Elvis :Dragonheart (Follow That Dream/BMG)

 

Follow That Dream's latest disc, Dragonheart, is a live concert from nearly 29 years ago, held at Notre Dame's Convention Center in South Bend, Indiana on October 1, 1974. Taken from a mono soundboard cassette, this is a fine document of the evening, Elvis and the TCB band are up front and some reasonable audience reaction is caught on the tape as well.

The fall of 1974 was evidently tough for Elvis, given the audio record of his many stage shows. From Las Vegas in late August to a road tour a few weeks later, Presley's work is distinctly affected by apparent prescription drug abuse, with poor vocals, excessive and embarrassing discourse and a tendency towards displays of anger at his band, his sound crew and even his loyal fans.

FTD producers Ernst Jørgensen and Roger Semon, in their seeming quest to have the collector's label issue a CD from each of Elvis' seventies tours, are more than aware of these realities, and their choice of the South Bend tape is provocative. But, for all of the above problems inherent in the fall 1974 tour, this is a -- relatively -- good gig.

Presley's second night in South Bend offers hints of the disasters of recent dates, but it also displays a crowd-pleasing artist revving up a sold-out audience. If Elvis' vocals are never more than decent, his energy level certainly excites the fans. His 21 song set is a typical mix for the period of old and new, with the usual disrespect paid most of his seminal fifties classics and an inexplicable avoidance of almost any Presley hit between 1963 and 1969.

After the opening "C.C. Rider" Elvis playfully admonishes the raucous college crowd. "Don't start yelling songs at me, ('Love Me Tender,' screams a fan) hey, shut up man, come on ... I only know 2,000 and I can only do 1,500 tonight!" The fervor brings Presley back to his Tupelo roots. "Look, I was raised up in an Assembly of God church, where they yell and shout," Elvis informs the assembled.

Both band and singer capably execute "It's Midnight," his new single B-side to "Promised Land," and a Charlie Rich-inspired cover of "Big Boss Man" is admirable too. Bits of "business" before launching into "Fever" include a hilarious introduction. "Honey, it's dark up here ... whoa, you grab the wrong thing and I'm in trouble, boy!" This is quintessential Elvis, poking fun at his sexuality in a way that only makes fans love him more. Had Presley not omitted the song's even more romantic bridge ("Everybody's got the fever and it's something we all know ..."), perhaps a more sinful result might have occurred.

Speaking of bridges, Elvis prefaces "Bridge Over Troubled Water" with "we hope we can do a good version." He does, although it's a little more aggressive than one might expect from prior Presley versions of the Paul Simon standard. Noting a stage monitor problem afterwards, Elvis teases producer Felton Jarvis a la Fats Domino. "What happened, Fel-Tone?" he queries.

"You Gave Me A Mountain" allows a peek behind the curtain at Presley's tortured psyche, as he vents his guilt over the breakup of his marriage by speaking, rather than singing, a few of the song's key lines. The impromptu narration is almost creepy, but certainly effective as a dramatic device.

Elvis later shares a few thoughts on his semi-bandaged hands. "Let me tell you a little something, right here, if you don't mind. I know people are, uh, wondering about the Band-Aids on my hands ... some girl just accidentally scratched the daylights of out my hand." The crowd loves it, naturally.

And Presley loves them right back. As he begins to wrap up the performance and say good night, a request is heard -- and this time fulfilled! "It's been an honor to play for you, and ('Steamroller!') ... you wanna hear 'Steamroller'? Hot damn, we'll LAY it on you!" he declares. It's a nice surprise and a very good rendition to boot.

The bonus cuts, culled from the same September/October tour, are an curious assortment. Most significant is a previously unknown "one-off" of a track made famous by Peggy Lee, "Alright, Okay, You Win," from September 29 in Detroit. Elvis' unexpected hard-rocking vocal comes during pianist Glen D.Hardin's introduction, unexpected because Presley supposedly cut the night short due to "illness." What a nice find -- and inclusion -- by the producers.

"Blue Christmas" and "Trying To Get To You" are also deliberate choices, chosen by Ernst and Roger to document the reality of Elvis' world in late 1974. Both are from College Park, Maryland on September 28, which was a hit-and-miss show, one day removed from a disastrous spectacle in the same venue. "Blue Christmas" is anemically done, while "Trying To Get To You" shows Presley completely missing the finish and telling those in attendance "we forgot the ending." Ouch.

Dragonheart is FTD's snapshot of Elvis Presley's final tour of 1974. It isn't always pretty -- and sometimes things get ugly -- but it remains an honest look at the man and the artist. And that is what a fan-only collector's label should be about.

[Johnny Savage, USA]

Addendum Joe Tunzi's 1996 photo journal, "Elvis'74 - Enter The Dragon," is an apt companion to FTD's Dragonheart, featuring exclusive images from South Bend on October 1, 1974.