Sunday, March 16, 2014


Elvis was so great, he was easily the biggest talent, and the biggest waste of talent at the same time.  Case in point, Elvis on stage in front of his hometown fans for the first time in 13 years.  It was just one of dozens of sold-out gigs that year in a huge tour of America that stretched from March to October of 1974, with the usual Vegas stand in there as well.  But this was supposed to be special, and the tapes were rolling for this live album, released a couple of months after the March show.  He was still in great voice too, in shape with none of the voice or health issues that plagued his last couple of years, not yet Fat Elvis.

So why a waste?  The guy had it all, except he also had a lousy sense of humour, and spotty taste in music too.  His lame patter and in-jokes with the band are annoying on disc, and worse, he liked to act silly in the middle of songs, wrecking numbers such as Fever.  It's just childish, the result of playing the same numbers too many times, and having such an adoring audience (plus all his sycophants), willing to act like it's quality entertainment.  As for the song selection, this throws the out the old suggestion that if he had been allowed to record what he liked instead of the numbers Hill & Range Publishing pushed on him (they all owned a piece, the Colonel included), he would have made better albums.  Look at what he chose to perform, instead of all his own hits:  Let Me Be There, by Olivia Newton-John, Steamroller Blues by James Taylor, the insipid flag-waver An American Trilogy, and a bunch of oldie hits from Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and Little Richard, songs they owned even if the King wanted to claim them.  His own hits, what there were of them, were given the indignity of being shoved into medleys, rushed through and barely acknowledged.  We're talking Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock, being squeezed into a segment with Flip, Flop and Fly and Loggins & Messina's recent Your Mama Don't Dance.  Then there are the usual problems with an Elvis live show, all the missed vocals when he was handing out scarves or laughing or whatever, enough to be a reoccurring annoyance.

Listening to an Elvis show will never give you the true perspective though, as we don't get the incredible charisma, the crowd excitement, and umm, the karate moves.  What you do get is occasional examples of the greatest voice of rock and roll, and certainly one of the best-ever bands as well, led by The Master of the Telecaster, James Burton.  There are, count 'em, three different vocal groups on stage as well, Sweet Inspirations, Voice and J.D. Sumner and the Stamps.  And an orchestra.  Overkill, oh yes, but at times awesome and overwhelming.  Again though, bad choices abound, especially with the singers, ridiculous parts swelling and taking away from the songs.  All in all, a typical early 70's Elvis show and recording.

This Legacy edition is spruced up quite nicely however, especially the bonus goodies.  We get a handful of songs stripped from the original album release, and it now includes the entire show that day.  On the second disc, a test recording from two days earlier in Richmond is included in its entirety, pretty much the same setlist, but with a little less goofiness.  And best of all, there's a chunk of a band rehearsal from August that year; not long, five songs, but now we really hear the full talent.  Running through these to get them stage ready, there's no scarves or puns or kicks, no showing off, he's working with the players and singers, and taking care of business.  There's a stunning version of Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues, and now he's thinking, now he's interpreting and harmonizing with great voices.  Even if the songs he's chosen are sentimental and showbiz (The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, The Twelfth Of Never), to hear him in this way is to understand why he was, and still is The King.

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