FTD CD review
Elvis' 1974 summer Las Vegas season was a roller-coaster of emotional performances. This was his sixth season singing to the Las Vegas casino audiences, still doing 2 shows a night, and he was really feeling the loss of Priscilla.
However with an incredibly varied set-list the season actually started with some exceptionally good shows.
EIN's Piers Beagley has an in-depth look at FTD's new 'Nevada Nights' double soundboard release.
Elvis' 1974 summer Las Vegas season was a roller-coaster of emotional performances. This was his sixth season singing to the Las Vegas casino audiences, still doing 2 shows a night, and he was really feeling the loss of Priscilla. The dinner shows were beginning to bore him - and with people rattling cutlery who could blame him?
Yet Elvis' inner turmoil helped produce the most fascinating and turbulent season of his career. Elvis gave some of his longest performances and started to include some lengthy and personal rambles. However with an incredibly varied set-list, the season actually started with some exceptionally good shows.
Beforehand Elvis arrived on the 12 August at RCA’s Hollywood studio to begin several days of rehearsals for the first scheduled show on August 19, 1974. These are the focus of the FTD 'From Sunset To Las Vegas' which is also essential listening in combination with this LIVE set.
With Nevada Nights FTD for the first time gives us a double digi-pack of two concerts from the same season.
There is no doubt that Opening Night August 19 on disc 1 is one of the key concerts of Elvis' career. This is the famous performance where Elvis decided to update his regular set-list to give the faithful fans something new to hear. Sadly the crowd reaction – surely an Opening Night is going to be more of a "celebrity" crowd than the true Elvis fanatics? – was what Elvis hoped for and by the next night the regular routines and songs had returned. For this reason this concert has always been a favourite bootleg.
I don’t believe there is any other 70’s concert where Elvis did songs for the very first time, the very last time - as well as other unique song performances. It was that rare a show!
The second "bonus" concert is from August 21 Midnight Show just two nights later.
So releasing both performances therefore gives fans a real reason to buy this FTD even if you already own the Opening Night show elsewhere.
And I think most hard-core Elvis fans would be surprised how many fans actually do not have access to or want to purchase bootlegs.
On Opening Night Elvis dropped audience favourites like ‘Teddy Bear’, ‘All Shook Up’, ‘You Gave Me A Mountain’ ‘I Got A Woman’ and even the regular start of See See Rider off his set list. Instead Elvis introduced some contemporary songs such as ‘It’s Midnight’ and ‘If You Talk In Your Sleep’ and used ‘Proud Mary’ as the key second song. There was also the interesting run of ‘Promised Land’, ‘My Baby Left Me’ followed by ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’.
This was a fascinating new set list that sadly the audience didn’t enthusiastically respond too. Perhaps Elvis would have had more success had he tried the set to a stronger fan-based crowd rather than the more media invited Opening Night audience.
By the following night Elvis was back once again to the old regular routine of the ‘See See Rider’, ‘I Got A Woman’, ‘Love Me’ formula. Whatever the reason for Elvis’ backwards step this would basically fix his concert routine through to the very end of his life.
For Elvis concert fans and soundboard collectors this has to be one of Elvis’ most disappointing moves. Had this August 1974 change of set-list been a great success Elvis might have continued to refresh his song line-up for every season.
The cover is a three panel digipack, similar to the FTD ‘New Years Eve’, three pictures nicely show Elvis in various attire from this season. Unfortunately the deep-red background colour makes it difficult to appreciate the two other pictures (one is of Elvis on-stage with Tom Jones at Jones’ September 4th show). The excessive red also makes it extremely difficult to read the full track details, which is in an extremely fine font. The front cover features Elvis in his karate top (over his leather suit) and unusually wearing glasses on stage. The back cover shows Elvis in his cream leather suit of the August 21 1974, Midnight Show.
CD1. Las Vegas Hilton August 19th Opening Show.
Gone were the 2001 Intro, ‘See See Rider’, ‘I Got A woman’ and instead Ronnie Tutt starts the riff – reminiscent of the ’69 show intros – and Elvis rocks straight into ‘Big Boss Man’.
In hindsight this would have been a real surprise to most of the audience and maybe Elvis should have tried a rare but better-known goodie instead. For instance ‘Guitar Man’, ‘Little Sister’ (which he hadn’t performed since 1972) or the guaranteed crowd-winning couple of lines, "Are you looking for Trouble? You came to the right place."
However Elvis had been performing ‘Big Boss Man’ in his shows since May 1974 and this one is another rocking version. As a first song Elvis takes this at a cracking pace compared to it’s usual tempo when performed mid-set.
The audio of this soundboard is a fine mix of Elvis, band and orchestra but unfortunately lacks a bit of punch & sparkle that would have taken it to another level. The audio of this particular version is somewhere between the old Fort Baxter bootleg and without the added stereo-reverb of the DAE "From Sunset Boulevard… to Paradise Road" version. For me it’s a nice bonus having Elvis’ vocals clearer and the peak distortion somewhat reduced, although the old reverb did add more of a "showroom" sound. Ballads like ‘I’m Leavin’ do sound better here.
Without a break - "Take it on" - it’s straight into ‘Proud Mary’ which Elvis hadn’t performed since 1972. This version has an excellent feel and is at a faster tempo that the 1970 on-stage versions. It is a shame that, after singing it again the following day, Elvis would never perform the song again. You can imagine Elvis throwing in some karate action.
Showing that he is up for some fun Elvis introduces himself, "Good evening, my name is ahhh the NBC Peacock. My name is NBC Peacock, I practiced that all evening and goofed it! We're gonna’ walk around and do some songs and sweat!"
Elvis then rocks into another total surprise of ‘Down In The Alley’ - "A song we did about ten years ago when Charlie was a child" - and it’s a real rockin-blues highlight. Even after the previous rehearsals and the obvious enjoyment of the song what a disappointment that this would be the only time that Elvis sung this in concert.
‘Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues’ had been recorded at STAX back in December 1973 but had only been released in March 74 on the ‘Good Times’ LP. With no introduction Elvis performs a beautiful and again unique live version of this song. The orchestra works very well on this mix, it’s a great balance, and Elvis throws in some marvellous ad-libbing to the lyrics…
"Play around you'll lose your wife – Already did that,
You play it too long you'll lose your life – Almost did that too!
Some gotta win, some gotta lose, Good Time Charlie's got the blues."
Once again Elvis includes a classic 1972 song with ‘Never Been To Spain.’ It’s another very fine version and done at a similar pace and arrangement to he 1972 Madison Square Garden concerts. It is all the more important as once again Elvis would never sing it again.
This night’s concert was also important for debuting both sides of Elvis’ new single which was going to be released in October 74. Introducing ‘It’s Midnight’ as "one side of my new record that I have coming out" Elvis sings a beautiful version of this touching ballad. It’s a nice balance with Charlie Hodge and Kathy Westmoreland and a delicious debut. Elvis adds a sincere "Glad you like it" afterwards.
Elvis’ newest single had been another STAX track ‘If You Talk In Your Sleep’ which had got Elvis back into the US Top Twenty. Elvis cranks up the karate funk - obviously to the delight of The Sweets, "Do it, do it". It’s a fine version, at a slightly faster tempo than later versions in the same season, and all the more interesting for Elvis’ personal comments afterwards. Obviously relating to the lyric he feels obliged to note that, "That's a weird song, you know that? That's not about me. I didn't write that song about myself because I don't do that!"
The magic of this special night continues with a touching ‘I'm Leavin'’. One of Elvis’ best 70s singles, although sadly low charting in the US #36, it is always a treat to hear it in concert. This version is very fine indeed, "Living from day to day, chasing the dream. . " What shame he didn’t perform it at Aloha!
‘Let Me Be There’ which Elvis had been performing since January 1974 is performed enthusiastically and with added reprise.
Elvis then asks for a chair and tells the audience about why he wants to perform ‘Softly As I Leave You’, "a beautiful love song that has been out for a long time." This is second only time that Elvis performed this fascinating song. It’s the first time Elvis performed it in this arrangement and although slightly messy with Elvis fluffing the introduction it is still a cool version.
Note that Elvis’ very first version was an extraordinary spontaneous version on Closing Night September 1973. That was another weird and incredible show but for completely different reasons – the night an obviously angry Elvis sacked the Colonel.
Elvis continues with yet another debut performance and a fine version of ‘If You Love Me (Let Me Know)’. Elvis had been rehearsing the deep-bass ending with J.D Sumner and he is obviously very happy with the result, ending with a pleased "Yeah."
At this point Elvis is a little undecided about what to do - Charlie suggests ‘The Twelfth Of Never’ was next on the set-list - but instead Elvis chooses a crowd-pleasing ‘Love Me Tender.’ This song appears to get the crowd more on Elvis’ side at which point he decides on "Polk".
With a high-energy feel Elvis obviously enjoys the ‘Polk Salad Annie’ work-out, including an extended karate instrumental break before the second verse. It’s a fine version as he pumps the power "sock-a-little" before a great ending.
It leaves Elvis out-of-breath "Lord, have mercy!" and he has a breath a break as he does the Introductions. As usual he teases the band including Duke Bardwell, "Is that D.O.O.K?"! on bass.
Charlie Hodge notes that ‘Promised land’ is supposed to be next - another first. And Elvis notes that he is up for it. . "I'm game son."! It’s a fine version, Elvis positively bites on the lyrics and it’s a shame that we don’t have a live multi-track of this. There’s some cutting guitar from James Burton & piano playing from Glen D Hardin. Elvis would drop this song from the season after the following night.
Before a fine ‘My Baby Left Me’ Elvis introduces, "One of the coolest actors in the world. He’s been a friend of mine for a long, long time. Telly Savalas."
By now Elvis is heading towards the end of the show and features three crowd-pleasers. ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ is one of Elvis’ very best later versions with him caressing the words and adding some delicious vocal slides at the start.
A hip-shaking and teasing ‘Fever’ follows but shortened as Elvis leaves out the second verse "I light up when you call my name". Elvis then performs the all-important ‘Hound Dog’ and although he speeds through it he also works the crowd with a build-up ending.
Charlie Hodge suggests another song which is perhaps "The First Time" but it is hard to hear. Elvis says a distinctive, "No" and instead farewells the audience "If we’ve entertained you it’s been worthwhile."
Someone in the crowd asks for ‘Viva Las Vegas’ to which Elvis notes, "Viva Las Vegas - right!". Instead it’s ‘Can't Help Falling In Love’ which is still incomplete - as it was on the bootlegs all those years ago.
Elvis notes "You’ve been a fantastic audience" and certainly towards the end of the show you get the sense of genuine excitement but what a shame they didn’t explode with screams earlier on at every new song that he tried…. How the story could have been so different.
CD.2 – August 21 1974, Midnight Show
Only two nights later and forever a disappointment as Elvis is back to the regular set-list. 2001, ‘See See Rider’, ‘I Got A Woman’ etc. Not that this is a poor performance, but rather a set back to the old-routine. Best of all this full concert has not been previously released anywhere.
The quality of this soundboard is fairly similar to the Opening Show but with a fuller mix of orchestra and band. Once again Elvis puts on another great performance.
In fact BMG chose seven tracks from this very concert to include on their ‘Live In Las Vegas’ box-set CD4. However presented as a double-pack fans can treat it this show as a bonus since we now get to hear them in their correct context.
The show kicks off with a regular ‘See See Rider’ where Elvis takes a little while to warm up. ‘I Got A Woman’ has some microphone static earlier on but a funny moment where Elvis has to tell a screaming fan, "My God Honey. Hang loose, let me get another ‘Well" out!"
In fact ‘I Got A Woman’ is a very fine version with some great piano from Glen D Hardin high in the mix and Elvis obviously really enjoying the song and playing with his vocals. JD Sumner is asked to repeat his deep-bass ending. Elvis describes him as "The original Deep Throat" and gets himself into some naughtiness. Elvis even laughs saying, "I’ll be the lounge tomorrow night!"
Note that later in the concert Elvis even mentions the Deep Throat actress ‘Linda Lovelace’ when introducing Las Vegas celebrity ‘Lovelace Watkins’!
Tonight Elvis is wearing his cream leather two-piece suit (right: Back of FTD sleeve) given to him by his cousin Bobby Jean. Elvis tells a lovely story of when growing up together how she would always get him in trouble, when walking alone with Elvis, by annoying tough gangs shouting, "Go to hell you guys"!
A routine ‘Love Me’ follows and then a fine ‘If You Love Me (Let Me Know)’ with JD Sumner messing up the words at the end.
‘Its Midnight’ - "a new record we have coming out in a couple of weeks" – is again a beautifully sincere version and a concert highlight.
Straight into ‘Big Boss Man’ and Elvis’ enthusiasm shows along with a nice aside to Charlie Hodge, "I want a drink o’ water, and I won’t let Charlie stop"! There’s a great ending with Elvis adding a great growl @02.16. Here’s another track that would really benefit from a live multi-track recording so we could hear the real punch of it.
‘Fever’ is another teasing version with Elvis obviously stressing his leather suit by throwing his hips around. He must be wondering if it will rip apart as he notes, "Lord, God I hope this stays together." The joking, "I light up when you call my name - ELVIS!" is back in tonight.
More oldies are in the set-list but they are throwaway crowd pleasers. Elvis includes the kissing routine with ‘Love Me Tender’ as well as ‘All Shook Up’ and ‘Hound Dog’ later in the show.
Luckily Elvis has decided to keep ‘I’m Leavin’’ in the set-list and it’s a lovely version. There’s some delightful relaxed chat from Elvis beforehand as he tells the crowd about his little girl Lisa and how she calls him "Alvis"!
Elvis, "Honey, I’m your daddy don’t call me Alvis"
Lisa-Marie, "Ok, Alvis"
He also jokes to a fan who says that she loves him, "I love you too honey, but I ain’t got time to do nothing right now!" This is followed by the smart one-liner of Patsy Cline’s song, "Hey stop the world and let me off."
The tender ‘I’m Leavin’’ which follows sounds a little more assured than in the Opening Show and it is not a surprise that it was included in the ‘Live In Las Vegas’ box-set. Again it is a real shame that a multi-track live recording of this beautiful song was never done.
Elvis performs his sixth ever version of ‘Softly As I Leave You’. Elvis tells the tale of how he heard about the true story of the song from "some people down in Florida." The extra shows have by now smoothed out Elvis’ & Sherrill Neilsen’s timing and this performance is a very good version without the slight mistakes of the Opening Night version.
‘You Gave Me A Mountain’ is back in the show and Elvis sounds like he is happy that it is. His performance is very sincere, listen for Elvis pushing the band and orchestra along "Haa" at 02.36.
‘Polk Salad Annie’ rocks out with Elvis having fun. There’s some microphone feedback and it’s a great moment with Elvis singing, "Everybody says it was a shame, Cos’ her mama was working on the feedback!" Elvis throws in some karate action, "get it Ronnie".
After a great performance - Elvis must have been hot in his leather suit and worried it would tear – he asks, "Did it hold up?"
The introductions are interesting as Elvis introduces J.D. Sumner and sings 2 lines of the Hank Williams/Ray Charles song to him. "Take these chains from my heart and set me free, you’ve grown old and no longer care for me". With Glen D Hardin sensing possibilities he plays the opening chord but Elvis sadly doesn’t continue.
He also teases John Wilkinson (for picking up a girl with braces) and bass-guitarist Duke Bardwell for "occasionally playing bass." Lovelace Watkins, a popular Las Vegas singer at the time, also gets the funny introduction.
‘If You Talk In Your Sleep’ is still in the set-list and is another fine and funky version of his new single with James Burton adding soulful wah-wah guitar riffs.
‘Why Me Lord’, which Elvis first sang in the January ‘74 Vegas season, was performed most shows of this season and this is amazing version where Elvis manages to crack JD Sumner up so much that he can’t sing the verses. Elvis apologies afterwards saying, "Sorry, JD I had to do it." It is the same version as on ‘Live In Las Vegas’ and gets an appreciative applause.
More throwaway oldies ’Teddy Bear/Don’t be Cruel’ are followed by a beautiful version of ‘Hawaiian Wedding Song’ which Elvis actually introduces as "We’re gonna do Blue Hawaii".
‘Hawaiian Wedding Song’ was basically a new song for this season as Elvis had only performed it a handful of times in the past and only once at all in 1973. From this night onwards Elvis would sing it regularly on-stage all the way through to June 1977.
‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ which Elvis introduces as "this is for Linda" is an absolute highlight. It is a gorgeous version and the orchestra and band are extremely well-balanced in the mix. There is an acknowledged edit in the song (with the middle verse missing) but thankfully it is not particularly noticeable. It is also special - "That’s a good song" says Elvis – since he sang it only a handful of times in 1974 and only twice this season.
A fine ‘Let Me Be There’ with Elvis working hard on the reprise wraps up the show before ‘Can't Help Falling In Love’ and Elvis thanking the audience for coming.
"We’ve had a wonderful time and you’ve been a great audience. It’s been fun entertaining you."
What a shame he didn’t feel as positive on the Opening Night!
NOTE- make sure you also check out the rehearsals on the FTD 'From Sunset To Las Vegas' Review
Overall Verdict: Elvis’ August 19th Opening Show is one of most important performances of his later 1970’s career. Had the casino audience responded with the deserved enthusiasm and delight, Elvis’ final 3 years of set-lists and performances may have been very different.
This unique concert is therefore an absolutely essential purchase for any fan who hasn’t heard or owns a bootleg copy of this Opening Show. However with FTD also throwing in a completely new Midnight concert from the same season for avid collectors this really is great value for money. This is what the FTD collector’s label is all about.
Reviewed by Piers Beagley
Copyright EIN - May 2009
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