This CD, issued on the Graceland label, contains the Las Vegas closing show from February 23rd 1970. Unfortunately it is not complete and all of the songs presented here have been issued on previous releases e.g. True Love Travels On A Gravel Road, Electrifying (and the CDR Bringing Him Back Vol 2) but this is the first time selections from this show have been released together on a regular issue CD.
It comes with a 16 page booklet containing some great photos from this period, including some from the show itself. The booklet has been put together with care and dedication and without doubt the producers have done a good job here. Whilst many of the photos featured are in black and white (credited to J.A. Tunzi), they show Elvis in such great form they are a delight to have. The liner notes are taken from Stein Erik Skar’s book The Concert Years and mention is made that the tapes for this show were sold separately, which is why the material here has been previously issued on separate releases. However, it is unfortunate that they missed the track Sweet Caroline from this show (featured on Bilko’s Gold Cuts), so this CD does NOT contain all the selections from this show previously available, which is a shame. They also state that the final two songs, Suspicious Minds and Can’t Help Falling In Love were not recorded—time will tell whether anyone else knows differently.
From the booklet we learn that these recordings have been digitally remastered and whist much of the show does sound slightly better than on the former releases, it still remains poor for a soundboard recording. Although Elvis’ vocals are clear throughout, the instrumental accompaniment tends to be somewhat variable and lacks clarity at certain points. The main improvement is the removal of tape hiss due to noise reduction and overall, the sound does appear cleaner and more stable than before—at least on all tracks up until Polk Salad Annie. The songs thereafter, whilst in similar quality, are sadly more muffled with the sound image more constricted than we have had before. It may be that the reason for this is that on previous releases they were in stereo and here they have been mixed down to mono, matching the earlier songs, to give a smoother feel to the show as a whole. Whatever the reason, it remains disappointing in my view.
The show opens to an insistent drumbeat introduction, which segues into All Shook Up, the opening number for this season. From the start Elvis sounds committed, singing with a sense of urgency and still has the raw quality to his voice from his live performances the previous year. Afterwards, he practices harmonising on an opening ‘Well’, which is then copied by his backing groups.”Aw shuddup,” he retorts before launching into I Got A Woman, which happily has no break before the slow blues ending at this time. Long Tall Sally follows this and you can hear he is fired up, giving everything to the performance. He then welcomes his audience to the Flamingo, continuing with various humorous comments, before introducing Don’t Cry Daddy as his new record. “It’s been out about a month and it goes like this….” A great performance follows, featuring Charlie Hodge harmonising on the chorus.
He then continues with the familiar monologue preceding Hound Dog, except this time he says; “I really don’t feel like doing this song, y’know that? A lot of the time I wish I was the type of performer….(he then sings the line ‘Everybody loves somebody’), but I can’t do that see, ‘cause people come in here and say he can’t move no more, y’know, so I have to get the body movin’ whether I like it or not.” The usual frenetic Hound Dog follows and it’s hard to tell whether he was joking previously or not. Love Me Tender is performed next with the familiar false start, “That’s how it went man, just right downhill,” before he sings it properly, featuring the lyric change, “You have made my ....turn blue…” At the end he gives Priscilla a kiss, to a chorus of Ahhh, followed by applause from the audience. It’s a nice moment and Elvis remarks “I recognise that girl…” as well as his usual reminder to all those kissed, “Oh, I forgot to tell you I’ve got the flu.”
Kentucky Rain is also introduced as his new record (it was a new song this season) and he performs another good version, although the final note is clipped on this recording. This is then followed by an emotional Let It Be Me. Again, it’s a great performance and features Millie Kirkham’s high voice to great effect during the final chorus. After what sounds like an edit, Elvis launches into I Can’t Stop Loving You, which is greeted with enthusiastic applause and shouts of appreciation. Afterwards he says, “Let’s do Walk A Mile…no no forget it, do See See Rider,” which is performed with a solid driving rhythm. It is interesting to hear how different this arrangement sounds for this year, before it evolved into the more fluid standard opening number of later years. According to the booklet, Sweet Caroline was sung at this point, but unfortunately it’s not included here. This is then followed by Polk Salad Annie, another new song for this engagement, complete with the full spoken introduction. Needless to say, it’s performed enthusiastically and the song eventually catches fire providing an opportunity for an energetic karate workout during the ending. Apparently the band introductions were featured at this point, but they’re also missing and the show becomes very loose and relaxed from here on.
At this point of the show, there is almost a party, end of term atmosphere, (it was after all closing night) and after exhorting the audience to ‘hang loose,’ he takes his place at the piano before attempting to accompany himself on an impromptu Blueberry Hill, with his backing singers clapping in accompaniment. However, after several false starts, he gives up and launches straight into a few verses of Lawdy Miss Clawdy instead, calling out “Watch this,” as he successfully manages the tremolo piano solo. After a further verse, he brings the song to a close to enthusiastic laughter and applause. “I used to be known as Fats Domino, before I lost weight,” he adds. Heartbreak Hotel is then called out as a request from the audience, which Elvis acknowledges saying, “Give us a D, James,” serving as the cue for the song itself and is again greeted with applause and laughter throughout, contributing to the party atmosphere. However, despite the prevailing mood, it is performed well, along with a blistering guitar solo from James Burton.
After this, he asks for his electric guitar, adding, “I can’t do ‘em all folks, but I’ll do some of them….I’ve recorded 480 and I’ll do 462 of ‘em.” A gutsy One Night follows, along with the lyrical embellishment; “And I’ll be right by your side—you dirty son of a bitch.” The rawness in his voice here is reminiscent of his NBC 68 show, giving a delicious edge to his performance and consequently it’s another great version. Finally, he asks his band, “Do you guys remember It’s Now Or Never” and goes on to perform the earliest known live version. It’s a passionate reading and at the end Elvis directs the ending during the repeated chorus, adding, “Too soft,” then “One more” and lastly, “Take it home,” before the challenging vocal reach on the last line. You can feel his enthusiasm and commitment in all these performances, which along with his relaxed mood at this point of the show, make this a special intimate occasion. Sadly this only adds to the disappointment that the recording ends at this point, with the show being incomplete on this CD.
In conclusion, this is a really great show which has been crying out for a definitive release, so credit must be given to the producers of this CD who have tried to achieve this by compiling a fabulous booklet and upgrading the sound (on the majority of tracks) compared to previous releases. However, it remains a disappointment that Sweet Caroline was missed from the sources available and even worse, that the last five songs are featured here in lesser quality than we have had before. Consequently, whilst this is an interesting release, especially for those who missed the former titles, it still cannot be considered the definitive version of this exceptional show from Elvis’ second season in Vegas. All things considered, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that this was a missed opportunity, although the seductive artwork may prove adequate compensation for some.
SOUND RATING ***½
Reviewed by Mike Sanders (UK)