Imagine this scenario. Somewhere along the way you've bumped into Elvis Presley and made a good impression on him.....he kind of takes a liking to you and invites you to come to RCA's Hollywood studios and watch him rehearse for his upcoming concerts at the Hilton. "Wow!" You say, "I can't believe this! This is my chance to hear and see Elvis creating his magic in a very intimate setting." Only because someone preserved this moment on tape do we have this chance to glimpse Elvis the perfectionist in a laid back atmosphere laughing, joking, and just being human with his musician friends while honing their skills along the way. Oh yeah, not only did Elvis invite you to a rehearsal, but also he gave you a couple of passes to the 10:00 PM, opening night performance.
The original tape of the rehearsal, recorded on a normal cassette deck connected to the studio's soundboard, produces surprisingly good quality sound but isn't normal studio quality. The concert was recorded from the 'mixing desk'.
It is very evident that Elvis is at the helm during these rehearsals. He instructs the background singers, musicians, and even himself. Disc one begins with two extremely laid back performances of "If You Love Me (Let Me Know)". Elvis admits immediately that he likes this song. The moving mother (according to Elvis), "Promised Land" is next; it is performed twice also. It is during the second run of the song that Elvis really loosens up and gets into it and belts out, "....And the mother$!%*#@'s on the line." After this song Elvis asks, "What can we screw up next?" Charlie Hodge begins singing "Down In The Alley", and Elvis almost immediately goes off into a heavier blues sounding version of the song which starts out really great and ends up being okay. "Alley" is done again and then Elvis starts "It's Midnight", and after only a few seconds, he wants to know where the F-----g lyrics are. He continues with the song only to mess it up by doing the ending too soon. He's in a good mood though, so he stops everyone with some rough language (that I don't appreciate) and then picks it up again as it nothing had happened. What a craftsman! Before running down "Midnight" again Elvis impersonates whom I perceive to be Slim Whitman.
There is a noticeable difference in the presence of the recording at this point. (Could this first part be from another day, or was some material edited out?) This version of "Your Love's Been A Long Coming" rivals that of the one recorded professionally in the studio; without a doubt, this ending is 100% better. Two performances of "Softly As I Leave You" (one of which appears on the 70's box set with an edited intro) follow a good performance of "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues". It is evident that Elvis really cares for "Softly" and he knows exactly how he wants it to sound (piano and strings). Someone suggests using an organ, Elvis says, "No, no, no......shut up....get out of my Studio!"
Elvis instructs Sherrill Nelson to lean in on"I'm Leavin'" heavily, performed here with a tagged on encore. The version of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" contained here is in one word, AWESOME - even though it has some imperfections. Elvis introduces it as, "The first time ever I saw your freakin' face." It includes an additional verse, "And the first time ever I lay with you, and felt your heartbeat so close to mine (he clears his throat) I knew a joy would fill the earth and last 'til the end of time and would last 'til the end of time." After the song Elvis continues to clear his throat and drinks some water before continuing with an energetic "Proud Mary". Following "Mary", he performs a very funky "If You Talk In Your Sleep" without having an appropriate Vegas introduction.
"If You Love Me (Let Me Know)" is tackled again and again and so on until Elvis gets it out of his system. This time Elvis is more into it than before; he and Tim Baty really give the bass line a lot of attention. I think Elvis is trying to turn Tim into J.D (which will never happen). It's a good workout and illustrates Elvis' producing abilities.
Disc two begins with the incredible discovery of "The Twelfth Of Never" (the one gem BMG arranged for us to have on the 70's box set). I hope there is more out there like this one just waiting to be released. Elvis announces "Faded Love" and someone says, "Ah...Hell yeah." Elvis stops it soon after uttering unintelligible gibberish; he laughs and admits that he got it confused with "Lawdy, Miss Clawdy". Elvis clowns around with this one by changing some of the lyrics. When he's finished, he dubs it a "throwaway". A strong version of "Just Pretend" brings the rehearsal to a close.
As an extra bonus an overdubbed version of "The Twelfth Of Never" is included. David Briggs produced this overdub in 1994, and it is simply wonderful. It is very close to having an all-new studio recording from Elvis.
Ladies and gentleman....Elvis Presley! The concert opens with "Big Boss Man". Even though it has Las Vegas stamped all over it, it proves to be a silky smooth rocker and a welcomed change over the usual weaker "See See Rider". Too bad Elvis didn't change his opening number more often. "Proud Mary" is next and it turns out just as good if not better than his early 1970's performances. "Good evening...a...my name is the NBC peacock....my name is NBC peacock, I practiced that all evening and goofed it. We'll have a good time. We're gonna," Elvis sniffs, "sniff...a...we're gonna' walk around," he laughs, "and do some songs and sweat......" As one can tell, he is in a great mood and goes directly into "Down In The Alley". Up next is the rarely performed, "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues". After the lyrics, "You play around you'll lose your wife," Elvis quickly adds, "I've already done that;". He then continues, "play too long and you'll lose your life, almost did that...." Except for this he plays it straight. What follows is what I believe to be the best performance of "Never Been To Spain" that I have ever heard from Elvis; it is fantastic! Elvis doesn't even crack up when he adds, "Not much," immediately after the part, "But I kinda like the Beatles..." Of course we know he did.
Elvis introduces his new record, "It's Midnight", and what a breathtaking performance it is. If it weren't for Charlie's flubbing up the lyrics a little more than half way through the song, it would have been perfect. However, in all fairness to Chralie, Elvis messes up the lyrics in "I Just Can't Help Believin'" at approximately the 3:40 mark (from That's The Way It Is) and look how much fame and notoriety it has garnered. It is then that the funk begins to fly with "If You Talk In Your Sleep"; the performance is outstanding, but it is afterwards that becomes really interesting as Elvis comments, "woo...that's a weird song, you know that....that's not about me. I didn't write that song about myself....because I don't do that......."
The haunting "I'm Leavin'" is beautifully performed. "Let Me Be There" complete with a reprise isn't done with as much enthusiasm as it is in later concerts, but it is a solid performance. Elvis asks for a chair and then performs "Softly As I Leave You". This is the one song that Elvis wants to turn out really well but it just doesn't happen on this night; the timing is off, the musicians are off, Elvis is extremely nervous, and Sherrill isn't totally with it either; It doesn't take long for everyone to pull together and turn in a respectable and admirable effort; not exactly what Elvis wanted with this song (especially on the opening night).
"If You Love Me (Let Me Know)" turns out really well; Elvis gives it a satisfying, "Yeah," upon completion as he does often throughout the concert. The obligatory kissing song is "Love Me Tender", which as usual is a throwaway. The rocker "Polk Salad Annie" cooks with an energy level that it hasn't had since the early 1970's. After Elvis reaches the boiling point on "Annie", he has to walk around and regain composure (actually it's a good excuse to catch his breath and introduce the band). I suppose someone wants to know if Elvis is ready to rock. He replies, "I'm game, son." Glen Hardin's piano playing launches Elvis into "Promised Land" another solid performance. Elvis takes a moment to introduce Telly Savalas; and then he begins a revamped version of one of his fifty's classics "My Baby Left Me", needless to say, it turns out just fine.
After four upbeat numbers things slow down a bit with a knockout vocal performance of "Bridge Over Troubled Water". Elvis oozes out "Fever" immediately after "Bridge" playing toyfully with the lyrics. I suppose Elvis felt obligated to perform "Hound Dog", so he rushes through it but probably not quick enough to suit him or me.
All good things must come to an end. As Elvis wraps up, he makes the humble comment, "....If we have entertained you, then it's been worthwhile." That is a much understated fact. Elvis bids the audience an "affectionate, adios" and wisks us away with "Can't Help Falling In Love", which, unfortunately, is not complete (for whatever reason).
The rehearsing paid off. This is one of the best concerts that I have ever listened to; far better (as a whole) than anything BMG has ever released. I would love to hear other concerts of this caliber. It would also be interesting to hear others from this engagement. If BMG has this concert in the vaults, then they should be ashamed of themselves. If this could be released in stereo (and BMG not screw up the mix) and promote it with extra care, it would surely be one of the biggest selling discs ever. I love the variety of the songs performed and his incredible vocals; too often they are covered up by crazy mixes and overdubbings. The clarity and enunciation of Elvis' voice in these performances are terrific and the musicians are eager to please the King Of Rock'n'Roll in what must have been one of his finest moments on stage.
Review by Lonnie Mercer
Sound rate **** +