So far, producers Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon have dug up mixing board shows for the FTD label from June, 1976 in Tucson, AZ, an August 10, 1970 "opening show" from Las Vegas and a gig from Murfreesboro, TN in May, 1975. What makes August, 1974 unusual is that Elvis delivered some superb performances coupled with lengthy monologues and excessive karate demonstrations that indicated something was seriously wrong.
This disc offers most of the August 24, 1974 "midnight show" with the unrecorded final third supplied by another tape from his August 29 "dinner show." Although the brief notes cite "Elvis' outstanding performance," that's a bit disingenuous. On his ballads Presley is certainly singing extremely well, but otherwise he's "business as usual" at best. His voice is already showing a lazy "thickness" which will come to full flower by the end of the engagement, a malady perhaps due to fatigue, boredom, drug abuse or a combination of all three. "Outstanding" might imply the artist is exceeding expectations for the venue and his general state of mind at that time.
Recall that 1974 is a year for Elvis where he records not a single new studio song, opting instead to play shows from January to October. He's a divorced man with time to kill. An attempt to create interest in a karate flick starring himself dies by December, despite a $100,000 investment and some interest.
On August 24, it's a sweltering Saturday night in Vegas and the sold out house is ready to have a good time. Beyond the set mainstays and the fifties classics he shows little interest in, there's a very nice rendition of his overlooked 1971 single "I'm Leavin'," a request for the somewhat rare "Spanish Eyes" complete with terrible trumpet solo, and even a saucy "Big Boss Man."
He introduces a strong "It's Midnight" by saying "this is brand new." It'll arrive in stores four weeks later, as the B-side to the stunning "Promised Land." Immediately after a throbbing "Polk Salad Annie" with an extended jam in the middle, Elvis takes a moment to introduce his group and discuss his now famous "angel painting" in the showroom:
"I have never liked the decorations in this showroom ... those big fat angels up there, you know ... see them creatures? ... about two nights ago ... we were goin' upstairs about 4:30 in the morning, but we went backstage ... we got a can of black paint ... we stacked two tables up and I painted that statue!"
During Charlie Hodge's introduction Presley's offhand humor pops up after a scarf and sweat mix up: "I use 'Ultra Ban Hide,' whatever, deodorant, you know, 'Stay-Free' pads or whatever. No, that's not right ... did I say something wrong? I don't use that, whatever it is. In case I have a nosebleed ... "
The top twenty single of "If You Talk In Your Sleep" is more dynamic in a live setting, although the tune is a bit contrived. The remainder of the disc is from August 29, and here Elvis essays an outstanding "How Great Thou Art," easily as good as the one that garnered Grammy attention on his official live Memphis LP that year. His dad is in this audience and Elvis sings a jaunty "Early Morning Rain" for him although the beginning is missing.
"Hawaiian Wedding Song" is the dinner show's penultimate tune although, again, his asides are more interesting. About being onstage for 80 minutes he claims "they don't like me to be on longer than, uh, 55 to 58 minutes, really, the hotel doesn't like it because they can't get the people in and out ... I don't wear a watch."
And after the song Elvis goes on to discuss missing a few shows earlier in the week, thanking Bill Cosby for filling in and sounding a bit guilty while claiming "in my whole 19 years of show business I've only missed about six shows from being sick." In a few short days Presley's anger at rumors behind his illness will be expressed in Titanic fashion on stage.
In many ways this fascinating FTD release is like monitoring the sound of a simmering volcano. Is it worth it? The choice is yours. Author W.A. Harbinson saw a few August, 1974 Vegas shows, including the closing night, and presciently reviewed them for "Disc" that October:
"If it was frequently in bad taste, it was even more frequently hypnotizing - perhaps the nearest thing to a pure unveiling of troubled emotions since the days of Judy Garland."
The legendary Garland died at 39 from a prescription drug overdose.
The last few tracks of It's Midnight are mislabelled; below is a corrected listing:
29 Aug'74 DS
19) Why Me Lord?