December 1975 saw Elvis performing at his 14th Las Vegas season. There is no doubt that any novelty of these Hilton audiences had worn thin years before and in fact this rare Christmas season was compensation for the earlier August trip that had to be cancelled after just 5 shows with Elvis being rushed to hospital.
Elvis had recuperated and relaxed for the rest of the autumn, Linda Thompson had returned after a brief break, and he had also taken delivery of the Lisa Marie jet in November so things were again looking up. Elvis was definitely in good voice during these concerts and he also seemed to be enjoying being back on stage.
FTD's 'Holiday Season' live double-soundboard features Elvis' Midnight Show from December 13 and a "spliced" December 6 1975 performance.
The shows are ‘soundboard quality’ but FTD note the AUDIO has sonic imperfections as from the original source tape.
The December 13th 1975 Dinner Show was previously out on FTD as 'Dinner At Eight'
The less energy December 14th 1975 show was released on 'Fashion For A King'
Elvis always preferred the Midnight concerts to the Dinner Shows (who would want to sing while everyone rattled their cutlery?) and the bootleg of this December 13 Midnight Show has been available for many years, most recently updated by Gravel Road for their excellent release "Good To Be Back". Linda Thompson and her parents were in the audience and this helped inspire Elvis to put on one of his best Vegas shows.
Since most Elvis collectors will already have a bootleg copy of the Midnight Show it has to be the previously unreleased December 6th concert - spliced from both Dinner & Midnight Shows - that has to be the drawcard here.
Published as a 5" digipack the front includes a sticker stating "Audio Disclaimer, Please be advised that this release contains various audio imperfections due to limitations of original source".
This is the first time FTD have used a sticker apologising for audio quality so you can be sure something's not going to sound right - and unfortunately it is the unreleased December 6th concerts.
Geoffrey McDonnell noted that he received this Holiday Season just in time for Christmas on December 24th 2018, sadly EIN’s copy only turned up two weeks later. .
The usual double digi-pack features a cover photo from Dec 13th M/S (blue Phoenix suit) and inside three pictures from the closing show Dec 15th (white rainfall suit) along with 4 pics from Dec 14th with Elvis wearing the white bi-centennial suit.
Inside the cover, behind the CD holder the two pictures come from 13th Dec Dinner Show with Elvis wearing his 1975 Gypsy suit. Annoyingly these are the same images used in the 2002 FTD 'Dinner At Eight'
There is the basic tracklisting and a note stating that DISC 2 is "Start through middle of Polk Salad Annie is Dinner Show and the rest Midnight Show".
The fact that two tracks have also been fixed up using a concert from the previous year 1974 is inexcusably not mentioned.
Audio Quality DISC 1 - There has always been an audio issue with the soundboard recording of the December 13 Midnight Show. While it has a good audio mix, and was recorded Reel-2-Reel and not cassette, sadly Elvis' enthusiasm pushed his microphone into distortion during most "loud" songs.
Gravel Road's 2011 release was the best audio quality so far released with the unavoidable distortion cleaned up as best as possible.
Here FTD seem to have used the RAW tape and mastered it too loudly without enough care to help fix the audio problems. The overblown distortion during 'How Great Thou Art' highlights the problem.
Since the FTD release a large number of collectors have confirmed that they prefer the Gravel Road version.
DISC 1 - Midnight Show December 13 - 75 minutes (expanded 'Good To Be Back' review)
The CD kicks off with a jump-cut into "Oh, see, C.C.Rider" and Elvis is already powering through the first song, the audio is a great mix with James Burton's cutting guitar and Glen Hardin playing a cool organ in the mix. It is a great start and you know you are up for a rockin-night-out.
The screams of the audience are nicely placed in the mix - sometimes missing in soundboards- and help give even more of an air of excitement.
Right from the start Elvis and the band are really rocking out - several notches up from the earlier Dinner Show.
Ronnie Tutt's drumming is total dynamite all the way through, even leading Elvis to comment after 'C C Rider', "What happened to the drummer, did you drink some gatorade between shows? That's the hardest you've ever played.. Did you decide to go crazy?"
'I Got A Woman' that follows also has far more energy and excitement than most of these later Elvis shows.
It was a Saturday Night and Elvis sure was back!
Elvis is in a great mood and jokes about the stage lighting, "The lighting is cutting me from the waist up. It's the same guy who worked on the Ed Sullivan Show! You ain't kiddin' me!"
The audio mix for a soundboard is excellent. James Burton's guitar is nice and clear as is Elvis' vocal, the rhythm section pushes the show along and the placing of the orchestra is excellent. The Sweet Inspirations are also deliciously prominent at times, like in the cracking version of 'Burning Love' giving the show a very soulful sound - it's a great version.
Before 'Love Me' Elvis puts on a super large pair of spectacles with windscreen-wipers and jokes "Elton John!" The audience and the band are all caught up in Elvis' positive energy.
Elvis adds a super-power ending to 'Love Me' (that was so often thrown away) and continues to a sincere and funky 'Tryin' To Get To You'.
Unfortunately the tape gets overloaded at times - due to Elvis putting in so much energy! - which causes some peak distortion.
'And I Love You So' is also treated with a real sincerity and is one of Elvis' most beautiful performances with a real touching emotion to his vocal. (great audio mix)
Most collectors will already have a copy of this sensational show in their collection so I won't take you through every song, but suffice it to say that Elvis put together a fantastic song set that includes so many top notch performances, 'Just Pretend', 'How Great Thou Art', 'Softly As I Leave You', 'America', 'It's Now Or Never', and 'Little Sister'.
Both 'America' and 'Softly As I Leave You' would be taken from this tape to be released as B-sides of RCA singles ('My Way' and 'Unchained Melody') after Elvis' death.
'Help Me Make It Through The Night' "A request for Mr and Mrs Thompson" is another rare performance only sung on this day due to Linda Thompson's parents being in the audience. Elvis had only performed the song seven times since 1973 and again would only sing it another four times in his career.
With the show being taped on Reel-2-Reel the Jerry Scheff bass line on 'Polk Salad Annie' helps drive a really punchy version that can rattle your speakers and is a really powerful version for 1975. Afterwards Elvis unsurprisingly notes, "God, I was afraid the suit was going to go!"
One of my favorite parts of the show is the reprise of 'School Days' (from The Introductions). Yes, that's right, I said 'School Days'. What makes it one of my favorite moments is not the song itself, but that Elvis asks Joe Guercio to reprise the end and to "feature Tony" (the orchestra's electric guitarist) because his parents were in the audience. Elvis says, "Hey Joe, do you mind doin' that last part again and featuring Tony on the guitar? His mother and father are out there." Of course Joe agrees, and Tony goes nuts on the reprise! I can only imagine that his parents were thrilled. It was a very nice and giving gesture by Elvis, one that reminds me of his generous spirit.
(Rather oddly 'School Days' and other songs within the introduction are not listed on this FTD)
While we all know the fabulous song 'Just Pretend' from the 1970 film TTWII it is interesting to note that Elvis only performed the song twice in 1970 (August 11 and 12th) and then only 4 more times, the last time being in 1972. It was innovative for Elvis putting it back into the set-list for this 1975 season. Strangely Elvis also only sang the song at the Dinner or the Midnight show, never at both.
This night's version, with a great sound mix, is marvellous and yet Elvis would only sing it two more times in his career.
Just listen for the beautiful, "Well I walked away, oh Lordy, I heard you say, if you need me you know what to do".
One of the very best. (sadly noting that Elvis’ microphone does distort a few times)
After 'Burning Love' Elvis genuinely asks the audience, "Is there anything you'd like to hear, specially?"
Interestingly this leads Elvis to sing 'Welcome To My World' (after the usual throwaway 'Hound Dog') but unfortunately after a quick rehearsal Elvis stops after the first verse, "That's all". This would be the only time Elvis would sing the song outside the two Aloha performances.
Again I think this fascinating curiosity should have been noted in the FTD tracklist.
Another very rare oddity is that after the "regular" version of 'It's Now Or Never' (sadly with too much distortion) Elvis would then ask for the Italian lyrics from Sherrill Nielsen and go on to perform 'O Sole Mio' singing the lyrics in Italian.
The excellent website 'Elvis Presley In Concert' suggests that Elvis only did this 4 times in his career.
'Little Sister' would be another real bonus this night with Elvis treating it with a rare passion. Elvis only sang it four times this Vegas season (the first time the previous night) and it is a surprise to find that he had only performed it twice since 1972 before this Holiday Season. It's a great version with fine James Burton guitar.
The other big moment is when Elvis sings 'How Great Thou Art'. It is certainly one of the best live performance Elvis ever gave of this song! Not only does he sing it with passion, but he also hits and holds the high note at the end, all by himself. The backup singers get nowhere close to matching his note! And on the reprise, he hits again....all by himself.
I've listened to it hundreds of times over the years, and still to this day, it gives me goose bumps to hear it.
Sadly the terrible peak audio distortion makes it truly unlistenable on the loud passages.
A notable positive for this Las Vegas season is that Elvis left both the Olivia Newton John songs out of his set-list which helped create a much punchier rock'n'roll flow to the whole concert.
At the end, after a heartfelt thanks to his musician and engineers Elvis notes, "If we don't see you for a while have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and Thank You and God Bless you"
75 minutes of Pure Elvis Joy! -
Essential for any Elvis collection.
DISC 2: December 6th 1975 - 59 Minutes
Pretty quickly you note that the sound quality is very dull. Compared to the first disc it sounds as if Elvis has been recorded through a sock. It sounds flat, muffled and with no dynamic range, it is not good.
The set kicks off with 'C.C.Rider', a rockin version and with the sound of a big auditorium crowd. It is very fine until you discover it is actually from Elvis' 1974 Omaha June 30th Evening concert (wtf? and not noted on the FTD sleeve) before a splice halfway through (at the guitar solo) after which Elvis then sounds a bit more slurry. December 6th was the fifth night of the series and the first Saturday Night of the Las Vegas season.
Afterwards Elvis comments, "Are those lights brighter than they were earlier tonight? God, they are bright. The light-man has gone completely nuts up here, you know that? All right. I'm making a flash bulb, you know!''
Elvis sounds muffled and a bit stoned and so lacks the energy that poured from the later December 13th Midnight Show.
'I Got a Woman / Amen' with JD Sumner bass-routine twice is sadly lackluster. Compared to the following Saturday Night performance on Disc 1 Elvis' batteries are running on low.
Elvis says "Good Morning, Good Evening, whatever it is! What is it, morning? God, I'm not used to these hours." For someone in their 14th season in Las Vegas doing a performance at 9pm this sounds ridiculous.
Elvis then rambles some more, "Two shows a night they just blown a fuse!'' and then gets annoyed with a fan, ''Honey just stay cool. I'll be over in a few minutes god-damn it!" This definitely has a touch of the 1974 over-emotional “Desert Storm”.
After noting, "It's Saturday Night and we just got paid!'' - obviously referencing 'Rip It Up' he kicks in to a very lame 'Love Me' only memorable for a fan passing Elvis a large Hamburger. Unlike the concert on DISC 1 it sounds as if the band is dragging Elvis along. Still sounding sleepy and slurry you only hope it has to improve.
'Fairytale' - performed at around half the shows on the season - is not too bad because at last it contains a spark of fire from Elvis, perhaps he was finally waking up.
Afterwards there is a 30 second distraction, "Do you want to get rid of this stuff? Let's hear it for the broom" with an instrumental helping Charlie Hodge apparently clearing up some mess. "Damn Clown" Elvis jokes.
'And I Love You So' follows - already released on 'Live In Las Vegas' box-set disc 4 - which is 'passable' compared to other better versions released.
'Trying To Get To You' "A song I recorded a long time ago but we've been doing it a lot lately" features Elvis trying to push the vocal but the mic sounds echoey & distant and, seemingly struggling against his tiredness, he has done better versions.
'All Shook Up / Teddy Bear / Don't Be Cruel' are all 'usual' throwaway versions with Elvis distracted. Afterwards Elvis still sounding unfocussed discusses a fan's chain with some teeth on it! One wonders what the crowd thought!
'One Night' Elvis suggests, - a song he last performed back in 1972 and a chance to save the concert - but sadly it is just "so-so" with Elvis still distracted and missing words. On a positive Elvis asks the band to do the bridge again but then jokes, ''Oh, something's wrong with John'' interrupting the feeling.
Then with 'Polk Salad Annie' we get a few seconds before the sound image changes and it is back to the Omaha 30th June 74 Afternoon version. It is all too obviously Duke Bardwell on bass and not Jerry Scheff. What were FTD thinking? Different year, different venue, different band? wft. Ludicrous.
Then we move to The Introductions with the rest of the CD taken from the 6th Dec 75 Midnight Show!
It is immediately noticeable that Elvis is suddenly less slurry, awake and far more with it and everything he sings is much better. (sadly the sound is still very muffled).
The intros - a long 9 minutes - are standard December 75 fare but at least "My manager Col Tom Parker" his wife, as well as Lisa Marie "seven years old - What are you doing Kid? That's enough!" and Vernon are all introduced.
Finally a good quality and very measured performance of 'Just Pretend' is the first interesting song featured so far, another lovely version
('Just Pretend', 'How Great Thou Art' and 'America' were also all previously featured on 'Live in Las Vegas' box-set disc 4 so keen collectors will alreday own these)
'How Great Thou Art' is another excellent version, without the distortion of DISC 1 but unfortunately more muffled.
Obviously touched by the loving audience response Elvis again reprises the last part.
'Burning Love' is previously unreleased and a decent version but again the audio lets it down compared to other versions we have.
'Softly As I Leave You' is a beautiful version but crazily FTD have edited the start of the track to the beginning of the verse and not the song's all important Elvis "Dying, he took a notepad from beside the bed..." introduction. another wft?
'America' is fine, if muffled, and afterwards Elvis quickly notes, "You're a fantastic audience. Thank you very much" and straight in to 'Can't Help Falling in Love.'
There is no energy and excitement of the following Saturday night.
The problem with this spliced release is that a) The best 4 songs have been previously released, b) The audio is pretty poor, c) Editing in 1974 on-tour songs as a fix-up is not the same using alternate Dec 75 tracks. Elvis even had different band members! d) From previous audience recordings we know that this spliced concert also missed other highlights such as Elvis' Charlie Pride introduction, 'Sweet Caroline' and where was 'Blue Christmas' - after all this was supposed to be a Christmas FTD release.
Overall Verdict: If you don't already own a copy of Elvis' very fine December 13th Midnight performance then this FTD 'two-for-one' is an essential purchase. However it is hard to believe that there are any FTD collectors would not own a bootleg version and this time it is the Gravel Road 2011 bootleg 'Good To Be Back' that is the better release (with its brilliant booklet of Elvis live in 1975 photos).
The previously unreleased low-energy ramble of Elvis performing on December 6th will add nothing new to anyone's collection except the sad fact that the Dinner Show was such a poor performance.
While EIN always tries to find the positive in FTD's releases - and again this is a two-fer-one double soundboard - unfortunately this is only a "so-so" release and non-essential unless you do not own the often bootlegged December 13th Midnight performance.
Review by Geoffrey McDonnell / Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN January 2019
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