Monday, April 30, 2012

On Stage – A Review

About two years ago I reviewed the On Stage 40th Anniversary Legacy Edition, which I thought was the ultimate version up till then, at least sound wise and as far as packaging went. With the recent release of On Stage in the classic album series, the Follow That Dream label delivers what must be the ultimate version so far, content wise as well.

On Stage album cover.
In addition to the original album, FTD's treatment of On Stage includes RCA's multi-track recordings from three of Elvis' shows. (In total, Elvis producer Felton Jarvis recorded selected songs from nine consecutive shows during February 15-19). No less than 22 of the 28 performances are previously unreleased.

The February 18 Midnight Show Recordings
It's a real treat getting a seat in the showroom at the International Hotel, courtesy of FTD. Following the original album on disc 1 are nine recordings from the February 18 midnight show, revealing Elvis to be in a humorous mood. “The squirrels are loose tonight, boy, I tell you for sure, man,” he says before launching himself into a raw performance of “Long Tall Sally,” previously released on the extended CD version of On Stage in 1999.

Felton Jarvis must have teared his hair while trying to record a master, listening to Elvis fooling around with the lyrics to “Don't Cry Daddy” and “Kentucky Rain” that night. After getting a good laugh after changing the lines to “Don't cry Charlie, Charlie please don't cry” and singing “together we'll put you on a bummer” Elvis tells the audience, “If you happen to hear that record the laughing is not included, so...” Kentucky Rain gets a similar treatment, Elvis singing “Showed your photograph, to some old gray bearded fools” and “As we drove on through the rain, I realized he's insane.” Hilarious!

“Let It Be Me,” on the other hand, shows Elvis in a serious mood, delivering a version very similar to the master recorded the night before. I bet Felton had a hard time deciding which one to include on the album! An outstanding “I Can't Stop Loving You” follows, if possible sounding even better than the one released on the On Stage 1999 edition (also found on disc 2 among the February 19 midnight show recordings).

Elvis drops under the radar when he for some reason stops singing in the middle of “Walk A Mile In My Shoes,” missing a line. Maybe he's kissing a girl, as some screaming can be heard, maybe it's something else. Whatever the reason, Elvis gets his revenge singing “The Wonder Of You” which is a beautiful version, again very similar to the master recorded during the dinner show earlier that day. Maybe this explains why it was included on the Elvis 30 #1 Hits album in 2002 instead of the master; simply a mix-up.

Back of album cover.
After introducing a couple of celebrities, among them Fats Domino, and before closing the show with “Can't Help Falling In Love,” the audience is treated with a power version of “Suspicious Minds.” While listening to it I can't help feeling some regret over the fact that no professional footage from this engagement exists. Just imaging watching a performance such as this on the white screen. But I'm thankful we finally have these recordings, as well as those on the second disc, available on CD.

The February 18 Dinner Show Recordings
That Elvis was in a great mood during the February 18 dinner show as well, becomes apparent while listening to his banter before “Long Tall Sally,” that opens the second disc of FTD's classic album version of the On Stage album. (Five songs from that show are included.) “Am I closing here Monday? I may close tonight, man. Lord have mercy. Wait a minute man. I'm not ready to tell aunt Merry nothing yet,” he laughs, then throws himself into a performance that is as passionate as the version we heard on disc 1 from the midnight show. “Gonna tell Aunt Mary about Uncle John...”

He then asks, “What are we going to do … let's do …. something wrong” [laughter] before a male voice in the audience suggests “Are You Lonesome Tonight.” Elvis shoots back, “I forgot that song, good grief,” before delivering a fine rendition of “Don't Cry Daddy,” originally released on the Greatest Hits Volume 1 album in 1981. No fooling around with Charlie Hodge this time!

A driven and funky “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” follows, but unfortunately Elvis skips the second verse, a pattern he will repeat while performing the song during the summer engagement in Las Vegas six months later. For some unknown reason Felton Jarvis chooses to fade the ending of the song, before it segues into “In The Ghetto,” and he will do the same on the midnight show that follows a couple of hours later.

“Oh, yeah! Play it, Jerry Lee,” Elvis shouts during Glen D. Hardin's intro to “Release Me (And Let Me Love Again),” and then delivers a version that is just as “hard played” as the master on the original album. That goes for the showstopper “Polk Salad Annie” as well, which once again is very similar to the master, although Elvis has some trouble with a cough. But a marvelous performance, nevertheless. 

The February 19 Midnight Show Recordings
The second disc ends with the nearly complete midnight show from February 19, featuring 14 songs. Like the two other shows on this classic album, “All Shook Up” and “I Got A Woman” are missing, the tape starting to roll in the middle of the applause following “I Got A Woman.” Elvis laughs as he strikes a chord on his guitar, kidding, “How do you like it so far?” before we get to listen to the third version of “Long Tall Sally” on the album, as rocking (and short, around 1:10) as the other two.

“Don't Cry Daddy” is another song Felton Jarvis recorded during all three shows included on FTD's On Stage release, and it's a serious affair, very much like the one performed on the dinner show the day before. But the seriousness goes out the window when Elvis introduces the next couple of numbers. “I'd like to do a couple of songs that I recorded 35 or 40 years ago [laughter], when I was a baby, man.” After some more clowning around a great version of “Hound Dog” follows, with some incredible drumming by Bob Lanning, done in D.J. Fontana's machine gun style.

On Stage booklet.
“Love Me Tender” is a funny version, where Elvis is heard making the rounds and kissing a lot of girls. In fact, there's so much kissing going on that he almost misses the ending. “We were in a dangerous spot there, man, I tell you. We timed that just right, honey, we got the ending in there somewhere, man,” he laughs afterwards.

Once again Elvis changes the lyrics to “Kentucky Rain,” using the line “Showed your photograph, to some old gray bearded fools,” so no satisfactory master for Felton Jarvis that time either. But “Let It Be Me” is treated with respect, and was probably a candidate for a master, just like the one done on the midnight show the night before.

Then it's time for a couple of versions of songs that were used on the 1999 extended On Stage version. “I Can't Stop Loving You” is followed by the complete “Walk A Mile In My Shoes”/”In The Ghetto” sequence, and why Felton Jarvis recorded them both this time around is anybodies guess. But I'm glad he did.

After yet another “The Wonder Of You,” a great version but clearly not a single candidate, someone in the audience shouts, “Heartbreak Hotel.” “That's not on the meny,” Elvis answers, instead putting a lot of energy into a fine version of “Release Me (And Let Me Love again).”

He then pulls out all the stops, turning “Polk Salad Annie” into a five minutes long, ultracool performance - from the spoken introduction to the crescendo chick-a-boom ending. This is truly one of the highlights on this classic album from FTD.

After getting his breath back (during which he kisses a lot of girls and introduces his musicians), Elvis again turns on the power and delivers the goods on “Suspicious Minds,” a version known from the extended On Stage 1999 album as well. “Can't Help Falling In Love” then ends yet another fantastic show, and as the tape fades you can clearly hear someone in the audience shouting “Elvi-i-i-i-is!” I feel like doing the same!

Final comments
I've always liked the February 1970 recordings, as they show Elvis singing a lot of contemporary material. Not only his new hits but covers from singer/songwriters like Neil Diamond and Tony Joe White as well. So not surprisingly, the On Stage classic album from FTD is a firm favorite already.

Back of booklet.
But I do have some objections. As the booklet points out, the masters of “Release Me,” “See See Rider” and “Polk Salad Annie” used on the original album were also recorded during the February 18 midnight show, so I think they should have been included in their undubbed form among the other tracks from that show. The same line of reasoning goes for “The Wonder Of You” that was recorded during the afternoon show that day. As the first disc clocks at 62:03 and the second at 65:36, they weren't left out due to lack of space (They run for 14 minutes in total).

I also miss the rehearsals of “The Wonder Of You,” (available on the legacy edition of On Stage) ”Release Me” and “See See Rider” (both featured on Platinum: A Life In Music and again on FTD's Polk Salad Annie together with one of the three rehearsals of “The Wonder Of You”) that were held in the showroom on February 18 in preparation for the live recordings on February 18 and 19. By my counting, they would've fit onto the two CD's as well, (running for 12 minutes in total).

The inclusion of the above mentioned songs would have made the On Stage FTD album more “complete.” It would be nice getting Ernst Jorgensen's comments as to why they were left out, instead of offering two fully packed CD's clocking at 78 minutes each.

My final bit of criticism is that the booklet lacks an In And Outtakes section, listing all the concerts recorded, on which albums the released songs can be found, and which songs are still unreleased.

But the bottom line is that On Stage is a great release from the Follow That Dream label and Ernst Jorgensen/Roger Semon. Just don't throw away your Legacy Edition or even the 1999 expanded version (including the complete “Yesterday”/“Hey Jude” sequence) if you want to own it all.


Mårtenbrother said...

Great post, Thomas! Don't you think it's funny that this album lacked Elvis's name on the cover when released in 1970? Especially when it's his first album cover showing his new style. I bet some people didn't recognise him back then, just looking at the cover.

Thomas said...

Thanks, Mårten, glad you liked it! Yes, it is a bit strange that Elvis name wasn't on the cover, not even on the back of it. To my knowledge, only one other album during Elvis lifetime lacked his name on it as well, and that was For LP Fans Only. Actually, that one earned a Grammy nomination for Colonel Tom Parker for best album cover back in 1959. Maybe he thought he could do it again? :-)

Mårtenbrother said...

Probably! :-)

patricia said...

Great review, Thomas. Thanks.

Thomas said...

Glad you liked it, Patricia!