Checkmate in Las Vegas

Savannah Records N880 NP (Released 1996)

C.C. Rider
I got a woman/ Amen
Love me
Trying to get to you
Love me tender
Sweet Caroline
Johnny B. Goode
Hound dog
Fever
Polk salad annie
Killing me Softly
Spanish eyes
Why me lord
Suspicious minds
Elvis introducing Nancy Sinatra
Blueberry hill
I can't stop loving you
Help me
An American trilogy
Let me be there
Can't help falling in love
(Live, February 6, 1974, Midnight show, Las Vegas)
Bonus songs
Love me tender (June 8, 1975)
Hawaiian wedding song (May 31, 1976)

In recent years several well recorded and fine sounding recordings from Elvis' concert years have emerged. According to Tunzi's Sessions II book, nearly all of the shows during Elvis' January - February 1974 engagement were recorded on soundboard; yet none of these have surfaced on the market as of yet. Even very few audience recorded shows are available on CD. Therefore Checkmate... is an exception and a pleasant one at that. Most of the show is included; only Can't Help falling in Love and Voice's Killing Me Softly were recorded on other concerts.

The packaging of the CD is well done with very clear shots of Elvis in the Aloha suit. As far as I know this was the suit that Elvis wore at this particular show, so these shots could even be from the actual show. A nice touch.

The sound quality of this audience recording is very good and clear. It's actually better sounding than some of the unbalanced soundboards. In itself the show is a very regular Vegas show. Elvis seems to be up and in good humour (if somewhat anxious) on this midnight show of February 6th. This season also marks the first time Duke Bardwell is on bass.

The show opens in a familiar manner with C.C.Rider and I Got a Woman / Amen - medley (both of which sound good). Then Elvis introduces himself as Wayne Newton and quips presumably to Charlie Hodge: "That's not whisky, fool; that's water!"

There's no need to go into every song but the main attractions are worthy of mention. One of these is Trying to Get to You, which apart from being quite short, is a good sounding version. Sweet Caroline makes a return to the concert repertoire after a few years, only to be dropped as the year progresses. One thing about this night's show is the fact that many of the performances are quite short. Sweet Caroline is no exception, as it lasts just over two minutes.

Johnny B.Goode is short also, but at least it's not one those throw away versions of later years; the following Hound Dog at 41 secs is just the opposite. There's very little interplay between Elvis and the audience as one song just follows the next. Fever is a fun version with several lyric changes; yet, it manages to be well performed.

Voice's Killing Me Softly comes from the dinner show of the following day and it could have left out altogether, as its sound quality is worse than the rest of the concert's. Presumably whoever recorded this show felt that it was not an essential part of the show, either.

Spanish Eyes is sung as a duet with Sherril Nielsen and it's quite beautiful. Clearly it was a favorite of Elvis' at this time. The trumpet solo is a little bit over-the-top to my personal taste, though. Apparently Elvis felt so too, as he comments about "weird little trumpet-player, man" after the song. Why Me Lord is performed slower than usual; maybe this is due to its being one of the new songs this season.

During the introductions Elvis acknowledges Nancy Sinatra and the band(?) Checkmates, which are among the audience. Thus the title of the CD is also explained.
The following Blueberry Hill / I Can't Stop Loving You is very similar to the one on the Memphis concert, complete with the "moon tood till"-part. Another brand new song for Elvis this season is Help Me, which is performed in a sincere manner. The last three songs follow in a very quick succesion. Let Me Be There cuts off halfway through as the recorder's tape seems to run out. A somewhat distant recording of Can't help Falling in Love comes from the March tour of the same year.

As a bonus two songs recorded from the soundboard complement this CD. Hawaiian Wedding song comes from Huntsville 31.5.1975. It starts with Elvis commenting that "we don't have Blue Hawaii, but we have Hawaiian Wedding Song. I'm glad you asked it 'cause it was up next anyway!" After some banter with Nielsen a somewhat tired version follows. Another bonus is Love Me Tender from Jackson 8.6.1975, which starts from the middle of the performance. It's a completely botched version as the ending falls apart. "There's no way to go in the back [to hand out scarves], so I had to cut the song short", explains Elvis. "There's just about 12000 people here and we made a fool of ourselves, right?" These bonus cuts feel like padding.

All in all this CD has nothing remarkable to offer. But the fact remains: it's the only decent sounding documentation on CD of this particular Las Vegas season that we've had up to date. (As far as I'm aware of). Therefore it can recommended, although it by no means is an essential purchase.

Reviewed by Aki Korhonen , Finland

Sound rate **