pittsburghers rang in the New Year Friday night in front of their TV sets with Guy Lombardo, 16,409 others welcomed 1977 with Elvis Presley at the Civic Arena. After three opening acts and a lengthy intermission, Presley bounded on stage 35 minutes before midnight, but you would have thought the clock had struck 12. He received an ear-deafening ovation punctuated by thousands of blasts from flashbulbs and a patchwork of "We-Love-You-Elvis" signs hoisted aloft. Presley had perhaps the most captive audience since Johnny Cash played Folsom Prison. And rarely did he lose his iron grip on the crowd during his 90 minutes on stage. 

Tom Loomis Pittsburgh, PA. December 31st 1976

Presley was much warmer than on his first visit here in mid-1973. This time he not only interacted with the crowd but he also even gave up the microphone for a minute or so to have a fan wish him happy birthday (actually, he will be 42 on Saturday) and happy new year. He also snapped dozens of gifts from those who had come to pay homage to him. He gave out 42 scarves and, believe it or not, even took requests. He also was in better voice on this Pittsburgh visit, singing surprisingly well and in a lower register that gave more impact to his phrasing. He even ventured into difficult musical areas, hitting notes that could cause a mild hernia. And after they drew a good crowd reaction, he offered them in a reprise that was tantamount to masochism.

 His material offered few surprises and featured a mix of new material and the rock standards associated with him ("Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock"). He seemed more comfortable doing his newer material and handled it excellently. He also played the acoustic guitar (but not very well) and did a few songs while accompanying himself on piano. In this segment "Unchained Melody" was the standout. The old Elvis moves also were exhibited but by now are such a cliche that they were inadvertently humorous. Presley is not a young man anymore. His physique is starting to sag, his face his fleshy and pale, his eyes puffy, and when he tries to repeat moves he made on the Ed Sullivan show two decades ago, the effect is a self-parody. But the hordes of fans loved his every shake, rattle and roll and squealed with delight when vestiges of the old "Elvis the Pelvis" shined through. 

Tom Loomis Pittsburgh, PA. December 31st 1976

Presley surrounded himself with some of the finest musicians on the rock circuit today, including James Burton on lead guitar and drummer Ronnie Tutt, who is probably the best rock drummer in the world. In addition to a tight electric band, Presley was backed by the predominately brass James Guercio orchestra and 10 backup singers - including opening acts the Sweet Inspirations and the Stamps Quartet. Presley has a rapport with his musicians unlike any other star. They look as though they hold his every move in awe. If he casts a hard glance at one, the musician's face is glazed with pain. If Elvis smiles at him, the sideman's face lights up like a kid's on Christmas morning. Charlie Hodge, Presley's waterboy and scarfboy, related to the star like a stone quarryman relates to a sculptor. To watch his interaction with Presley was worth the price of admission alone. 

Bob Heis Pittsburgh, PA. December 31st 1976

At the stroke of midnight, the house lights went up and Elvis led the crowd in singing "Auld Lang Syne." There were some brief huzzahs from the crowd but in a few minutes Presley was back singing. Overall, it was a fine show, though Presley seems to have lost some of the spark that turned his concerts of yesterday into events. He worked hard, but underneath it all one could see that age is taking its toll on the singer. A change in style seems to be the logical career move for him - but Presley seems intent on showing the world that a middle aged man can rock and roll, too. A famous country artist once said that you can grow old as a country singer but not as a rock singer. Presley is trying to prove him wrong. But he's not succeeding.

Originally published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette