'Elvis At The International'
FTD CD review
- "Sensational" -
By Piers Beagley
In August 1969 Elvis was bursting with a new enthusiasm and energy. 'In The Ghetto' had just charted #3 in the US and Elvis needed to prove to his first Las Vegas audience that the King could reclaim his crown.
RCA have already released a few CDs from this season and since Elvis rarely changed his set list during this period, do we really need another August show? The answer is an absolute, resounding, YES.
This is a brilliant CD, containing not only one of the very best live versions of 'Suspicious Minds' released so far (my absolute favourite!) but Elvis in fabulous voice and great humour.
This is the 20th FTD release and one of their very best. If you had to choose one Elvis show that you could have witnessed then this, Aug 23rd Midnight show, would have to be near the top of your list. After hearing this I won't be playing 'In Person' again!
Elvis was always on better form for the Las Vegas midnight shows (who could really enjoy performing while people ate dinner?) and there was also no deadline that he had to work to. It is obvious why RCA chose the 24th Dinner show recording for the 'Live In Las Vegas' box-set 69 CD as that performance was smoother and more 'professional' but that also made it more routine and, along with the disappointing audio mix, it also contained a lot of tape hiss. But here everything shines and even the audience response is at just the right level so you can really feel the vibe and excitement of being there.
'Blue Suede Shoes' kicks off the show and you immediately notice the brilliant audio mix that Dennis Ferrante has brought to this concert. Every instrument is beautifully placed. James Burton's and John Wilkinson's guitars are nicely separated while Larry Muhoberac's piano (disgracefully mixed down in the LILV show) and the rhythm section are all just right. The orchestra, horns & backing vocals are mixed perfectly with the band and Elvis' vocal really shines above it all. Elvis sings "You can slander my ass all over the place" and giggles delightfully, so we also know that he is in good humour.
'I Got a Woman' follows with a nice change of phrasing "Don't you Un-Understand" @ 1.50 and the un-rushed 'All Shook Up' is a great version. In '69 Elvis rarely changed the set-list and featured a lot of oldies but he was still playing them with conviction instead of the boredom that would soon seep in. A slight disappointment is that the CD track listing is incorrect as Elvis' 'Welcome' is actually part of track 3 along with 'All Shook Up' so the song listing is one number out from then on.
But what a 'Welcome' it is! An insect obviously flies into the showroom (@ 2.35) and lands on Elvis' suit. "Look on my suit" he laughs, "Just can't get rid of those damn Beetles nowhere man!" Everyone laughs and it soon becomes obvious that it is a cricket. "Don't hurt him" says Charlie while Elvis chases after it! "Come here friend" he jokes before he tries to interview it. "How long you been in this business?" This sets the great humourous vibe of the whole concert.
Elvis sings a beautiful 'Love Me Tender' before putting his guitar on for a rockin' 'Jailhouse Rock/Don't Be Cruel' and a bluesy 'Heartbreak Hotel'. The start of 'Hound Dog' features more fun with Elvis looking her "square in the eye" and Elvis laughing delightfully on "Baby, baby, deeper, deeper"!
Elvis is really enjoying himself and he keeps the whole band hanging on tenterhooks while waiting for him to start the song! 'Memories' was such a great song that it is a shame that Elvis interrupts the song here with a little too much kissin' action - the version on 'Collectors Gold' is much better.
All is forgiven however when Elvis puts on his acoustic guitar before performing a great version of 'Mystery Train/Tiger Man'. James Burton's picking is just fine and John Wilkinson's rhythm guitar (so often muddied in the mix) can really be appreciated as well.
By 1970 Elvis had been asked to cut down the duration of his shows (so the audience got back to their gambling more promptly) but during this first season he liked to tell his version of his life story.
While this night's tale is not quite as interesting as on the bootleg 'Opening Night'* Elvis still talks for nearly 9 minutes. He has a go at his old critics as well as announcing how happy he is to be out of those movie contracts and back performing live again. The cricket that caused him laughter earlier on is also still around. "Hey, come here Jiminy" Elvis laughs!
He then puts on his electric guitar to sing a funky 'Baby What You Want Me To Do'. Elvis sang with a great blues feel in 1969 which is deliciously demonstrated here (and on 'Reconsider Baby') and he is soulfully matched with the call & response from The Sweet Inspirations.
(Right: Images from inside the FTD Digipack)
Del Shannon's 'Runaway' is just fine but an all-time live highlight of Elvis' career, the fabulous 'Reconsider Baby', is next.
Although this was released on the 'Collector's Gold' set the 'Reconsider Baby' audio mix here is a revelation in comparison. It sounds so different it could almost be a different version! Elvis' guitar is back in the mix & James Burton is also highlighted ("Play something James. Put the light on him") along with Elvis' vocals shining bright. Totally spontaneous, the band has to follow Elvis & in the process create some pure magic. While 'Collectors Gold' was a fantastic compile (buy it before it is deleted!) it still had that characteristic 1990 'muffled' CD sound which is also apparent when you compare the 2 versions of this night's 'What'd I Say'.
However the real surprise to me was just how terrible the mix on Elvis' classic 'In Person' LP now sounds. It was such an important album but this CD totally blasts it out if the water. The original 'In Person' album just sounds so pallid with Elvis' voice so low in the mix that he sometimes sounds as if he could be singing from backstage!
This point leads us on to the lovely version of 'Are You Lonesome Tonight?' where Cissy Houston's wailing falsetto is also, at last, mixed back to a good level against Elvis' vocal. Done seriously for a change, 3 nights later Elvis would fall apart with laughter at this point. (That famous 'laughing version' can now be found on 'All Shook Up' FTD if you need it).
The delights continue with 'Yesterday/Hey Jude'. The string section and backing vocals are mixed perfectly along with Larry Muhoberac's piano. Elvis, still having a great night, sings "I'm not half the stud I used to be" and also laughs delightfully at the amazing screams of enthusiasm from the women in the audience. Having acknowledged the importance of The Beatles, Elvis then gave the crowd a real treat proving just how important his re-emergence truly was.
A good version of the recently released, 'In the Ghetto' shows how in touch Elvis was with late 60s politics and Memphis soul (the arrangement would be even better for TTWII). However the real 'shock of the new' was next.
Still not even released Elvis puts his heart and soul into what I believe is the all-time best live version of 'Suspicious Minds'. By 'TTWII' Elvis had already sped up the arrangement far above the pacing of these 1969 shows and this is a totally astounding performance. Elvis announces "A new song I just recorded and it should be out in a week or so. I hope you like it".
To witness such a performance as this before you had even heard the song must have been incredible. After this the low points of his movie period would all be forgotten - Elvis was BACK! The mix here is immaculate with all the individual instruments & orchestra melding into a fantastically powerful performance. Elvis bares his soul and keeps pushing the song, and the band, on & on. He even goes past the dynamic version that has always been rated so highly from "In Person" with yet another extra fade and reprise.
This, along with the nice extended intro and the dynamic mix, makes this one of the recorded highlights of his whole career. The ending slightly falters (the band must have been wondering how long Elvis could possibly continue for!), which maybe explains why it didn't make the 'In Person' album, but after hearing this I promise you will never play that old version again!
You could hardly ask for anymore but Elvis, still panting for breath (and interestingly mixed out of the 'C.G' version), still powers along with the energy-packed 'What'd I Say', again, sounding so much better than on the 'C.G' set with the horns nice & clean and James Burton's guitar ringing like a bell. The band keep playing their heart out while Elvis farewells the crowd. How drained he must have been - What a show.
Elvis sounds incredibly sincere as he says "Thank you very, very, much. I really love it, thank you" as he heads for home with 'Can't Help Falling In Love'. And rounding off this amazingly packed 80 minutes the closing moments even end with Elvis laughing. It gives me goose-bumps just thinking about being there.
Verdict: In the same way that 'TTWII' captured Elvis at his professional live peak this CD perfectly captures so much more… Elvis' newly released energy Elvis' love of performing live Elvis' great humour Elvis' love of life (& wildlife!) A great band A fabulous sound mix The CD cover and inside photos are also one of FTD's best designs so far. What more could we ask for to start the New Year? A big thanks to mixer Dennis Ferrante for his best work so far.
A big thanks to Ernst, Roger & the FTD team for one of their very best.
(*Note - 'Opening Night' life story is now, coincidentally, available on "Crazy - The Funny Side of Elvis Presley")
Reviewed by Piers Beagley
Copyright EIN - 2003
Click here to comment on this review
Do not miss EIN's spotlight on seeing Elvis LIVE in 1969
EIN Copyright 2003
1969 Official BMG/FTD in concert releases
August 21 Midnight Show - Viva Las Vegas BMG 2007 CD2
August 22 Dinner Show - Elvis In Person FTD
August 23 Midnight Show - Elvis At The International FTD
August 24 Dinner Show - Live In Las Vegas BMG box-set CD1
August 26 Midnight Show - All Shook Up FTD
Parts of the following shows have been officially released
August 22 Midnight Show – ‘Today Tomorrow And Forever’ BMG box-set & Collectors Gold
August 24 Midnight Show - In Person & Writing For The King FTD & Platinum box-set
August 25 Dinner Show - In Person & Collectors Gold
August 25 Midnight Show - In Person & Writing For The King FTD
August 26 Dinner Show - In Person & Collectors Gold & Elvis Aron Presley box-set
Go here to the excellent Keith Flynn website for all your Elvis concert recording information