Rags to Riches

Crown CR- CD- 007 (Released 2002)

(CD-1)
2001 theme
C.C. rider
I got a woman/amen
Big boss man
Love me
Fairytale
You gave me a mountain
Jailhouse rock
Presentation of Liberty Bell
It's now or never
My way
Funny how time slips away
Auld lang syne
Introductions
Blue suede shoes
Trying to get to you
Polk salad annie
(CD-2)
Early morning rain
What'd I say
Johnny b. goode
Ronnie Tutt drum solo
Jerry Scheff bass solo
Tony Brown piano solo
Love letters
School days
Fever
Hurt
Hound dog
Are you lonesome tonight
Reconsider baby
Little sister
Unchained melody
Rags to riches
Can't help falling in love
Closing vamp
Live, Pittsburgh, December 31, 1976

The famous New years eve concert complete on two cd's.

The last show from an up and down year for Elvis, which saw him tour more cities than anyone might have predicted, given his recurring health problems. And what a program! Perhaps remembering how disappointing the previous New Year's concert at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan was, Elvis put forth perhaps his single best effort of 1976, singing nearly thirty songs and remaining on stage for almost two full hours!

This isn't Elvis at his live best (try anything from 1954-57, or the sit down shows at NBC studios in 1968), but it is the best of Elvis in 1976. It is a better performance than the immensely overrated "Aloha" broadcast from 1973 and it is superior to any of the 1974 shows one can now hear on "private" releases where EP is clearly unwell, yet on stage performing (try "Desert Storm" for starters). In Pittsburgh he is, for whatever reason, going for the high notes and singing songs with a lot of gusto (private interviews he gave at the time indicated he was considering taking some time off ... sure wish he had, don't you?).

Besides solid renditions of several standard set songs, he sings a terrific off the cuff rendition of "Fever" (still omitting the bridge, though) and a soulful "Love Letters". "Reconsider Baby", hardly ever played onstage, is ably led by Elvis' acoustic guitar, although I'd trade a Boots Randolph sax solo for James Burton's too "modern" slide guitar any day. It doesn't touch the studio take, but it's still quite cool.

One of the highlights of the show is the most over the top "Hurt" Elvis may have ever done, even doing the ending a second time. The building seems to shake as he hits the notes again and holds them even longer! Yes, he liked Mario Lanza! If you ever acquire the underground videotape of this show, you will be amazed to watch Elvis sing this reprise while intentionally FALLING onto his back, punching his fists into the air when it's over. Both "Unchained Melody" and "Rags To Riches" are Elvis at the piano, the former a solo performance (similar to the one from June 1977, released undubbed on the "Great Performances" cd/video in 1990) which is just gorgeous, even with Sherill Nielson "helping" on the last note. "Rags To Riches" is a number that I don't believe Elvis ever did before or since (the band certainly doesn't know it, as EP calls out the chord changes while he plays), and it's another superb ballad delight. The 16,000 in attendance drop into complete silence on these numbers, and well they should have: they were hearing Elvis Presley, a great American artist, at his best. I wonder how any of them felt seven months and two weeks later?

Obviously, for those of us who weren't there, the cameras and recorders were out in force. This is an audience recorded concert, but one of the best of its kind -- you're in the front row with screaming fans (both male and female), and you can even hear Elvis direct the band (during "My Way", to soundman Bill Porter: "Turn the piano down") or acknowledge little comments from the crowd (woman: "Play it", Elvis [mock serious]: "Don't tell me to 'play it', I will when I get ready, you understand me?")! The TCB band and backing vocalists can be heard, the orchestra less so (no great loss there), providing the listener with a complete late seventies Elvis Presley gig.

Reviewed by Johnny Savage, USA

Sound rate ** 1/2