Friday, July 27, 2012

Following That Dream (Part 3)

Now follows the third part of the article “Following That Dream,” that I wrote for the Elvis International magazine. This part deals with the live concerts released by FTD.

From the beginning live concerts have also played an important part of the FTD label, and the policy is to issue at least one show from each and every engagement that Elvis did in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, as well as from every tour during the 1970’s. So far some 40 concert recordings have been released; the majority in the form of so called soundboard recordings (recorded from the mixing desk in mono).

These soundboards make it possible for fans to experience how Elvis sounded on stage throughout the 1970’s. For example, a release such as Elvis As Recorded At Boston Garden ’71 offers you the chance to experience a fantastic concert that shows that Elvis was still at the top of the game during his third tour, in November 1971. And thanks to releases such as Dixieland Rocks and A Dixieland Delight I’ve learned that it must have been an incredible experience to see Elvis live on tour in the spring and summer of 1975. Not only was Elvis himself often in a great mood and looking well, but the audiences also created atmospheres in the auditoriums that were incredible.

The Follow That Dream label also offers you the possibility to get a ticket to one of the weirdest concerts of Elvis’ career, available on the album Closing Night. The closing show in Las Vegas on September 3, 1973, was an unusual, and at times, crazy show. One moment Elvis in a good joking mood, for example while performing “What Now My Love” lying on a bed that had been pushed out on stage. Another moment he is showing his frustration with the Las Vegas routine, by changing the lyrics in “Love Me Tender” to “Adios, you mother, bye bye, papa, too. To hell with the Hilton Hotel … the showroom, too.” (Colonel Tom Parker was in the audience, and Elvis blowing off steam didn’t go down to well with him, as it resulted in a heated argument after the show where Elvis fired his manager, although he changed his mind a bit later).

At times FTD has released a taped rehearsal as well. The one titled From Sunset To Las Vegas makes it possible to visit Elvis’ rehearsals at RCA’s Hollywood studio on August 16, 1974 for his upcoming Las Vegas season, and then, with the help of the CD Nevada Nights get a seat in the Las Vegas Hilton showroom and listen to the opening show, where Elvis performs an entirely different repertoire than his standard show. Dropping the “2001” introduction, he opens with “Big Boss Man,” introduces new material like “Promised Land” and “It’s Midnight” and throws in songs he never done live before, including, surprisingly, “Down In The Alley” recorded back in May 1966. Unfortunately the second CD, featuring the August 21 Midnight Show, reveals that he is back in the old “2001”-“See See Rider”-“I Got A Woman”/”Amen” routine only two nights later.

For better or worse, a show from each and every tour and engagement means that not every release can be a great one content wise. Playing New Haven ’76, recorded live on July 30, 1976, is downright distressing. Not only does “And I Love You So” sound off-key, there is also no mistaking the tiredness in Elvis’ voice. That Elvis is exhausted and out of breath is painfully evident during the next song as well. Usually “America” was one of the highlights during his concerts in 1976, but this time it’s another story altogether. Elvis voice is weak and fragile. In fact, pretty much the whole show is a sad affair.

When you think about it, it’s hard to understand that this is the same guy that five months later performs some of his best shows that year, during his December tour. The 2 CD release Showtime! Birmingham/Dallas ’76 features two of those shows, recorded on December 28 and 29. Both makes for pure listening pleasure. Take the concert in Dallas, for example. From the first notes of “See See Rider” where he practically throws himself into the song, to the falsetto ending of “Unchained Melody,” it’s Elvis at full blast. “No Teddy Bear, forget that,” he says at one point and delivers an emotional rendition of “My Way” instead. Then it’s right into high gear and “Polk Salad Annie.” It’s that kind of show.

Some professionally recorded concerts have been issued by FTD as well. Nearly all of them are live recordings that RCA did in Las Vegas during 1969 and 1970, featuring Elvis at his peak. One Night In Vegas (August 10, 1970 Opening Show) and Elvis At The International (August 23, 1969 Midnight Show) are two examples of this.

From the day I heard the Elvis In Person album for the first time when I was a kid I have always enjoyed the live recordings with Elvis from 1969. He’s so full of energy, sings fantastic with much of that raw 68-voice still present and clowns around quite a bit (maybe too much at times). Even the old songs sound great, like “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Hound Dog.” And the monologue is always funny to listen to (“I did Loving You, loving her and loving everybody I could get my hands on at the time,” for example). That’s why I’m happy that four complete shows from August 1969 have been released from FTD so far, and I’m looking forward to more of the same. And of course the rest of the professionally August recorded 1970 shows are on my wish list too.

In one case professional recordings were done by RCA between March and May, 1977 at various concert halls (released under the title Spring Tours ’77). FTD has also issued the Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis album (taped March 20, 1974), including the eight songs that were cut from the original release in 1974.

With one of the latest concert offerings FTD managed to surprise us all. Last year, out of the blue, a professionally recorded Elvis concert suddenly made an appearance. Titled Forty Eight Hours To Memphis, it features a show recorded in Richmond, Virginia, on March 18, 1974, two days before the show in Memphis that was released as the Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis album I just mentioned. Elvis sounds engaged, like he is having a great time. It’s really incredible that a concert in this sound quality has surfaced so many years after it was recorded. The release shows that there is still more out there, waiting to be discovered. Things not even rumored to exist. In some ways, it was almost as exciting waiting for it as listening to it.

The last of the professionally recorded live material done by RCA that has been released by FTD on an album so far (I’m still waiting for Elvis In Concert) comes from Elvis’ January-February 1972 Las Vegas engagement. Titled An American Trilogy it includes songs from different shows done on February 14-17, recorded for the abandoned Standing Room Only album. Which brings me to the three “what if” albums that FTD has put together, one of which is, yeah, you guessed it, Standing Room Only

To be concluded on July 29 (Part 4) …

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