As predicted, the latest live release from Follow That Dream (FTD), the official Presley collector's-only label, is Takin' Tahoe Tonight, a document of Elvis' engagement at the Sahara Tahoe in Nevada. Since its inception in 1999, more than a half-dozen soundboard (or better) live recordings have been issued, from August 1969 to April 1977. This continues the embarrassment of "live" riches from FTD, along with the plethora of demos, studio outtakes and "deluxe" soundtracks producers compiled by Ernst Jørgensen and Roger Semon.
The special "3 AM" show of May 13, 1973 in the "High Sierra" Theatre follows the FTD pattern of choosing a concert from a particular time period. Other than the "Aloha" rehearsal and broadcast from January, nothing has ever been officially released from Elvis' 1973 performances, and never from any of his Lake Tahoe visits.
Takin' Tahoe Tonight's mono soundboard tape sports a pleasing mix of voice and instruments, lacking only audience ambiance, as is typical for such recordings. This is the only high-quality opportunity to catch session legend Emory Gordy playing superb bass with the TCB band, as his stint with Elvis and the guys is limited to April through September 1973. The cover art features some nice images from the April tour, too.
It should be a great time to be Elvis Presley. The "Elvis On Tour" documentary wins a Golden Globe in March, and the following month his Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite double LP sits at #1 and the "Aloha" special is a ratings-topper for NBC-TV.
Sadly, prescription drug problems, exacerbated by an impending divorce, career boredom and ongoing depression, disrupt his January/February Las Vegas engagement -- including cancelled shows and a private "death threat" to karate expert Mike Stone. The month of March also marks the now-infamous RCA masters "buyout," where his management convinces him that the rights to all of his RCA recordings pre-1973 would be best sold to the company for one lump sum. Yes, somehow, Elvis Presley, one of the biggest record sellers of the 20th century, has cash flow problems. His manager ends up with 6.5 million of the 11 million-dollar total pay out.
After a well-received late April tour Presley rolls straight into Lake Tahoe. The Sahara has such unexpected demand they oversell many of the nights, leaving hundreds who are promised tickets out of luck. Perhaps they are lucky. Trade magazine "Variety" finds Elvis "thirty pounds overweight, puffy, white-faced and blinking against the light," and his voice "weak, (its) delivery flabby." Although booked from May 4 to May 20, the last eight performances are cancelled, beginning May 17. Allegedly, this is also the Tahoe visit where a cough syrup-swilling misadventure with a young fan almost has fatal implications. Perhaps a factor in blowing off the engagement, certainly the incident privately reinforces the reality that Presley's drug issues are becoming uncontrollable.
With all of that, this exclusive, Mother's Day benefit gig for local Barton Memorial Hospital, following an early and late show on May 12 is very good. Amazingly, Elvis sounds engaged despite an unusually busy workload and, at the same time, loose as a goose with his set list and audience. For many, this is the gem of his erratic 1973 Tahoe run.
"Good morning," Elvis chirps after his standard "C.C. Rider" and "I Got A Woman / Amen" opening. With hardly a beat he's singing songwriter Kris Kristofferson's classic "Help Me Make It Through The Night." It's a relaxed rendition. "We don't want to be alone, help us make it through the night," he jokes. Menawhile, all of the "oldies" are given zero effort. Weak vocals and trite arrangements rule the day for these landmark early recordings. "Blue Suede Shoes" barely breaks the one-minute barrier and a rock "medley" -- later heard in similar fashion on 1974's Live On Stage In Memphis -- ruins every good song it contains.
When the Tahoe show really soars is during the "serious" songs, like those Elvis gave so much emphasis in his "Aloha" broadcast. With "My Way," "What Now My Love" and especially "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Elvis focuses, and the results are more befitting an artist of his stature. A spontaneous reprise of the final third of "Bridge" may be the highlight of the evening -- uh -- morning. More off-the-cuff moments occur when Elvis calls out "For The Good Times," another Kristofferson tune rarely done on stage. "What key did we do that in? he asks. Instead, Presley reverts to old standby, "Funny How Time Slips Away." A request for "The Impossible Dream (The Quest)," turns into "It's Over" when the Al Tronti Orchestra takes too long to locate the sheet music. It's just that kind of gig!
"I'll Remember You" begins as a Tom Jones impersonation but soon degenerates into silly Presley laughter. The crowd enjoys Elvis' good feeling despite being a poorly rendered take on the Kui Lee classic, originally a "bonus" cut on his 1966 Spinout album. "I Can't Stop Loving You" features the sound engineer drenching Elvis' dramatic vocal finale in reverb, not unlike Stan Freberg's 1956 "Heartbreak Hotel" parody. Nearing the show's end Elvis tries the opening lines of "Release Me" acapella, almost falsetto, before electing instead to do a terrific, up tempo "Faded Love."
Ernst and Roger add two bonus tracks from the May 12 midnight show. One quietly showcases Presley's fine 1959 rocker "A Big Hunk O' Love," while the other presents a fantastic rendition of his overlooked 1971 single, "I'm Leavin', a song Elvis would return to again and again, until the very end of his life.
Takin' Tahoe Tonight marks another honest chapter in the Elvis Presley Show, circa 1973. It should be in your collection.
[Johnny Savage, USA]
This interesting spectacle first came my way via a muddy, off-line cassette tape more than twenty years ago. Its carefully chaotic nature is evident even then. Earlier this year a first-generation copy of this source was used for Lone Star's The Man In White Vol. 4, and it's clearly a top-notch audience-recorded effort.
Although the tape misses Elvis' band introductions, an unusual reprise of Also Sprach Zarathustra and the opening vamp at the night's end are included. According to Rick Rennie, the man who was there, this is totally unique :
"After the end, the band began playing the 2001 theme and Elvis' introduction over again and Elvis came out from behind the curtains to mingle with the audience for awhile. I almost thought he was going to sing again, but he didn't ... It was the only time I ever saw him do this."
Perhaps one day someone will mix this 3 AM benefit from the audience and FTD recordings to create THE ultimate document of May 13, 1973!