BETTER THAN EVER

This CD was issued recently by Memory Records and contains an audience recording of the evening show recorded on tour in Miami on the 12th September 1970. This concert is from his first ever tour since returning to live performances in 1969 and is the first show from this tour to be issued on CD. Although this recording is not new to CDR collectors, it has now been digitally remastered with the result that the overall sound is far more stable and balanced, making it a much easier and more enjoyable listening experience than before.

Improvements notwithstanding, the sound has a tinny quality and is inconsistent in places, although Elvis’ vocals are clear and upfront throughout, with the result that most of the dialogue between songs can be easily heard. It is important to note that remastering is always subject to the quality of the source and this disclaimer finds its way into the attractive booklet along with relevant liner notes and photos from the period, by now synonymous with the Memory label. Surprisingly, there is no photo in the inlay tray, as there has been on all their other releases. However, this omission aside, the overall presentation is superb.

The CD starts with the drums (and audience) going wild during the opening vamp. It leads into a forceful That’s Alright, immediately followed by I Got A Woman, after a one line false start. It’s a high energy opening and you can hear Elvis is giving everything with a particularly passionate “Oh yeah” during this song. The ending includes an Amen chorus, leading him to comment “It’s like in church,” whilst playing with the drawn out harmonies of this number before the usual slow blues ending. Afterwards, he greets the audience, introducing himself as Johnny Cash and singing a line of I Walk The Line, before adding “I’d like to tell you what a pleasure it is to be in Fort Lauderdale….I played Miami when I was just a baby, doing things that Tom Jones has just learned to do.” It’s an amusing tease aimed at his arch Vegas rival and draws a tremendous response.

He goes on to introduce the next song as “My first movie song —Love US Tender,” singing a good, though short version of the title song. I’ve Lost You which follows this is introduced as “A new record I have out” and is also a shortened two verse version, with the ending chorus repeated. This was the only tour where this song was performed outside the more intimate Vegas showroom and it comes across just as powerfully here. This is followed by great versions of You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling and Polk Salad Annie, complete with the full introductory monologue. During this song, he does visual impersonations of Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdink and Glen Campbell, calling out their names before each impersonation. It’s a nice moment, which receives enthusiastic applause.

During the band introductions, the Hugh Jarrett backing singers are introduced, featuring one member of Elvis’ former backing group, the Jordinaires. This would be their only engagement, as they were contracted at short notice for this tour, to fill in for the Imperials who had a prior booking. After James Burton’s introduction, the exhortation “Let’s go down Louisiana baby” serves as the cue for a blistering Johnnie B Goode, spurred on by Elvis’ shouts of encouragement. It’s a great version, showcasing James Burton’s unrivalled guitar style. Ronnie Tutt is described as being ‘Red hot from big D Dallas,’ followed by the Tutt Sheff joke, first used during his ’69 shows. Glen Hardin is given credit for arranging the songs, followed by more jokes and banter, during which Charlie Hodge is introduced as Big Mama Thornton and Joe Guercio as Leonard Bernstein. From this constant stream of jokes, Elvis shows he was in a good mood tonight, which is in turn reflected in his upbeat and committed performances throughout the show.

The Wonder Of You is sung next, with an abbreviated one bar introduction. However despite this being another shortened version, it’s still a good performance. An extended introduction with more jokes precedes a good version of Heartbreak Hotel, which is followed by a most unusual medley of four of his ‘50’s hits. It includes Blue Suede Shoes, Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, a verse of All Shook Up and then Don’t Be Cruel, before reverting back to Blue Suede Shoes for the ending. This medley is unique to this show and is sung with a sense of urgency and commitment, suggesting he was enjoying the performance. Unfortunately the final chords are missing (tape turnover time?) and the recording cuts straight into the usual teasing monologue preceding Hound Dog, A frenetic version follows, lasting just over a minute complete with guitar break. Bridge Over Troubled Water is performed next, where he mistimes his entrance, coming in two bars early. It turns out to be another good version, notwithstanding and the applause following this from the 12,000 strong crowd is deafening.

An excellent Suspicious Minds follows this and afterwards, before the audience has time to show their appreciation, he launches straight into Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away, providing an effective change of pace. It features some great improvised guitar licks by James Burton and sounds different from other versions, as the line ‘Ain’t it surprising’ in the final chorus, is repeated twice by the backing vocalists. It’s yet another good performance, which leads to his closing address where he thanks the audience for the fantastic time he’s had in Miami, adding “This is my first time on the road for about nine years….and at the rate I’m losing weight, there ain’t gonna be nothing left but a suit and sideburns”---a reference to his physical exertions during the show. Can’t Help Falling In Love is then performed as his closing number, before a funky closing vamp and the predictable announcement that Elvis has left the building, which was coined for the first time at the start of this first tour.

This however, is not the end of the CD, as it features some bonus songs from two shows earlier in the year, albeit in slightly hissy quality. Firstly, from February 22, a driving Long Tall Sally—always a treat from this season. Next an emotional Don’t Cry Daddy, during which he calls out “This is a serious song” and then at the end adds “That’s a really sad song y’know,” his comments adding interest to this version. Kentucky Rain features the lyric change ‘Some old bearded fools’—a repeated joke from earlier in the engagement. On both Polk Salad Annie and Suspicious Minds, it is interesting to hear how the tempo of these songs was taken up a notch for the main show on this CD. The final two songs, Johnnie B Goode and The Wonder Of You, are from September 4 and whilst nice to have, do not offer anything we haven’t heard before.

In conclusion, this is a great concert from his first ever ‘70’s tour, proving to be more tightly paced and intense than shows from his previous Vegas engagement. The crowd is also far larger and consequently, more vocal and spontaneous in their applause and appreciation, resulting in a more exciting atmosphere. As this is the only show currently available to represent this tour, I unhesitatingly recommend it, both to serious collectors for its improved sound and any fan willing to accept a compromise in quality, for a historic show capturing Elvis in his prime. As the title boldly proclaims--- at this time, Elvis was indeed BETTER THAN EVER.

SOUND RATING *

Reviewed by Mike Sanders (UK)