A slew of 1969 Vegas shows have been released by FTD in recent years - with the latest escape - HOT AUGUST NIGHT featuring the motherlode -- the entire August 25 Midnight show.
Elvis' record label, RCA Victor captured lightning in a bottle with seven of the performances selected for the famed IN PERSON Album (See tracklist below). But here, listening to them in context as part of the complete performance, it definitely strikes the listener as a more rewarding experience to hear the whole stunning concert as performed by Elvis and his band on stage that special night.
This FTD presents for the very first time the all-important August 25th Monday night, Midnight performance. This concert provided over half the tracks for RCA's live 'In Person' original release. While not quite as loose as Elvis' previous Saturday Midnight show (FTD 'At The International' - with 'Reconsider Baby' as a stand-out addition) Elvis and the band are bursting full of energy and while in great humour (Elvis gets the giggles a fair bit) there are very few songs that Elvis deliberately mucks around with.
This concert truly deserves the full-size "Classic Album" 7" presentation.
The fabulous cover shot (above) captures the excitement of the night, as do the other live photos throughout the 12-page booklet.
Care has been taken not to use well-known photos but alternate shots and the cover of the booklet (right) is sensational (OK, it has been previously seen in the legacy "On Stage" release but it is full-size here).
The overall design is first-rate and I love the image used on the back-cover as well. see below.
Similarly the other press conference photos and memorabilia, Showroom menu etc, help set-the scene.
Nice to see the RCA press release noting,
"On July 31, 1969, a tall, rangy, handsome, and gifted singer-actor-performer will make his first appearance before a live audience in more than a decade when he steps on to the stage of the new International Hotel in Las Vegas.
His name is Elvis Presley... "
One complaint has to be that FTD has once again got the tracklisting numbering incorrect on the sleeve (and printed on the CD) - how odd that they also did this with the 'At The International' release. Both 'Love Me Tender' and 'Jailhouse Rock/Don't Be Cruel' are listed as track 5, so the order compared to the actual CD is incorrect from then on.
Nice to see EIN's good friends Joan & Paul Gansky as well as "Elvis Vegas:69" author Ken Sharp thanked in the sleeve notes.
Some cool Press Conference images from the FTD booklet
From the very start, with the audience applause, you know this is going to be an expanded, full version compared to the 'In Person' compilation. Here 'Blue Suede Shoes' has the full extended intro (edited down for the original release) as Elvis walks back & forth across the stage greeting his fans - before his vocal kicks in, "Well, it's one for the money.." Thankfully that the fake applause added to the 'In Person' version of the same 'Blue Suede Shoes' performance (and other points on the original album) is rightfully missing here. Now we get the "Real-Deal" of this classic show.
Audio engineer Vic Anesini has mixed the show from the original performance tape and while closely matching the "Vintage Mix" (Drums on the left etc) of the original release, this time he has somewhat reduced the level of the backing-vocals which sounds far better. There's more power to Elvis' vocal here.
He has also mixed the backing-vocals to the right channel (as they were positioned on stage) rather than across the whole left-right spread as they were on the original album (and his FTD 'In Person' release).
Being from the original tape the overall audio quality is also improved. The master tape of 'In Person' was well-worn and you could hear obvious tape-flutter on the recent re-masters ('In Person') but here the same songs sounds fresh and clean as they would have been 44 years ago.
(See more 1969 Elvis concert audio discussion below)
Interestingly, there's new snippets of dialogue interspersed with the familiar, although it must be said, many of the jokes are frequently used during the August season - it's better to hear the show in full context nevertheless - and will we ever get tired of the '69 shows? Hell - IT'S Elvis at his best - kicking butt big-time after his triumphant 1968 Comeback Special - this is the real Elvis on the cusp of his 1970s touring extravaganzas, and before the showy Liberace style jumpsuits took hold - when all he really needed was a red-hot band and an audience...
The show starts with a stunning triple whammy - "Blue Suede Shoes" -" I Got A Woman" - and, "All Shook Up"...
More sensational Elvis Live Action shots from the FTD booklet
"I Got Woman" is a powerhouse version, one of the best, with some fabulous call & response work from The Sweet Inspirations. How odd that RCA never released Elvis’ stunning 1969 interpretation of "I Got A Woman" as part of the original release. Unbelievably RCA would not release this live song until 1974 and the ‘Live On Stage In Memphis’ album by which time it had become incorporated with ‘Amen’.
Similarly one wonders why it wasn’t used as an extra track for ‘On Stage’ along with ‘Runaway’ and ‘Yesterday’.
After this Elvis rightfully slows the pace down for "Love Me Tender" and it's crowd smooching time...
Elvis then straps on his guitar for a blistering "Jailhouse Rock/Don't Be Cruel" medley: "Warden threw a party in the county jail. Prison band was there and they began to wail. The band was jumping and the joint began to swing, should've heard that knocked out son-of-a bitch sing, let's rock! Everybody let's rock! Everybody in the whole cell block, was dancing to the jailhouse rock."
The snare drum cracks and the piano rocks before "Don't Be' Cruel" and a short following monologue.
A fabulous bluesy "Heartbreak Hotel" is a cool version with gorgeous piano echoing the fabulous Floyd Cramer ivories of the original 1956 recording. Audio engineer Vic Anesini (The Complete Masters etc) did a great job on the mastering as every instrument is clearly heard - just listen to the soulful Sweet Inspirations as a case in point.
Additionally the horns on the aforementioned "Blue Suede Shoes" -" I Got A Woman" sound fuller and better than we've heard before. Also good to hear rhythm guitarist John Wilkinson more in the mix than is often the
case. (RIP - see tribute and interview here)
The 'Hound Dog' intro is familiar, but when Elvis hits the first note -- "You ain't nothing but a..." the power of his voice is awesome! - To have been in attendance watching the show must have been just incredible...
Afterwards Elvis fools around and shouts: "Moby Dick!" - a nod to the iconic '68 COMEBACK SPECIAL (when he used his microphone stand for a harpoon) - it's a nice moment to hear.
Later in the concert after the delicious blues "My Babe" Elvis says, "They'll come and get me and pull the plug" - and again a connection to his COMEBACK shows the previous year.
Worth noting is that while the four tracks on the original 'In Person' album, Hound Dog/I Can't Stop Loving You/My Babe/Mystery Train,Tiger Man come from this performance and in the same sequence, the intros were all edited for that album release whereas here we get them in true context.
Some intros are obviously edited down but some tracks on the original 'In Person' actually have more Elvis introductions added to them and not from this concert.
Noteworthy is that here in the genuine concert Elvis goes from 'I Can't Stop Loving You' to 'My Babe' without stopping, whereas on the 'In Person' release a part of the earlier 'I Got A Woman' intro "tapers off to nothing" etc has been flown on from another concert and placed between the two songs.
Similarly the "Let me get untangled" discussion on 'Mystery Train/Tiger Man' from 'In Person' is also not here.
On the original 'In Person' album most fans will recall that female audience member having a screaming-orgasm - or something! - at the very end of 'I Can't Stop Loving You' causing Elvis to pause and have a giggle to himself before finishing the song.
Now you can hear that this great "ELVIS MOMENT" was partly a bit of tape trickery as her screams (@2.09) are actually extended by them being repeated twice and then inserted into the pause in the song.
As mentioned earlier in this review, extra "fake" audience reactions were added to the original recordings to give more of a dynamic atmousphere.
Rockin' hard the SUN classic "Mystery Train/ Tigerman" sounds as great as ever with HOT JB licks! Nineteen sixty nine and 1970 versions are peerless - "Train I'll ride, sixteen, coaches long. Train I'll ride, sixteen, coaches long. Well that long black train, got my baby and gone - I'm the King of the jungle they call, me the tiger - if you cross my path, you'll take my whole life in your hands."
Vocal groups have always helped form part of the Elvis sound. Listen to the beautiful voice of Cissy Houston sing backing on "Are You Lonesome Tonight" - it's a stunning version and perhaps the best we've heard from his Las Vegas oeuvre.
More standouts: 'Yesterday/Hey Jude' with an, "Oh Lord have mercy" comment midway through The Beatles classic 'Hey Jude' - obviously he was enjoying pleasing the lively crowd - and there's plenty of excitement and commotion from the adoring masses.
Moreover an excited female fan says: "I wanna play" at the song's conclusion amid fun and frolics, and it's a wonderful moment that again puts you almost there in the front row... ( Once again Kudos to Vic Anesini for the fabulous sound on HOT AUGUST NIGHT - it's razor sharp!)
The Bee Gees original 'Words' had featured in the Billboard charts making #15. Looking for more contemporary material Elvis created his version with more of a gospel feel, singing it five times for these RCA recordings. This would be his penultimate performance of the song - the Master version - and he would drop it from his set-list after the RCA tapes stopped the following day.
While not a "classic" Elvis song, the original album version was overpowered by The Imperials and Sweet Sensations backing-vocals, here at last we get a cleaner mix with Elvis' vocal sounding less buried, a good improvement.
Furthermore the band and celebrity intros are captivating - James Burton is introduced as: "One of the finest guitar players, his name is -- Lightin' Hopkins". It's worth noting that Lightin' Hopkins recorded a version of "My Babe" which Elvis was obviously aware of and it illustrates his sponge like qualities for soaking up influences, especially the blues.
Hearing the intros you can visualise the star-studded crowd who've come to see the King. His affection for Nancy Sinatra et al (Elvis had recently filmed SPEEDWAY with Nancy) - in those glittering times just emphasises his enduring qualities.
Tom Jones is described as a good friend and one of the most FANTASTIC performers Elvis has EVER seen. Elvis ad Libs - "the old home town don't look the same" - in tribute to the welsh boyo's signature tune 'The Green Green Grass Of Home' which Elvis loved so much and eventually recorded on the TODAY album. The Welsh balladeer from the valleys, himself a dynamite live performer who could tackle any genre,was supporting his friend; and vice versa when Tom played Vegas. Presumably Elvis saw, and admired, a like-minded artist who's passion for his art mirrored his own. They first became good friends after Tom visited Elvis on the set of PARADISE, HAWAIIAN STYLE in 1966. It would have been pleasing to have seen a paragraph or two and photos about them in the FTD booklet but it's only a minor quibble.
How can you go wrong with the triple treat finale of 'In The Ghetto', 'Suspicious Minds' and 'What'd I Say'?
'In The Ghetto' is, as always in 1969, a beautiful performance. Elvis earlier introduced composer 'Mac Davis' (see interview here) who was also in the audience and at the end of the song Elvis states twice, "Thank you, Mac". The mix is stunning even if Elvis' performance is not quite as assured as the master version from the earlier Aug 25th Dinner Show.
'Suspicious Minds' get a longer than usual intro and how can you go wrong with another seven minute powerhouse version of this classic. Elvis goes a little off-mic at times during the "Caught In A Trap" slow-down and once again the band and Elvis don't quite get the ending right, otherwise it's very close to the Master version.
The Master would be from the final RCA recorded Dinner Show the next day.
A frenetic - "What I'd Say" is another stand-out - the great Ray Charles never sang it like this - did he? Elvis adds: "straight razor toting woman" ad lib. Then 'Can't Help Falling In Love' and Adios.
Overall Verdict: To sum up, HOT AUGUST NIGHT is superbly packaged with a gorgeous cover and included booklet, that admittedly, just lacks some text info about the show - however, this is a stellar FTD release and also seemingly one of the longest Vegas performances captured. Of course Sony still have more shows in the can so it's inevitable that FTD will release the remaining shows at some point in the future (Aug. 23. Matinee show is still unreleased). All the FTD Las Vegas 1969 shows are stunning with perhaps, the FTD - ELVIS AT THE INTERNATIONAL, arguably número uno - however to compare it with HOT AUGUST NIGHT is splitting hairs. We are so lucky to have the excellent FTD releases - Play it loud!
Note: To get an even greater appreciation for Elvis in 1969 check out Ken Sharp's excellent - 'Elvis: Vegas '69' book for a deeper look into the Vegas shows. See EIN review here.
More on the 1969 Live Concert releases and audio mixes.
Although Elvis’ set-list was fairly static, the 1969 concert releases have often been mixed in a different way which helps one get a unique experience when listening to each performance.
Comparing 'Hot August Night' to Vic Anesini's Aug 22nd Dinner Show mix on the 'In Person' FTD, here the bass is a little less prominent and the drums less full in the mix although both are still great sounding shows.
There is also a little more overall reverb added here than to Vic Anesini's Aug 22nd Dinner Show mix.
However I do prefer the remastered audio of the "In Person" songs as presented here with Elvis more upfront as well as with no fake added audience applause.
During the Aug 22nd Dinner Show Elvis’ rather excessive sniffles plus a few throwaway versions made it a lesser 1969 live release for me. After all who would want to sing their heart out while fans rattled their cutlery and with another show looming a few hours away!
These Midnight performances really show Elvis and the band at their very best.
- 'At The International' Midnight August 23 while released over ten years ago, still has the benefit of a contemporary "real mix" of the drums in the centre, piano left, guitar right and with Elvis' vocal raised higher then the band.
There is no debating that 'At The International' has extra reverb and compression (and a 2013 remaster would of course be an improvement) however the overall feel is of a fabulous Saturday BLAST of a rock'n'Roll concert and still has an overall excitement that if different to the other 1969 performances - it rocks! As this was FTD’s first 1969 release it is no doubt one of Ernst Jorgensen’s preferred concerts too
Still my very favourite FTD 1969 release.
- August 21 Midnight Show - as presented on CD2 of BMG's 2007 'Viva Las Vegas' release is also sensational.
That concert was remixed by Ray Bardini ('2nd To None') and again it sounds brilliant with the rhythm section dead centre. The entire band can be heard and the orchestra is well placed. Elvis is loose and having fun as well as being a bit risqué as always at Midnight Shows.