Another live soundboard 5” double-digipack FTD release this time focussing on Elvis' short Tour of California which went from May 10 to May 13. CD1 features a combination of May 10 San Bernardino Opening Show / Fresno May 12 show while the second CD features May 13 San Bernardino Closing Show.
In 1974 Elvis focused on a hard touring schedule and never once went into a recording studio.
Elvis would play 154 concerts and on his first tour in March the excitement would build as he headed towards the Memphis March 20th Closing Show that would be officially recorded for release by RCA.
March 1974 was Elvis' ninth tour of the USA, playing twenty-five shows in under 3 weeks with Elvis in fine form and putting on great performances.
After a 6-week rest the short four-day Tour 10 would take Elvis to California.
Even with so many concerts under-his-belt Elvis still wanted to put on strong shows and flew to L.A. on May 6th to prepare for this new tour, presumably to also rehearse ‘Big Boss Man’ which would be added as the surprise final number to his new shows
In 1974 Elvis added the new songs 'Help Me', 'Let Me Be There' and ‘Why Me Lord’ to his regular set-list plus the old SUN classic ‘Trying To Get To You’ and not only that but Elvis started working on that old 'Polk Salad' again having left it off the set-list for the whole of 1973!
On this tour Elvis added 'Big Boss Man' which he would then keep performing through to 1977. With 'Steamroller Blues', 'Suspicious Minds', 'I Can't Stop Loving You' and 'An American Trilogy' also in the mix, the set-list was a truly solid selection.
ELVIS In California - May 1974: by Geoffrey Mc Donnell / Piers Beagley
While Elvis would start his emotional roller-coaster ride after summer 1974, on these early tours Elvis was on great form. The local newspaper review of the San Bernardino May 10th opening show included ….
"Everyone loved Elvis last night. Even the folks in sardine heaven... They love Elvis.
Elvis Presley sang and women screamed. That's the point.
Backed by a flawless orchestra Elvis gave his usual slick supper club performance. It hums right along as Elvis belts out one quick number after another.
Presley, bathed in colored floodlights that made the blue sequins of his white jumpsuit glisten, started his show quickly with a highly stylized version of "C.C. Rider."
He shot the words of that rocker at the audience so rapidly and deeply that each phrase sounded like one word. And the crowd went nuts.
When he wanted to spend his voice lavishly on a song, as in his rendition of "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me," it was obvious that this man can sing.
One song seemed particularly appropriate for the magnetic entertainer - James Taylor's "Steamroller Blues."
"I'm steam roller, baby, I'm gonna roll all over you," he sang. And he did.
Above all Elvis Presley knows what the faithful want and he bowls them over with his style.
That's why he was a sellout at the Swing last night, will be on Monday night when he returns, and sells out wherever he performs.
"I'm a cement mixer, baby," he snarls at the screamers, "a churning urn of burning funk."
The fold out 5" Digi-pack The digipack features six pictures of Elvis on stage. Three of
Elvis in his Blue Rainbow suit that he wore at the for the Fresno show and three of his Turquoise Phoenix suit from San Bernardino.
Candid photos also show Elvis arriving in San Bernardino with Linda Thompson and also with Sonny West in his Turquoise Phoenix jump-suit.
Elvis looks focused and happy to be on stage in all of them.
This short May 1974 tour featured 5 performances from Elvis before he kicked off his third Lake Tahoe season. FTD notes on the sleeve that unfortunately only the end of the San Bernardino Opening Show was recorded.
This means that we don’t get to hear ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’ or ‘The Wonder of You’ however these were also included at his Lake Tahoe season (FTD’s ‘Lake Tahoe 74’ double pack was a fine collection) so that isn’t such a loss.
Elvis’ 1974 ‘Live On Stage In Memphis’ album wasn’t released until July and Elvis’ set-list had changed a fair bit since his famous Aloha show. With a mix of fifties oldies, classics hits, new material (‘Help Me’ was released the week before) and some nice surprises ('Big Boss Man') fans would have truly enjoyed these shows. So while there is nothing particularly surprising for collectors in this FTD double-set, both shows are solid performances of a fine set-list and there is no doubt that had you been at either show you would have been impressed by Elvis on tour.
The best known concert of this tour would be the LA Forum Evening Show on May 11th when Led Zeppellin were in the audience. This concert was released by FTD back in 2007 and while a decent show it was taken from a rather muffled cassette recording and the mastering was too-slow giving the concert a rather dragging feel.
At the time our EIN review noted the two bonus songs were "taken from the better sound quality San Bernardino show" and luckily we now get to hear both those San Bernardino concerts, as well as 17 songs from his Fresno concert on May 12th. And best of all, they are all previously unreleased concerts.
AUDIO QUALITY: The really good news is that these three shows all feature a huge leap up in audio quality from the very thin-sounding cassette of the famous L.A. Forum performance.
Coming from well-mixed soundboards and mastered by Jan Eliasson these shows have a great soundboard quality (albeit with a little buzz at times) with a good focus on the rhythm section of Duke Bardwell and Ronnie Tutt and can be played loud. The audio quality helps capture the feel of the whole band on stage and deserve more repeat plays than the dull sounding ‘LIVE in LA’.
(Note: Lene Reidel mastered ‘LIVE in LA’ at an obviously all-too-slow speed which sucked the life out of what should have been a powerful show. Also worth noting is that the San Bernardino concerts here by Jan Eliasson sound vastly improved from the two tracks previously included on ‘LIVE in LA’)
Looking at each concert in detail...
DISC 1: Fresno 12th May 1974 + San Bernardino May 10th - 61 mins
The inlay side of the cover shows Elvis arriving for the first show with Linda Thompson and that is always a good sign.
See See Rider starts part way through and immediately you note that the sound is a very “bassy” with Duke Bardwell’s bass-lines prominent as well as accentuating sounds like J.D. Sumner. Ronnie Tutt’s drums are also nice and clear which gives the soundboard an interesting focus on the rhythm section throughout the show.
Being an Afternoon Show Elvis would never been rocking from the start and he sounds a little like he just got out of bed - but he isn’t slurry and soon gets involved. After a ‘very ordinary’ I Got a Woman/Amen Elvis says “Good Afternoon” (joking that he was happy to be back in ‘San Fresno’).
Love Me is routine until Elvis feels the enthusiasm of the crowd and very unusually decides to repeat the last line - “I’d like to do that last part of the song again” so fans could appreciate JD’s deep-bass ending.
Trying to Get to You “a song I recorded when I was a mere child” shows some effort from Elvis and is an ‘ok’ version.
Elvis then becomes more focused putting some energy into a fair version of All Shook Up.
Teddy Bear/ Don’t be Cruel “put a scarf around my neck” are thrown-away as crowd pleasers. However the audio mix is fine and you can hear The Sweets clapping along.
Love Me Tender is a routine version before the concert kicks up a gear with Steamroller Blues the first highlight. The mix is fine, Tutt provides some tight drumming matching Duke on bass, The Sweets add some soul and Elvis feels the burning-funk. It’s a great mix for a soundboard and you can play it loud.
Afterwards Elvis says, “My drummer broke his drum. We’ll have to wait a minute. Honey I’ll be over there, we’ll make the rounds.. ”
Hound Dog is the usual fast ‘throwaway’ version but the good audio-mix adds something extra to Fever with nice high-hat, finger-snaps, open bass-work and cool audience shrieks of enjoyment.
Elvis notes, “You’re a very good audience” before rockin’ out with some Polk Salad Annie. Again the audio-mix captures the excitement and right in the middle at the “Play It James” break Duke Bardwell and Ronnie Tutt start working out together adding an extra punch. At the end Elvis rocks out with his karate moves pushing to an extended ending. ”Go, go, go, go, go” shriek The Sweets in approval.
Elvis had definitely woken up by now and walks around to get his breath back.
(PS Note: EIN reader Darren B rightly points out that there is a 1 second 'hole' at the end of Polk Salad @3:33 that could have esily been covered up and really spoils the energetic Elvis power at the end of the song. Why Jan Eliasson let this go through I have no idea as other labels would have easily fixed this fault)
Why Me Lord is a lovely version, one of the very best, performed 100% sincerely with no kidding around with J.D plus Elvis and Kathy Westmoreland’s voice at the end really adding some extra emotion to it.
Elvis honestly comments, “I like that. It was really out of sight. Let’s do the last part again, I like it”, before a lovely reprise. Listen out for Elvis humming the melody to start the band.
Elvis thanks the audience for their rapturous applause and adds, “JD, Stamps. That was fantastic!”
Compared to the classic 1969 / 70 versions Suspicious Minds is fairly routine although you can tell Elvis is still enjoying performing his all-time classic for the crowd and Ronnie Tutt keeps the energy high.
Introductions next are thankfully brief and only different because Elvis jokingly introduces “Glen Campbell” on the Piano. Elvis also notes his new vocal group from Nashville ‘Voice’ has been with him for six months.
Afterwards Elvis leads into his next song by saying “you know what I can’t do?”...
I Can’t Stop Loving You a real regular of Elvis’ set-list cannot be a patch on the earlier versions and after saying “Lord, I dread it” as he approaches the big finale, his ending is surprisingly ordinary. Elvis would basically drop this song after his June 1974 concerts but would include it on his very final concert.
“A song we just recorded and should be out this week sometime, I hope you like it” - Help Me is another concert highlight because of its sincerity and is a truly delicate and beautiful version. “Come down from Your golden throne, to me, to lowly me, I need to feel the touch of Your tender hand” - the fine audio mix also helps add a nice emotional closeness.
An American Trilogy is another decent version with the vocals up-front and clean orchestra / Stamps mix plus the prominent flute solo. Sung without the all-too-often goofing around and a great power-ending - “Whoo” - it truly impresses the Fresno crowd.
(Rather strangely FTD list 'An American Trilogy' incorrectly as 'American Trilogy' of the cover of this set)
Next we have a very minor sound change as we cut to the end of the San Bernardino 10th May Opening Show starting with Let Me Be Their (with reprise). Again the soundboard mix is impressive and the song nicely performed.
Afterwards Elvis gets the house-lights turned up, “Believe or not this is the first time I’ve seen you as the spotlights blind me”
A cool Funny How Time Slips Away follows, with a quip about “Never know when I’ll be back in town - Monday night I think!”, but this time without the listen-to-the-bass-line reprise.
Big Boss Man is Elvis’ very first on-stage version and a treat. Taken at a slower pace than usual it gets a longer intro and obviously the band are feeling their way with this new song. It’s only after a minute that it all starts to gell with Elvis kicking along the group “Oh, yeah” and some fine chickin’ pickin’ from James Burton. The ending isn’t yet perfected and so fizzes out without the later J.D type bass-ending.
After quickly noting, “You’ve been a fantastic audience and until the next time in San Bernardino” it’s a usual Can’t Help Falling in Love.
Overall a decent, solid show in good sound quality and with no messed-around performances.
DISC 2: San Bernardino 13th May 1974 Evening Show - 60 mins
A complete See See Rider opens this recording but with no 2001 theme and similar in the sound image to the 12th, but maybe not quite as bassy and with the backing vocalists quite prominent.
This is an Evening performance, as well as the Closing Show of this very short tour, so Elvis will definitely be more up for it from the beginning.
After a smooth start Elvis asks "how many people were here the other night? - ok three!” …showing that Elvis was in a good mood for this show.
I Got a Woman/Amen is fine, short-and-sweet with just the one J.D. bass-ending, “Outta sight”.
Elvis good mood shows as he jokes, “It’s a pleasure to be back here in San Diego… ah.. San Bernardino”.
Love Me is routine while Trying To Get To You that follows ups the interest with Elvis putting in some energy.
The crowd pleasing fifties oldies All Shook Up, Teddy Bear /Don’t be Cruel and Love Me Tender are all pretty forgettable tonight even if the crowd laps them up.
Steamroller Blues adds the required punch while not feeling as strong as at Fresno from the previous day.
Hound Dog however is a sloppy version and almost grinds to a stop after only 30 seconds.
Fever again feels better due to the sound mix and with some cool bongos keeping the beat.
Polk Salad Annie is more routine than at Fresno, although again Elvis obviously throws in some karate action at the end. Afterwards he jokes that, “I will straighten my legs back out after that one”.
Why Me Lord again is a straight and worthy version with the earned reprise featuring Kathy’s vocal.
Suspicious Minds is again an average 1974 version, “Hey, hey, Hey”!
The Introductions are routine except with Elvis stammering over his words joking that, “I also speak Russian” while also noting that “I met Charlie Hodge in the army, he was walking under a tank” and that he found VOICE “under a greyhound bus”!
I Can’t Stop Loving You, also including the “Lord, I dread it” comment, has a slightly better end than the previous day.
Help Me - “A new recording, out this week sometime” is again very sincere and a concert highlight.
Perhaps feeling in a more relaxed mood as it was the last concert of the tour An American Trilogy unfortunately becomes a ‘Disneyland’ version and joking mock high “sing it” voice which is a pity as the ending is very passionate. No doubt that the audience lapped it up.
Let Me Be There is with the usual reprise and J.D’s ending is strong.
On this final show a fine Funny How Time Slips Away gets the usual reprise ending featuring J. D’s deep bass slide. After this Elvis says that “Lord have Mercy. I tell you what J.D, you might have been wrong for so long but you were right tonight!”
Big Boss Man is their fifth live version - “More backbeat” notes Elvis – but it still feels very new. It features slightly different backing-vocals and at the 2 minute mark the band thinks the song is ending but then Elvis kicks in with a new verse.
Elvis thanks the crowd, “It’s been a pleasure working for you. If we’ve done anything to make you happy then we feel we’ve done our job. Thank you very much, adios”
Elvis then closes with Can’t Help Falling in Love (cut slightly short) as the tape ran out.
This again was a good show but with Elvis being a little too relaxed this caused him to take some songs less seriously - which shows up listening back to a recording 46 years later but I am sure would have been a blast had you had been in the crowd. Overall the Fresno / San Bernardino show is better on repeat listening.
Overall Verdict: Early 1974 found Elvis On Tour on good form, so while these shows (in comparison to already released early 1974 performances) could be seen as ‘non-essential’ they do fill in the gaps for serious collectors and the audio mix for soundboards is quite fine. These combined concerts honestly capture the energy of this short MAY tour compared to the all-too-slow FTD ‘Live In LA’. Elvis was in a good state of mind, as he was when he next performed a few days later at Lake Tahoe . So this two-for-one is great for completists and collectors but also features decent shows with Elvis performing well and with a good audio mix. Keep bringing us more unheard concerts - thanks FTD.
Review by Geoffrey McDonnell / Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN April 2020
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