Elvis performed 1123 concerts from 1969 to 1977 over fifteen individual Las Vegas and five Lake Tahoe seasons, plus 29 tours of the USA. From all these series or seasons of performances the most interesting are inevitably the Opening and Closing concerts when Elvis would show more excitement and interest.
In January 1970, despite in being winter and the Vegas off-season, Col Parker booked Elvis back into the International Hotel for his second season.
After the success of 1969’s ‘In Person’ Col Parker realised one easy way to fulfil the three-albums-per-year contract with RCA was to once again record a live album.
Felton Jarvis and RCA engineer Al Pachucki recorded Elvis’ performances from February 15 - 19 on multi-track which would be compiled to create the stunning ‘On Stage’ album released in June 1970. (See SONY legacy re-issue review here)
Bill Porter, Elvis’ sound-man and RCA engineer, was present for the whole season and at Tom Diskin’s request he recorded several of the performances onto reel-to-reel tapes straight from the soundboard mix. Only in mono and presumably only for reference.
Two of these, the Opening Night and Closing Night performances have been around on various bootleg releases since 1995. The most recent being Backdraft’s rather excellent ‘ReBooked At The International’.
When ‘ReBooked At The International’ was released in 2011 EIN noted that "it’s only a shame that FTD didn’t come up with the idea first, as every fan should have the opportunity to purchase this gem."
After their excellent "On Stage" multi-track FTD Classic album, FTD now continues their look at this excellent season with the first official release of Elvis' Opening and Closing night performances.
At last, all Presley fans have the chance to own these two fabulous concerts when Elvis truly was at his on-stage peak.
Hard-core Elvis collectors will be keen to know whether the audio quality has been improved enough here for this FTD version of these well-known concerts to be worth buying all-over again.
The answer is a qualified YES as well-respected audio engineer Vic Anesini (The Complete Elvis Presley Masters etc) has done his best with the Bill Porter recordings and these are the best-quality versions we have ever heard.
Somewhat regrettably the peak audio-distortion is still there on Elvis’ voice during the Opening Concert. Unfortunately Bill Porter would have been too busy doing his job to get the auditorium sound correct to notice his reel-to-reel levels hammering into overload.
It is a shame that FTD hasn’t included a scan of the reel-to-reel tape box in their booklet as it clearly indicates "GREAT – but mic overload severe so audio quality is poor."
Comparing the audio quality to the BackDraft bootleg, the FTD is off a first generation tape source. Although in mono, the BackDraft bootleg audio left/right tape flutter is now gone.
The amount of added reverb on both versions is very similar.
Vic Anesini’s FTD version provides a noticeable richer/fuller sound with a much warmer bass feel. This is extremely evident on the ballad/orchestral numbers like ‘Let It Be Me’ and ‘Kentucky Rain’ and they sound great here.
Unfortunately the peak distortion on Elvis’ mic remains the same and there is little any engineer could do to improve that (apart from cause the overall sound to be muffled as was the case on the Madison bootleg release).
On the Closing Show the audio has the same richer/fuller sound and cleaner audio off the first generation tape source.
This recording was near perfect (no nasty distortion this night) and this is the best quality audio performance we have from this season - except for the mid-season RCA recordings.
The quality of this Closing Night show alone makes this FTD worth buying and will be the one I will keep on playing.
Damn, why didn’t they record every Closing Night show in this quality!
So many wasted opportunities.
The FTD includes another stylish 16-page booklet with some excellent photos of Elvis in action and usual memorabilia.
The front cover of the FTD booklet is a gem. Unfortunately one classic Elvis on-stage shot in the booklet is obviously a reverse-image, a silly mistake. (see below).
The booklet also includes a new essay ‘King Elvis Rules Vegas Again’ by NME’s Hollywood correspondent journalist Ann Moses who was there to report on Elvis’ Las Vegas comeback seasons.
The long five page essay is a real treat and a first-hand insight into the experience of being at this wonderful On-Stage season.
Her essay includes…
.. I was one of the privileged few who got to attend, experience and even be seen on screen in the television special Elvis, which fans usually call the '68 Comeback Special. I didn't think it could get any better than those few hours spent just inches away from The King, but amazingly I was on the VIP list for the opening of Elvis' first live appearance in nine years, his debut at the International Hotel in Las Vegas on July 31, 1969. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience...
(But) in February, 1970 "I went back to Las Vegas to catch Elvis Presley's show again.. I just can't keep away. He's a habit-forming' drug that does you good!
Of the concert finale –
... As Elvis stood with his arms outstretched and head bowed in thanks, the curtain slowly fell and we were swept up with the excitement of the crowd which was at its peak. In this moment of exhilaration there came a feeling of pain, too, for you knew it was over.
And then you had to rely on your mind as you recalled again the heart-stopping thrills you had just experienced.
I think the key to Elvis' overwhelming magnetism was not so much his wiggling hips, his slender body gyrating so much sex appeal, or even his beautiful and powerful voice, as much as his whole aura of down-home sincerity. He didn't clutter his act with useless prepared material but found humor in both himself and the things around him. It was a spontaneous humour which was positively captivating.
And with every song, he gave the audience exactly what they had come for: a chance to see and experience a living legend. In the end his appreciation was real and you could feel it even from the last seat in the last row of the showroom.
(See EIN Ann Moses spotlight here)
A scan of some images inside the FTD booklet
Worth noting about this On-Stage season are the multiple musical highlights that were featured (See even more in the ‘ReBooked' box-set in-depth review here).
'That's All Right' - A one off performance, Elvis had not performed this song "on stage" since 1961.
'Proud Mary' - The first time on Elvis' set-list, only returning as a regular song in 1971.
'Don't Cry Daddy' - Another first and Elvis would drop it after the March 1970 Astrodome concerts, except for the famous one-off August 13th 1970 TTWII version.
'Long Tall Sally' - New to Elvis' set-list this season, and on the Closing Show he would accompany the band on the piano!
'Let It Be Me ' - Only sung at this Vegas season - and here we get the very first and last versions.
'Walk A Mile In My Shoes' - Another new song, and again Elvis' final version would be the August 13th 1970 TTWII show.
'True Love Travels On A Gravel Road' - Elvis' only live version featured at the Opening Night show.
'Sweet Caroline' - A concert favourite and brand new to Elvis' set-list this season.
'Polk Salad Annie' - An almighty new addition to Elvis' set-list, great to hear the very first Opening Night version.
'See See Rider' - Another brand new song that would become so famous two years later as Elvis' intro song.
'Kentucky Rain' - Elvis' very first live version of his single, performed for the last time at the Astrodome the following month.
'It's Now Or Never' - Amazingly the Closing Night show was the first live version since 1961.
Elvis of course recorded his classic Number One live single ‘The Wonder Of You’ at this season but did not sing it on Opening or Closing night.
CD.1 - Opening Show - January 26th 1970. - 56 minutes
With the cool opening intro from the TCB band a scream from and a blast of feedback Elvis bursts on stage pumped full of raw energy tearing into 'All Shook Up'. In this season Elvis' growl and excitement and song selection places the feel of this Las Vegas season truly between the punk-power of his 1969 "return of the prodigy" and the TTWII season filmed by MGM the following season.
Elvis announces 'That's All Right' "my first record, Ladies and Gentlemen"
and a dynamite full-on rocking version follows. This is extraordinary for the fact that Elvis never sang this classic song again until the TTWII August season for the MGM cameras, nor did he sing live at all in 1969! As such an important song it is strange that this appears to be a "one off" for this season and it's a blistering performance.
Elvis notes afterwards "If I appear a little shaky that's because I'm a little shaky!"
Fans who previously own this concert via various bootlegs will know that Elvis' microphone is pretty overdriven on the original recording.
When Elvis welcomes his fans he says, "I'd like to do some songs for you that were recorded by other people, and different things," before teasing the audience with one line of "Everybody Loves Somebody" in his Dean Martin voice!
Indeed tonight Elvis introduced ten "brand new" songs to his Vegas setlist (including 'That's All Right') and what a treat it is to hear these for the first time live.
|- 'Proud Mary' taken at a slower tempo than later versions and with a simple drum-roll ending. Sadly this does suffer peak audio distortion.
- 'Don't Cry Daddy' a beautiful, delicate version with excellent orchestral arrangement placed well in the mix,
'Long Tall Sally' "my message song for the night" he jokes, hammering into the song with absolutely fury, rocking out like it was still 1956!
Changing the incredible pace Elvis then announces "One of my favourite songs that has been recorded in the last 4 or 5 years"
'Let It Be Me' is such a treat. It suites Elvis' voice so well and the arrangement, with some delicate James Burton guitar, is just gorgeous.
Sadly Elvis would only sing this number during this Vegas season, never coming back to it.
'Walk A Mile In My Shoes' is also new and tellingly linked to 'In The Ghetto' stating the clear message "people on reservations and out in the ghetto"
'True Love Travels On A Gravel Road' luckily the absolute gem of this concert, Elvis' only live performance of this song, hardly suffers from the mic overload and this is the best version yet released. Elvis puts his soul into the lyrics "love is a stranger and hearts are in danger" getting into the emotion of the song. The orchestration is excellent and Elvis' performance quite delicious. While we now know Elvis rehearsed it for later concerts (see FTD 'Stage Rehearsal'), he never did perform it again which is a real shame.
'Sweet Caroline' - "A record that came out this year by a good friend of mine, recorded in my home-town Memphis" really demonstrates the difficulty of performing so many new songs in one concert with Elvis sounding a little unsure of the pacing. Elvis jumps the gun on the song's final reprise stopping the band "Hold It Man, we blew that wide open!" While they do go on and finish the reprise this night, the idea is dropped for further performances. Elvis jokes afterwards "well, that's four mistakes for the night!"
'Polk Salad Annie' - "Let's go down to Louisiana, baby" Elvis tells the fans as he introduces a new song that would become a classic in his repertoire.
It's a little slower than future versions and has a James Brown horn arrangement with some cool James Burton guitar licks. Elvis tells us of this "Wretched spiteful straight-razor toting woman" for the very first time! A full on power ending with drummer Bob Lanning going crazy on the drums. It's a wild "rehearsal" for the Feb 18th Midnight Show recording that would become the classic Album Master.
'Kentucky Rain' - "I got a new record that just came out, I hope you like it" is a beautiful first version, even if everyone sounds slightly unsure of the tricky stop-start pacing. On this initial attempt Elvis fluffs the lyric at the start of the second verse.
In this second Vegas season 'Suspicious Minds' was still the key song of the setlist and Elvis produces a show-stopping performance pushing it to a full 6 minutes. Afterwards you can hear the standing ovation as Elvis gasps for breath, laughing with the joy of it all.
Elvis was back (again), his second season would be another smash success.
'Can't Help Falling In Love' concludes the amazing hour.
With so much energy, intensity and new-songs packed into one-hour this was one of Elvis' standout Opening Shows.
CD - Closing Show Feb 23rd 1970. - 58 minutes
Of the two concerts here this is the one you’ll be playing again and again – the great sounding Closing Night performance. The season is over, Elvis has a holiday in his sights and he's up for some fun.
The setlist is similar to the Opening Show but with a few nice differences.
Again Elvis sounds committed but without that "opening night" extra energy.
It was only on 'Opening Night' that Elvis sang 'That's All Right' as his second song and for the rest of the season the regular 'I Got Woman' was used, which tonight was a rockin' serious version with no messing around mid-song.
Of course Elvis is playful throughout the show since it is the Closing Night, mucking about with a pet turtle and teasing the audience with the Ed Sullivan tiny guitar patter that would become famous in his TTWII shows.
Similarly in an otherwise committed 'Sweet Caroline' Elvis sings "and then the spring became the mattress" line.
(Left; The reversed photo in the FTD booklet - is it obvious to you?)
Elvis also jokes about 'Hound Dog', "I really don't feel like doing this song, you know that? A lot of the times I wish I was the type of performer like those guys that sing 'Everybody loves somebody, sometimes' - but I can't do that, see? You know I have to get the body movin' whether I like it or not!"
In fact 'Hound Dog' was not a regular in his setlist this season and you can tell Elvis enjoys it more than usual.
'Love Me Tender' is cute since one of the fans who come up to get a kiss is Priscilla with the crowd well-aware of whom she is. Elvis jokes "I recognise that girl!" as well as truthfully telling all his lovingly kissed-fans, "Oh, I forgot to tell you I've got the 'flu!"
The new songs 'Don't Cry Daddy' etc are all performed well, with 'Kentucky Rain' - his last Vegas performance - extremely well done.
'See See Rider' rocks out with Elvis really enjoying the call & response from the Sweets. Oddly this would be his last version, until coming back as his introduction song two years later.
The fabulous 'Let It Be Me' also gets a committed performance, the very final live version.
'Polk Salad Annie' rocks with Elvis adding some karate action and some fine "chick-a-boom" interaction with the Sweets slowing building up to a totally explosive ending. It's no wonder that tonight Elvis takes some time out to recover. This features a fabulous extended "hey, hey I feel alright" funky Polk continuation by The Sweets, as Elvis relaxes. This is a great and unique addition to this Closing Night.
At one point Elvis oddly jokes with a fan, "That's the blackmail picture isn't it!"
Another unique moment was when Elvis decides to play the piano, "this is something I very seldom do. Hang Loose." We get an impromptu 'Blueberry Hill' instrumental before Elvis sings a very fine 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy' including the mid-song piano break. Elvis jokes, "I used to be known as Fats Domino, but I lost weight!"
||More 'Closing Night' treats follow when Elvis agrees to an audience request for 'Heartbreak Hotel.' Another fine version, this would be the only time Elvis sang this classic in the whole season.
Elvis then straps on his electric guitar noting, "I can't do 'em all folks, but I'll do some of them! I've recorded 480, I'll do 462 of then."
This leads into a fabulous and passionate take of 'One Night'. This would only be his third live version on stage, before adding it as a regular for his TTWII MGM filmed season.
Amazingly Elvis then asks the band, "Do you guys remember It's Now Or Never?". It seems that it may never have been rehearsed, as this is the earliest full live version. It's a fabulous, passionate first version with Elvis guiding the band noting "Too soft" and other instructions. What a Closing Night treat!
Elvis would rehearse it for the TTWII season but would still not sing it on stage until January 1971!
After a committed 'Suspicious Minds' Elvis thanks various staff who have helped with the season including Lamar Fike his lighting man and Bill Porter on sound.
Then there's the sad embarrassment when Elvis tries to thank Colonel Parker honestly telling the audience "He's not only my manager, but I really love him. Where are you Colonel?" only to find out that Parker was in the casino and not even watching this great show. Elvis has to add an uncomfortable "Sorry about that!" No wonder Elvis started to have more issues with his manager.
Elvis then thanks the audience and plugs his first US 1970 tour at the Texas Astrodome before 'Can't Help Falling In Love' wraps up this great show.
Overall Verdict: Another essential FTD release and for keen collectors the improved audio quality makes it well-worth buying again - and presumably this time for the last time!
Of the two concerts here, the Closing Night performance is the one you’ll be playing again and again but hearing Elvis’ raw power on Opening Night is still a joy despite the mic distortion.
With the nice booklet and two concerts for the price of one this excellent FTD release is yet another great value-for-money addition to our Elvis collection - albeit a few years too late!
Review by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN November 2013
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