Yesterdays opening show in Vara, Sweden, as performed by ‘The Original Elvis Tribute 2012’, is without question the best Elvis tribute show I've ever attended. No doubt this has a lot to do with the fact that it features musicians and singers who once worked with Elvis, such as Bobby Wood on keyboard, bass player Duke Bardwell, backing vocalists Mary and Ginger Holladay, and Jerome 'Stump' Monroe on drums.
Another factor working in the show's favor is hard working leadsinger Robert Washington, who sounds remarkably close to Elvis. Also, I was amazed by the talented rock & roll guitarist Carl Bradychok, who is only 21 years old. And last but not the least the mix of songs included in the show works really well, combining famous hits like “Jailhouse Rock” and “Hound Dog” with lesser known songs such as “Just Pretend” and “Walk A Mile In My Shoes.”
The sold out show at Vara Konserthus (Vara Concert Hall) kicked off with a couple of classics from the 50's, among them “Heartbreak Hotel,” “All Shook Up” and “Love Me.” From the start it was obvious that the musicians enjoyed themselves. Their smiles, laughs and good humored banter were contagious, and I soon found myself clapping my hands and stomping my feet, just like the rest of the audience.
I noticed that Ginger and Mary Holladay seemed to have a really great time on the stage. They added a lot to the show, not only their beautiful voices, but energy and joy as well. One of the highlights was Ginger Holiday telling the audience that she got to sing a duet with Elvis in the studio (“I was 19 and they picked me!”) and then performing that duet, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” together with Robert Washington. The Holladays singing “Sweet Inspiration” as a tribute to the Sweet Inspirations was a special moment, too.
One of the things I like with ‘The Original Elvis Tribute’ concept is the idea to let the original musicians perform songs as well, and Duke Bardwell's version of “Peace In The Valley” was awesome. I'm sure Elvis would've approved. Likewise, it was great listening to Bobby Wood singing “I'f I'm A Fool (For Loing You),” a song he originally recorded in 1964. Before singing it, he told us it was a favorite of Elvis' father Vernon, whom he met during the famous 1969 sessions at the American Sound Studio in Memphis, when Elvis did his version of the song.
Another highlight was a driving version of “For The Heart.” What a shame that Elvis never did this one live! And just like Arjan Deelen pointed out in an interview before the show, it was incredible to hear “Suspicious Minds” with the vocal parts sounding exactly like they did when the Holladay Sisters sang them over 40 years ago. No wonder this performance got a standing ovation.
The show then ended with two encore songs, “Unchained Melody” followed by “Burning Love.” By this time the audience was on their feet again, wildly clapping their hands. So ended the first show of ‘The Original Elvis Tribute 2012’ tour and I found myself wishing I could catch the rest of them as well. It was that good.
PS: Duke Bardwell signed my “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” single during the intermission, and I got Mary and Ginger Holladay's autographs as well. They were really nice to talk to.
Songs performed (I might have forgotten one or two): Heartbreak Hotel, All Shook Up, Love Me, I Got A Woman, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Polk Salad Annie, My Babe, Peace In The Valley, Sweet Inspiration, I'f I'm A Fool (For Loving You), Any Day Now, Wearin' That Loved On Look, Too Much, He Touched Me, How Great Thou Art, Walk A Mile In My Shoes, Just Pretend, Hound Dog, My Babe, The Wonder Of You, Jailhouse Rock, Young And Beautiful, For The Heart, Way Down, My Baby Left Me, Blue Suede Shoes, Always On My Mind, Mystery Train/Tiger Man, In The Ghetto, Suspicious Minds, Unchained Melody, Burning Love
Video featuring clips from four of the songs performed: