Opening Night - January 1970 

This release from Madison features a soundboard recording of the opening show from Las Vegas performed on the 26th January 1970. Although this show has been issued before on titles such as, Walk A Mile In My Shoes, True Love Travels On A Gravel Road and most recently Rock In Black, this is the first time that the show has been released with the closing song complete and in significantly better sound quality. 

It is issued with a sixteen page booklet containing 19 photos from the period, with informative liner notes mentioning that Bob Lanning and Glen Hardin were new to the band at this point, as well as a detailed review of the show itself. It’s also interesting to see a photo of the original tape box, with an asterix and the comment “great” marked against Long Tall Sally for this show. The artwork is superb throughout, with the black and white cover shot gloriously evocative of the energy and passion he put into shows from this period and featuring the same design font as Madison’s earlier release of the closing night for this engagement. (Appropriately titled: ‘Closing Night’). 

The liner notes state that the sound has been taken from a superior source and the result is a definite improvement which allows us to appreciate this fantastic show anew. As before, Elvis’ vocals are up-front and clear, but this time they are not as grating or distorted as on previous releases of this material. Although the sound balance is still inconsistent, especially at the start, his raw and powerful vocals are so sublime, that this is easily overlooked and not overly distracting. Overall, the sound appears clearer and has more depth than ever before. 

The show opens to a drum riff which builds into the introduction to All Shook Up, the new opening song for this season. This is sung with a focus and passion that leaves no doubt to his commitment this evening. Afterwards, he introduces That’s All Right as his first record and performs a deliciously raw version reminiscent of his performance in the ’68 special’. He then welcomes his audience, mentioning that he would like to do some songs that were recorded by ‘other people and different things.’ 

Proud Mary follows as the first of the new songs for this season, which is taken slowly and deliberately, ending on a simple drum roll. Afterwards, he excuses himself for his need to continually drink water during the show, explaining that “it’s awfully dry in Las Vegas and singers get what’s called a ‘Vegas Throat.”  He goes on to introduce Don’t Cry Daddy as his new record adding, “I hope you like it.” This receives a sincere and moving performance with the superb orchestration greatly adding to the poignancy of this song.  

He then announces that he would like to do, “a couple of songs I recorded about 1929 or whenever” and proceeds to tune his acoustic guitar accordingly. A medley of Teddy Bear and Don’t Be Cruel follows this, which was the first ever outing for this song combination and is performed with an edge and commitment unmatched in future years. After this, he introduces the next song as ‘his message song for the night,’ before launching into a furious rendition of Long Tall Sally. This proves to be a wonderfully aggressive and impassioned performance which was a regular highlight during this engagement. 

Let It Be Me was another new song this season and receives a tender and passionate interpretation, before I Can’t Stop Loving You which is taken at a slower pace with Elvis calling out, “I kinda like this one” during the performance. This is followed by Walk A Mile In My Shoes, which is linked to In The Ghetto with a short guitar bridge in a new arrangement providing the true ‘message song’ for this engagement. All songs up to this point were previously released on the Fort Baxter title: Walk A Mile In My Shoes. 

The second half of this show was previously released by different labels under the title 'True Love Travels On A Gravel Road,' which was the next song performed this evening. However, just before his introductory monologue he briefly addresses Kirk Kerkorian, with dialogue exclusive to this release which further proves that this recording has been taken from a new source. After plugging his latest album, Elvis In Memphis, a false start ensues but he goes on to perform a full version ending with an orchestral blast where it fades out on the record. As this seems to be an effective arrangement, it is disappointing that this song was dropped for future shows. 

Afterwards he mentions that the next song was recorded in Memphis and was one of the biggest songs of the past year, before continuing with his first ever performance of Sweet Caroline. Unfortunately, this version is not the best, sounding a little tentative and under rehearsed. Towards the end, the band performs a reprise where both Elvis and his backing singers mistime their vocals. “Hold on, we blew that wide open, start again,” Elvis calls out, adding later, “Well that’s four mistakes tonight…” It was little wonder the reprise was subsequently dropped. 

“Let’s go down Louisiana baby,” serves as the introduction to Polk Salad Annie, which was another new song this evening. Once again, it is taken slowly, but given an energetic workout because at the end he says, “It’s getting to be a bit like work now up here.” The band introductions are next, which include a mention for Bob Lanning who was the new drummer for this season and Glen Hardin, his new pianist who is also credited with arranging Let It Be Me and ‘a couple of other songs.’ Charlie Hodge is also jokingly referred to as “Least but not last.” 

His new single Kentucky Rain is sung at this point and is followed by a show-stopping performance of Suspicious Minds which receives an enthusiastic extended ovation. Afterwards, he announces, “I’d like to do this song, especially for you,” before starting Can’t Help Falling In Love, which is now complete for the first time and ends with a simple, “Thank you, goodnight ” at its conclusion. 

To sum up, this is undoubtedly one of Elvis’ most interesting shows, due to the extraordinary energy and commitment evident in his vocals and a set-list featuring eleven first time performances of new songs for this season. It also includes the only documented live performance of True Love Travels On A Gravel Road, featured here in glorious sound quality. Madison’s artwork is terrific as usual and the fact that this show is now complete, with significantly improved sound makes this an essential purchase. 

SOUND RATING  ****

                                                                                                                                                

 

Reviewed by Mike Sanders (UK)