The World's GREATEST Showman

by Anne E. Nixon

I have seen many "live" Elvis performances, and several Elvis "moods". Sometimes he's serious and singing hard and strong; sometimes he has the "sillies", as Tom Diskin calls them, and breaks up laughing throughout the show; sometimes he's in an infectiously happy mood, and sometimes he's a little uptight. Elvis never attempts to cover up his moods, and the audience invariably gets caught up in whatever mood he's in.
There is one particular show that stands out in my memory, that combined many of Elvis' moods; an absolutely riveting show that anyone who saw it could never forget. From beginning to end it underlined the supreme showmanship that is Elvis Presley. Let's relive this superb performance, Elvis' closing show in Las Vegas on 3rd September 1973.

First of all, though, a flashback to the 3 am show on Sunday, 2 September, when Elvis startled us by coming onstage riding on Lamar Fike's back, and, when he'd stopped laughing, asked, "How can you top that entrance, man?"! The closing show crowd was excited, and waited impatiently through "2001 ", anticipating Elvis' entrance. He surprised us all again. Out came Lamar Fike, a mountain of a man, carrying the king on his back, but on Elvis' back was a monkey!

The brown-and-white stuffed toy was taped to Elvis' shoulders, its arms around his neck. The astonished audience watched as Lamar carried on right across the stage, then came back centre-stage and set Elvis down.

Elvis was laughing as he took his guitar from Charlie Hodge, but he couldn't manage the guitar very well with the monkey on his back. He began "C.C. Rider", with a few lyric changes, with reference to the monkey, and threw in a "Hang on, Kid!" at one point. The audience was in disarray, laughing at Elvis' facial expressions. He said, before singing "I Got A Woman": "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, I brought one of my relatives with me." More lyric changes in Elvis' second number: "I got a monkey, way across town," and so on. Someone yelled out, "Give him a kiss, Elvis," as Elvis was sinking down to JD's low bass note in "Amen".

Looking back at the monkey, Elvis thrust the microphone near its mouth, and said, "He's an ape, that ain't no monkey." He began "Love me", but didn't move along the front row as usual to accept kisses and give out scarves. He stood centre-stage, and although he laughed a little during much of the song he sang quite seriously, almost making us believe he'd forgotten the monkey. At the end of the song, Charlie unstuck the toy for him, and it sat onstage for the rest of the show.

Elvis did a fine version of "Steamroller Blues", followed by a strong "You Gave Me A Mountain". The show's mood had changed, as Elvis' mood became serious. "Trouble" followed, and Elvis pounded out his rock medley of "Flip, Flop, Fly", etc. At the close of "Hound Dog", he began a "Ch Ch Ch" kind of sound. It went on and on, as he continued to improvise. The band behind him picked it up, and jammed along. Elvis was bent over double, knees bent, and moving from side to side, real gone!" The audience was half hypnotised, half screaming.

The crowd of Scottish fans at my table were all screaming -it was a tremendous atmosphere. We applauded, feeling wrung out. "Elvis, I want your scarf," called a feller down front. "OK, you can have it ... here you are," and the king passed down his flame-red scarf to the up-stretched hand. The fans nearby crowded in on Elvis, and handed him up a Summer Festival Boater. He wore it for a moment and did a soft shoe shuffle.

He walked back centre-stage; his serious mood became a "sillies" mood, as on the way he kicked over a music stand near to Charlie. "I'd like to sing a little bit of 'Love Me Tender'for you. 'Love me tender, love me true'," he squeaked in a high voice, very rapidly. "That's a little bit of 'Love Me Tender', speeded up!" He turned to Charlie and urged quietly: "Put a scarf on, do it!"

As the introduction began, Elvis fell flat onto the stage, and began to sing, and Charlie walked over to him and draped white scarves over his face. He adlibbed a verse: "Adios a madre, bye-bye poppa too, to Hell with the Hilton Hotel," - the many British fans present cheered, and the last line was lost on the audience, due to the cheers - "Priscilla, too!" More adlibbing in the same song: "I will help you all I can, because I know you're blind." Elvis was back on his feet, as we applauded. His jibe at the Hilton was unexpected, but welcome to the British fans, whose reservations the hotel had tried to cancel that season, and we felt that he was on our side.

A ripple of excitement ran through the audience as "Fever" began. Elvis stood out on the ramp, the spotlight picking out the multicoloured stones on his white jumpsuit. His silly mood continued as he adlibbed a verse about J. D. Sumner and Myrna Smith of the Sweet Inspirations. After the line, "I light up when you call my name," he mimicked the fans, by shouting "Elvis" in a high voice.

He continued to adlib until the end of the song, throwing in lines like, "I'm allergic to cats," and "Fahrenheit or Siamese," and telling his shaking legs to, "Cool it, you fools!" Quite the best "crazy" version of "Fever" I've ever heard him do. The lights stayed off at the end of the song for a few seconds longer than usual. From our table in the centre of the showroom, we could detect something large and white moving across the stage. The lights came on again to reveal - a BED!

The audience, already in a state of disarray, went wild! Elvis fell flat onto the bed, and commenced singing "What Now My Love". He turned onto his side, and thumped the pillow, saying in a high squeaky voice, "Where's she gone, where's she gone?" Halfway through the song, Elvis got off the bed, and we applauded as it was rolled offstage. Elvis continued the song, in a remarkably controlled voice. The audience, however, couldn't stop laughing, and for those of us who witnessed that amazing scene, Elvis had ruined forever the "seriousness" of "What Now, My Love"; we'd evermore giggle on hearing that song.

The "Suspicious Minds" introduction began, but Elvis started to sing "Bridge Over Troubled Water", fighting it out with the orchestra, but giving up after a couple of verses. "Hold it, hold it, hold it - hold the show! Just drop everything, everybody fall out!" Charlie Hodge dramatically fell over. Elvis walked over to him, to say, "Bless you, son!" He apologised to us: "I don't really like to do that, but I gotta stick to one song or the other. Let's do 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'."

He fooled around with the lyrics at the start of the tune. Someone called out to interrupt him. "Shut up," intoned Elvis in a deep voice, and the audience's laughter, and the smattering of applause at this, made Elvis forget the words of the song. He stopped singing, and the band took over. They stood up, and sang in unison, and the audience joined in, as Elvis stood, listening. "Oh, that's nice-listen, listen, the Ted Mack Amateur Hour! Very nice. Thank you very much," said Elvis.

The band sat down, and Elvis finished the song, giving it a powerful rendition. Afterwards, he thanked the band for helping out. A good version of "Suspicious Minds" followed, with a few adlibs thrown in, and then Elvis began his introductions. He paused as Charlie began to pick up the sheet music he'd kicked over earlier. "Charlie, you don't have to do that, get someone to come out here, somebody backstage come out and pick the sheet music up. Joe, Sonny, Red, Lamar. . ."

Sonny West and Red West appeared and picked up the sheet music. Elvis, satisfied, got on with the introductions. "OK. Over on the left is Mr. J. D. Sumner and the Stumps-Stamps Quartet. The young ladies up front are the Sweet something-or-other - the Sweet Inspirations. The little girl that does our high-voiced singing is Kathy Westmoreland. On the lead guitar," he said in a deep voice, "is James Burton. On the rhythm guitar is John Wilkinson," he emphasised the name, having got it wrong so many times before.

In a deep drawl he said, "And on the drums is Ronnie Tutt." So the introductions continued, 'til Elvis came to Joe Guercio. "Put that light back on Joe, please. Would you look at that belt! Stand up, Joe, please. It's fantastic!" The usual personalities were in the audience, including actor George Hamilton, Col. Parker, and singer Bobbie Gentry. Elvis enthused over her: "She's opening at the Frontier. Go and see her act, she's a wow!" He introduced his dad, who came onstage, arms raised, to great cheers.

Elvis walked to the front of the stage, to the corner seat between the ramp and the stage, and leant down. "I want you to say hello to Linda, she's a friend. Hello, dear!" And he raised Linda Thompson's arm. The audience applauded - albeit politely - obviously realising who Linda was. "I'd like to sing a song that I hope you like."

A fan yelled out. "Hey, wait a minute now, I'm running this show! I'd like to sing a song that was done by, er, what's-'is-name" - Elvis couldn't bring Richard Harris's name to mind - "It's a great song called, 'My boy'." So beautifully did Elvis sing this song, it was a joy to listen to him; "It's a good song," he told us. "I've saved Charlie Hodge 'til the last, because he's the least! No - because he does this fantastic harmony with me. He's been doing it for thirteen years, and he does it so well, that it's almost like one voice."

And Elvis paid tribute to a somewhat over-looked group member. Elvis' next song was "I Can't Stop Loving You", ending with his usual incredible voice-bending notes. At the start of "American Trilogy" he sang, "look away, Disneyland," and urged the Stamps to: "Sing it, fellas, sing it now, do it!" And he emphasised the word "Disneyland" in their solo verse of the song.

Elvis sang the remainder of the song completely seriously, a marvellous rendition of one of the finest tunes he's ever sung onstage. Oh, what a wonderful moment it was when the flute solo had been played, and the music began to build! The look on Elvis' face was one of total involvement. The applause reflected the audience's appreciation.

Having created a mood of musical perfection, the king launched into "A Big Hunk Of Love", a foot-stomping tune that took us back to the early rockin' days. He took time to tell us, afterwards: "I'd like to say something about the song that we did before, 'American Trilogy'. The guy that plays the flute solo, Jimmy Mullidore, he's played it 144 times and never missed a note. Thank you - stand up, Jimmy. The trumpet players, they've actually split their lips blowing so hard, really. We kid a lot, and have a lot of fun, but we really love to sing and play music and entertain people. That's the name of the game!"

As the applause died down, Elvis said, "I'd like to do a song that's one of my favourites, and I hope you like it." His version of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" was tenderly and beautifully interpreted, so much better than his recorded version-but then, most of his "live" songs are. "This chain that I've got round my neck," he indicated the heavy gold chain, "was given to me last night by the hotel, the Hilton Hotel. It has my initials here, and it's just a favour for doing a third show last night." He hesitated for a moment, and his face became serious. "There's a guy here, that works in the Italian restaurant, his name's Mario" - a smattering of applause - "and these people are getting ready to fire him as soon as I leave, and I don't want him to go, 'cos he needs a job, and I think the Hilton's bigger 'n that." We applauded, a little surprised at Elvis' words. "No disrespect," he concluded, "but just wake up Conrad and tell him about Mario's job, that's all."

He began "Mystery Train", singing it very forcefully, then, as the tune changed to "Tiger Man" Elvis interrupted his musicians to say: "This next song is dedicated to the hierarchy and the staff of the Hilton Hotel." And the king of the Vegas jungle sang "Tiger Man" fiercely. "How Great Thou Art" is the finest song I've heard Elvis do "live", and this was his next selection. Elvis put so much power and sincerity into his singing, that the whole showroom vibrated and you thought the balcony must surely come falling down. This is one song that Elvis never fools around in.

As Elvis ended on his high note, he flung back his arm, and a shower of sweat from his face was beaded in the spotlight. "...Do it again?" he asked. "Yeah!" we encouraged. He repeated the end of the song. "Do it again? I don't care, I'll sing it all night!" He repeated the final verse again, so obviously enjoying himself. "You're very nice," he thanked us.

To our surprise, he began softly singing "Help Me Make It Through The Night", afterwards asking Charlie to bring his chair onstage. Elvis sat down on the blue chair, and tilted his head backward, a look of exhaustion for a moment on his face. "I'd like to tell you a little story." His voice was quiet and intensely serious.

No-one knew what he was going to say; we sat still, expectantly. "There was a man in Florida, he was dying of cancer and he was in a coma; he'd been in a coma for three days, and his wife was sitting up by his side, and on the third morning she lay down beside him and dozed off to sleep, and he felt her as she dozed off to sleep, and at the same time he felt himself starting to die..." The audience was gazing, hypnotised, awe-struck, in silence, at the lone figure seated in the spotlight; it was as though a spell had been cast on us.

Elvis continued: "And he took his notepad from beside the bed, and he wrote, 'Softly as I leave you, long before your arms can beg me stay, for one more hour, for one more day'..." The orchestra had picked up the song, and were playing almost imperceptibly behind Elvis as he spoke the poignant words of this true story: "After all the years, I can't bear the tears to fall, so, softly, softly, I will leave you... there." His voice had become almost a whisper.

"That's all, take it home," he told his musicians, barely waiting for our applause. It took a few moments for us to come out of the spell he'd cast. Then the whole audience stood up, as he sang "Can't Help Falling In Love". He was distributing white scarves as on a conveyor belt, fed by Charlie. At the song's conclusion, he came forward on the ramp. The audience was cheering.

Lamar Fike appeared, and Elvis jumped onto his broad back and rode away offstage, then came back on his own two feet, to the delight of the still wildly applauding crowd. The gold curtain went back up, and Elvis came down the ramp again, giving out scarves and shaking hands.

At length, he turned and ran offstage, his hand rippling the inside of the blue curtain, and he was gone. The mind-blown audience was left to go its separate ways, having been fortunate enough to witness a superlative and inspired performance by Elvis, the world's greatest showman.

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