The start of the new decade found Elvis fully reaping the benefits of his spectacular 1968 TV Special and dynamic studio sessions in early 1969 at Memphis' American Studios. He'd returned to the concert stage with a more mature but still exciting stage show, featuring great musicians like James Burton on lead guitar, Glen D. Hardin tickling the ivories and Ronnie Tutt pounding drums.
With 'One Night In Vegas,' the eighth Follow That Dream (FTD) compact disc, the BMG collector's label gives us the (mostly) complete opening show of Presley's third Vegas stand. And what a treat it is!
August 10, 1970 was the only opening night that RCA ever captured on multi-track tape, in part because director Denis Sanders from MGM Studios was filming for what would become the "That's The Way It Is" documentary. Elvis responded with an evening almost completely devoid of his ground-breaking early work, save the opening two numbers. Presley would loosen up the set list as the four weeks progressed, but it was obvious he craved acceptance as a "modern" performer.
Several recent "import" releases of rhythm band-only rehearsals for this gig revealed Presley's musicianship, goofy humour and hard-nosed work ethic. On opening night in front of celebrities like Cary Grant, Dale Robertson and Sammy Davis, Jr, Elvis delivered the results of this preparation with confidence, panache and command of nearly every song. Unlike the "Aloha" broadcast in 1973, if he was nervous it didn't show.
The dozen and a half tunes included a superb first time live "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," a passionate debut for "I Just Can't Help Believin'" and a knock-out opening double blast of "That's All Right, Mama" and "Mystery Train/Tiger Man." It's nice to finally hear "Mystery Train/Tiger Man," used under the opening credits of "That's The Way It Is," complete and in excellent sound.
Other standouts this night included a fantastic "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and a stab at "Patch It Up" that was so tough it's almost punk rock! In fact, the only disappointment of the night was a rushed, half-hearted "The Next Step Is Love," first issued last year on the expanded 'That's The Way It Is' 3xCD set. It's clear the song meant very little to him.
Although FTD chose to remove some extraneous dialogue, much of Presley's amusing banter survives. He greets the MGM cameras with "hello, you big mother" and introduces "Polk Salad Annie" by announcing "we're gonna get dirty on ya." Mid-song he remarks that he "feels like an old stripper, man."
Elvis would give even better shows as the stand progressed, the August 12 midnight show issued on the expanded 'That's The Way It Is' 3xCD set is just one example, but 'One Night In Vegas' is mighty fine indeed. Listening only makes one wish they could've been there!
The disc rounds out with some Vegas rehearsals, in stereo, rendered six days earlier. Presley's skills as an arranger aside, the material is extraneous and includes a pointless, BMG-truncated "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Happily, one gets to revisit the unique "Cattle Call/Yodel" seen in the TCM Special Edition broadcast of the "That's The Way It Is" documentary earlier this year.
When all is said and done, two things are really striking about the August'70 engagement. First is the absolute joy that radiates from every moment Elvis is making music; how and why it seemed to disappear within a year of this opening night is a mystery, but it did. Compare the man seen in 1992's "The Lost Performances" video: in 1970 one observes a thin, tanned and in-control artist; by 1972 the same person is pale, pudgy and histrionic (and the jumpsuits are uglier, too).
Just as noteworthy is Presley's apparent rejection of his innovative work at American Studios. Most of the released studio material from July'69 to July'70 came from his American sessions and did quite well both commercially and artistically. However, not a single American track makes opening night. A few do crop up as the month progresses, most notably "Suspicious Minds." Elvis, what happened?
In any case, this FTD disc is a lovely, essential addition to the serious Presley collection. To date, the label has gifted us with two complete 1970s shows (the other from Tucson in June, 1976), 1959-66 home demos, outtakes from 1957-76 and a tremendous sit-down rehearsal tape from June, 1968. It's been an embarrassment of riches that every Elvis fan should support and appreciate.