Right off the bat two things must be said: one, the Aug'70 show is sourced
from a very good stereo, audience-recorded tape. One can hear everything
Elvis says in between the songs and the rhythm section is loud and clear;
listen for Elvis' quite audible acoustic guitar strumming during the first
few numbers! Using headphones is almost akin to being in the showroom!
One drawback, which should've been corrected by Rock Legends, is that this
first disk is off-pitch, running a bit too fast (boo)! The spring '75 show
is a voice-heavy soundboard recording which shows just how much Elvis had
changed in less than five years.
Following some peculiar organ warm-up piece, Elvis struts out to belt
"That's All Right, Mama." He mysteriously mentions that "Tiger Man" (third
song of the set) was "the second record that I ever recorded." Then he
continues to rock the hell out of the showroom. The opening triad of
"That's All Right, Mama," "I Got A Woman" and "Tiger Man" is as exciting as
any he ever did on stage in the 1970's. Evidently "Love Me Tender" is his
"kissing the girls" number, as it rambles along for over seven minutes with
hardly any vocals! It's hard to believe that Elvis actually walked through
the audience back then, but it's clear that the man was having fun on
stage. Within a week it would change forever, with an anonymous death
threat that culminated in a high-tension, FBI-attended Saturday evening
show on the 29th (see 1995's 'Revelations From The Memphis Mafia' for more
details). It's likely Presley never tried again after that.
In general his focus is clearly on showpiece numbers like "You've Lost That
Lovin' Feeling" and "The Wonder Of You," which are absolutely inspiring.
He delivers a lovely rendition of "I Just Can't Help Believin'"; this is
classic, mature Elvis using his most ambitious arrangement ever on stage,
save for "An American Trilogy" in 1972. After having sung "Sweet Caroline"
and changing a line to "and spring became the mattress" he later introduces
Neil Diamond (listen for a tiny snatch of "Holly Holy" by EP), his
grandmother (Vernon's mom) at her first-ever Elvis show and sings happy
birthday to James Burton.
"Polk Salad Annie" retains some of the delicious swampiness so delightful
in his February'70 versions, while the remainder of the gig features hot
romps through "Johnny B. Goode," "Suspicious Minds" and a off-the-cuff
medley of "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On." "Bridge
Over Troubled Water" is gorgeous, as usual; even the silly, self-mocking
intro to "Hound Dog" works! For those who care, this may've also been
soprano Kathy Westmoreland's first show with Elvis as well.
With Disk 2, we're only four years and eight months down the road and Elvis
sounds pretty darned tired, opening his 1975 tour on a Thursday evening in
Macon, Georgia. He'd spent January 28 to February 14 in the hospital for a
"liver problem" or "hypertension" (although it was really to dry out from
his abuse of prescription drugs), and in March taped an album in LA and
played Vegas. Macon was bass man Jerry Scheff's return to the TCB Band
after a two year hiatus (Duke Bardwell's contact had not been renewed) and
he quickly realized during the first few numbers that the dynamism of shows
from '72/'73 had been scaled back significantly.
The tape begins with dialogue ("My name is Johnny Cash ... it's a pleasure
to be back here in Atlanta, uh, Macon") before the set's third number,
"Love Me." Elvis must've gotten a lot stronger as the tour went on; by
summer, he would be creating memorable evenings in New York and Asheville,
among other places. That said, he rocks through "Burning Love" and
delivers a bouncy take on Chuck Berry's "Promised Land" (at least his
fatigue wasn't yet due to maudlin songs like "My Way") nicely. Before
"Fairytale" Presley claims he hasn't recorded it yet, even though it was
put to tape the previous month! A rare 1975 version of 1970's "You Don't
Have To Say You Love Me" is anemic, although "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" gets a
rollicking live debut that night ("It's a hard song to do but we're gonna
try it, OK?"). The recent top twenty power ballad "My Boy" milks all the
proper maudlin avenues the song was written for. One wonders which music
executive pitched that one to Presley; Red West should've been instructed
to kick some ass. "I'll Remember You" is quite nice, including several
falsetto turns by Elvis, but sadly, it fades out before completion.
Overall, coming on the heels of a 1970 model Presley, it's striking how
different Elvis' voice sounds in Macon. It's strained and seldom soars as
the Aug'70 voice did in abundance. Should Presley be on a stage even at
this point? Only the "Colonel" knew for sure ...
If the first CD is taken from a nicely mixed soundboard tape, one would
have to call this package indispensable; as it is, if you dig 70's Elvis on
stage, you won't be disappointed by either the audience- recorded sound of
the Vegas set or the sometimes exhausted voice from one night in Georgia.