Review By Piers Beagley
There is no doubt that Elvis' fourth tour of 1974 was one of the low points of his career. His opening show in College Park (Sept 27th) is often noted as being Elvis' worst concert of all time!
However this show from South Bend, October 1st is better than expected and Elvis even performs a spontaneous 'Steamroller Blues' as a crowd request.
To quote guitarist John Wilkinson, "He was slurring. It was obvious there was something terribly wrong with his body. It was so bad the words to the songs were barely intelligible. College Park let us know that they wouldn't have him back. We were in a state of shock. Joe Guercio said, 'He's finished..', I remember crying".
Luckily Elvis recovered enough to put on a good performance 3 days later at South Bend on Sept 30th. The local Tribune newspaper in their review "Elvis still sings from gut" said "Presley has lost none of his sexual grace. . . And he can sing the blues. He shouts and sights them with emotion, singing about love and bad times and suffering the way so may other singers try but never quite carry off."
The embarrassment of the second, slightly better, College Park show has been available on bootleg for several years so it was with trepidation that I played this new CD from South Bend, October 1st. However with so many soundboards available surely FTD must have had a reason to put out a show from this troubled tour and I'm happy to report that things really weren't as bad as they might have been.
At times Elvis seems to struggle a little as his voice wavers but aagin he also seems to enjoy playing with the melody of his most regular songs.
While the 'See See Rider' that started the College Park concert shows Elvis sounding sedated and struggling badly, here Elvis is pushing the song along and his voice sounds fine. He's even showing off a little! "C'mon baby" he shouts as Ronnie Tutt cranks up the drums.
This is Elvis in a very different state of mind from the previous concerts. Elvis is actually in an unusual mischievous mood, laughing and teasing the crowd. He doesn't ramble on as he did in the previous Las Vegas season and is having some fun. He even mentions the previous night's review that he has obviously read.
Jokingly Elvis quotes to the crowd " 'Elvis sings from the gut.' The guy that wrote that article ain't kidding!" While his voice does seem a little breathless at times there is no doubt that the show would have been a fun affair to witness.
By 1974 Elvis was tired of the regular Las Vegas casino crowd and it's great to hear him work with the roar of the larger audience of 12,301. Elvis' playful humour shows at the start when he says "If you give me a little time I will make the rounds - back there, & up there, & up in the ceiling - Where ever I can go but don't start yelling songs at me." At this point someone immediately yells out a song title. "Hey, shut up man. C'mon!" Elvis laughs.
While the tracklist is similar to the 'It's Midnight' FTD CD there are some fun moments and the sound is improved. The odd Las Vegas echo that featured on 'It's Midnight' isn't present and Elvis' voice is higher in the mix.
Although not a 'classic concert' there are enough highlights and while some of the oldies are given their usual treatment Elvis does, for instance, seem more interested in 'Blue Suede Shoes' than normal.
On his new single 'It's Midnight' Elvis sounds very sincere with his voice (high in the mix) beautifully blending with Kathy Westmoreland's. There is a great moment when he impassions, "Lord, but it's Midnight, oh by God, and I Miss you."
'Big Boss Man' gets a good workout, while Elvis' humour shows on an extended 'Fever' intro. As a woman grabs for him he says "Honey it's dark up here. Wait a minute! Whooaaa, you grab the wrong thing and I'm in trouble!" The appreciative audience laughs out loud as Elvis says "I'm gonna' limp off stage and disappear"!
While we all wonder what Duke Bardwell was doing playing bass for the world's greatest rock n' roll star - his playing & solos were always so lame - tonight Elvis was thinking the same thing! On a charming 'Love Me Tender' Elvis embarrassingly comments "Duke, you're out of key!"
'Bridge over Troubled Water' was no longer a regular of Elvis' set and so it's nice to have another '74 version. Elvis says himself "I hope that we can do a good version", which it is.
Elvis' good mood again shows when Glen Hardin's piano solo moves Elvis to rock through a fun 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy'.
'Let Me Be There' (which was so awful in College Park) shows how much better Elvis was this night. He sings his heart out and at the end says, "Ok, I like That", before kicking off a reprise and at the end he again laughs, "Thank you, that's fun."
'You Gave Me A Mountain' is very heartfelt and also unusual with Elvis half speaking the words helping to emphasise the loneliness of the words. Elvis sure sounds like he means it when he says, "She took my one, my one ray of sunshine. She took my pride and my joy. She took my reason for living - God, she took my small baby boy." I wonder who he could be referring to??!!
The really nice touch, and the show stealer, happens just as Elvis is about to close the show when someone shouts out for 'Steamroller Blues'. Elvis sounds inspired "Do you wanna hear Steamroller? Hot damn, we'll lay it on you". A real rarity from this period in 1974, 'Steamroller' gets a great funky workout and is an excellent closer. (What a shame he didn't include 'Promised Land' this night!)
'Can't help Falling in love' finishes the concert but not the CD as we get the treat of three bonus tracks.
Two of them actually being from the disastrous College Park shows! 'Alright, Okay, You Win' is a new Elvis song for us, recorded in Detroit, 29th Sept. While basically a jam with Glen Hardin on piano, Elvis' version of this old Peggy Lee ('Fever') song it is a great addition but it sadly fades out before ending.
The final tracks are a spontaneous 'Blue Christmas' and slow and cool 'Trying to Get to You' from the rambling College Park show. Nicely edited together, some of Elvis' talking has been left in where he tries to tell the crowd that the band doesn't know 'Jailhouse Rock'!
Maybe Elvis was right and was just referring to newer band member Duke Bardwell, but really this is a just a hint of the hopelessness of those 2 shows.
Interestingly sleeve design has caused as much controversy on first viewing as the musical contents. However with the insert photos, unusual Dragon jumpsuit that Elvis was wearing, plus a ticket stub from the night, it actually is a nice, if unusual, design. At least it looks a little different!
There is no doubt that if this CD was released as a bootleg we would all be queuing up to buy it! Ernst has stated that FTD's policy is to try and release one concert from each of Elvis' tours & hotel seasons. With 30 Tours plus 15 Las Vegas and 5 Lake Tahoe seasons I reckon that we have another 37 live, official, Elvis CDs before FTD's work is complete. A nd surely the very last FTD CD has to be the June 26th 1977 soundboard!
Verdict: While this CD will have it's detractors (Elvis certainly isn't as dynamic as his pre 1973 shows of course) it is a great quality soundboard & not an audience recording. Elvis sounds tired at times but as a representation of Elvis' September Tour it is a pretty good concert which, when placed in historical context, is just fine to listen to. This could never be an essential FTD concert release, But if there are 37 more to go.. keep 'em coming!
Review by Piers Beagley
Click here to find out how good Elvis was in concert back at the start of 1974, with FTD's release 'I Found My Thrill.'
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