Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Reconstructed Rehearsal

It's almost like Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon didn't want it to sound like a rehearsal. That's one of the impressions I have after listening to FTD's latest release Stage Rehearsal, featuring the show rehearsal Elvis did on August 10, 1970, the same day as the opening show of the engagement.

This rehearsal was first made available on the bootleg Hang Loose back in 1991, where it was presented in it's original recorded form, that is, with almost all of the takes being incomplete because the starts were missing. Owning a copy of it, I've spent a great deal of time today comparing it with the official release. Here are my thoughts.

What really works in favor of Stage Rehearsal is the great sound quality, much better than the one offered by the bootleg. With that in retrospect, on some level I can understand the decision to reconstruct the opening of the incomplete performances, using live versions recorded on the same 16-track tape machine. But I still think it was the wrong one, as it's manipulation and doesn't present the songs in a historically correct way.

What's more, the live intros are just that, and in some cases applause can be heard, like on "I Just Can't Help Believin'" and "Something," totally destroying the "rehearsal feeling." And speaking of "Something," the live version is used longer than necessary, obliterating the original text ("Attracts me like no other mother"). Another low-water mark is the use of the same intro on both versions of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" and "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me."

But what really, really annoys me, is "Polk Salad Annie," which is a splice/edit of the two versions Elvis did on his show rehearsal, both of them available on Hang Loose. My guess is this was done to avoid some suggestive lyrics by Elvis, but parts of it can still be heard anyway, sounding far away, like the line "... overweight old woman ..." The end result is a more "plain" version than the two original ones, one of which has Elvis having fun with the line "Polk A Little Sock Salad" (not included on the spliced version). Why it isn't even mentioned in the sparse liner notes on the inside of the cover that "Polk Salad Annie" is a combination of two takes is beyond me.

The same technique (editing out some of Elvis talk) is used on the second version of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," where lines like "Won't you hold the bass right here" can be heard just barely on the official release. And on one of the few songs that was caught on tape with the intro intact – "Sweet Caroline" – Elvis muttering "All right, all ready" before the start of the song has been removed too. Why this method was used I have no idea. To me it only serves to erase all traces of listening to a rehearsal and make it more of a live experience.

As you've without a doubt guessed by now, I would've preferred if Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon had left the recordings alone in their original format, with late starts and all. Or at least included both the reconstructed and the incomplete recordings. With a running time of about 78 minutes that would've been possible, by removing the bonus songs (rehearsals from 1972 and 73). While interesting enough, these could've been included on another release.

Stage Rehearsal is an FTD album that I suspect will divide the fans. You'll either like it (after all, the reconstructed opening of songs is technically perfect) or, like me, wished the label had opted for a more historically correct approach, without new intros and vocal edits. I for one also find it hard to forgive the tampering with "Polk Salad Annie" in the way it was done.

Oh, I almost forgot. A second take of "I've Lost You" is featured on the bootleg Hang Loose, but not included on Stage Rehearsal. Probably because it's incomplete at the ending as well (tape stops). But as there are plenty of live versions available that particular ending could've been reconstructed too, surely?

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