'New Year's Eve'
FTD CD review
By Piers Beagley
1976 was a very lacklustre year for Elvis overall as already witnessed on the sad 'Tucson 76' live FTD CD.
Even Elvis' friend Bill E. Burk wrote in the Memphis Scimitar of his Las Vegas winter performance "One wonders how much longer it can be before the end comes. Why carry on?"
However when Elvis started his 9th tour of the year, just 2 weeks later, something extraordinary & magic had happened.
In the short time since his Las Vegas appearance he had lost several kilos and Elvis suddenly appeared in better shape than in the previous 3 years. These concerts really showed Elvis feeling fit, happy and enjoying life once more.
As guitarist John Wilkinson said about the New Year's Eve show "It was magnificent, one of his very best". While this concert has been available on bootleg for over 20 years this is the first official release of this last great live show.
Elvis always loved a challenge and it seems likely that his new lease of life could be put down to new girlfriend Ginger Alden who Elvis had met just one month previously. Ginger was only nineteen and her presence seemed to have shaken Elvis out of his despondency and given him something to live for again.
This FTD release is also their first audience recording and while there are some very annoying interruptions at times this is still a fabulous historical event that every true fan needs to own. Listening to the show of nearly 2 hours & 28 songs (as Elvis says, "We'll sing all night, as long as you want to hear us") it is impossible to believe that in less than 8 months he would be dead. This really was Elvis' last magnificent performance.
The presentation, (inlay right) in a special digi-pack sleeve, is excellent with 10 photos by John Herman which give you the feel of exactly how close you are to the stage.
This concert has been bootlegged multiple times on vinyl & CD so I am actually a little disappointed with the overall sound - Mastered by Lene Reidel - A simple equaliser really helps as the concert needs a lot of 'bass' boost. (See FTD review 'From Sunset To Las Vegas')
There are a couple of minor edits with Elvis' dialogue (I wonder why?) but otherwise it is more complete than previous bootleg versions. So if you don't already own it this concert it is something not to be missed.
The CD is mastered from John Herman's original tape (used for the 'Auld Lang Syne' bootleg) and most of us will recognise the explosion of sound as Elvis walks on stage at 35 minutes to Midnight when you hear the memorable holler of "Ellllllllviiiiisss" as the arena erupts in delight.
Elvis immediately shows himself in great form as he powers into 'See See Rider' and an extremely long 'I Got a Woman/Amen'. "Thank you very much" he says " I can tell you, it's the New Year spirit. Hope we do something that you like. Our mission here is to make you happy, so just enjoy yourselves."
Without going into every detail Elvis is in splendid voice, great spirit and sounds like he is loving every moment. For the 16,409 people present that night in Pittsburgh this was going to be something very special. Sometimes the sound mix is surprisingly good but unfortunately the songs are occasionally interrupted by an audience member shouting "Happy Birthday Elvis" or "God save the King."
FTD's Lene Reidel mastered the CD and has raised Elvis' voice in the mix but annoyingly the audio desperately needs some heavy bass equalisation to improve the band's presence. There is also too much rasp in the high frequencies that can again be improved by reducing the treble. To me it is surprising that they didn't try & match the overall sound to other FTD live CDs which isn't that hard to do. However, all is forgiven when you get to hear Elvis singing an excellent 'You Gave me a Mountain' or a lovely 'My Way' (reintroduced into his set list on this tour).
There is a lovely cool swagger to 'Trying to get to You' that is immediately followed by a blistering 'Polk Salad Annie'. There is also the great rarity of Elvis singing 'Auld Lang Syne' and when you hear it you know that there is no other place you could want to have been that New Year's Eve.
After this Elvis introduces Vernon, and "My little daughter Lisa" who are both in the audience that night along with Ginger.
The second CD delights with a fabulous 'Love Letters' (compare with the desperation of the Tucson version from seven months previously) and it is very sweet when Elvis says, "My daddy likes this" as he sings 'Early Morning Rain'.
Someone in the audience calls out for 'Fever'. Elvis says "Fever? You wanna hear Fever? No problems!" and does a great spontaneous version. It's at moments like these that the audience recording & being able to hear the genuine response really helps you understand what Elvis' concerts were all about.
'Hurt' again is excellent and is followed by a great reprise. If you ever get to see the first-rate home video of this show you can see Elvis deliberately roll onto his back and sing the last part of the song lying on the stage. It is a magic moment that shows him at his playful best as well as being in fabulous voice. It also makes me sad as I wonder what can have gone so horribly wrong, so quickly.
The treats continue when Elvis puts on his acoustic guitar to sing 'Are You Lonesome Tonight' and then announces "Somewhere in the sixties we did a song 'Reconsider Baby." A great song & an amazing New Year's treat.
Twenty four songs into the show but yet again Elvis responds to an audience request and performs a great 'Little Sister' and it just keeps on getting better. Elvis had recently started performing 'Unchained Melody' accompanying himself on the piano - in fact this was only his fifth time performing it live. He announces it "For my Dad, Lisa & Ginger" and sings a very pleading version (... "I need your love"...). Unfortunately the sound of a noisy film camera interrupts part of it but the real unique surprise follows. Elvis says, "While I'm at the piano I'd like to do another song, you know, if you don't mind".
Unbelievably Elvis decides to sing 'Rags to Riches' - the one & only time that he sang it live. It is obviously a total shock for the band too since they have never rehearsed it. "In the key of E" instructs Elvis. Delicate, unrehearsed, a totally spontaneous version - certainly ramshackle in its way - but still outstanding. His voice is incredible and just listen when he asks the band to hang back - "Easy" Elvis says as he then sings "Must I forever stay a beggar, whose golden dreams will not come true?" It is a magical moment as the power of his voice alone fills the auditorium. What more could you ask for?
Elvis says "Thank You, God Bless You, take it home" as 'Can't Help Falling' brings everyone to their feet cheering. Someone screams "No, No, Elvis, Elvis" and after such an exquisite and unusual two hours you feel the same. Unfortunately this last track is really spoilt by someone close by talking but at least it is complete.
In the video during the 'Closing vamp' you can see Elvis soaking up the applause still with energy to spare & throwing in some final karate moves. On the CD you can hear the final cheers as he leaves the stage at 1.30.
In the middle of the concert Elvis says "I'd like to wish you a very happy & prosperous New Year & hope you health & happiness and may your God be with you. I mean that sincerely". If only someone had really been there to look after Elvis' health & happiness.
Verdict: This was Elvis' last great performance and, although an audience recording, every Elvis fan needs to understand just how well he could perform at the very start of 1977. It is a GREAT concert. A lot of fans will already own this on bootleg so the lack of audio improvement is a little dissapointing - but it is (nearly) complete, a double CD and great value for money. Even better it heralds the fact that FTD can release more audience material & rarities in the future.
'New Year's Eve'
Release April 1 2003
Tracklist Disc 1
1. Also Sprach Zarathustra - 1:09
2. See See Rider - 3:51
3. I Got A Woman/Amen - 8:12
4. Big Boss Man - 2:55
5. Love Me - 2:28
6. Fairytale - 2:47
7. You Gave Me A Mountain - 3:20
8. Jailhouse Rock - 1:41
9. O Sole Mio/It's Now Or Never - 4:32
10. My Way - 4:44
11. Funny How Time Slips Away - 1:51
12. Auld Lang Syne - 1:13
13. Introductions - 0:46
14. Blue Suede Shoes - 1:07
15. Trying To Get To You - 2:34
16. Polk Salad Annie - 4:08
1. Band Introductions - 1:42
2. Early Morning Rain - 2:22
3. What'd I Say - 0:48
4. Johnny B. Goode - 0:54
5. Solos - 4:07
6. Love Letters - 2:44
7. School Days - 1:19
8. Fever - 3:07
9. Hurt - 2:39
10. Hound Dog - 1:41
11. Are You Lonesome Tonight? - 2:50
12. Reconsider Baby - 2:53
13. Little Sister - 2:12
14. Unchained Melody - 3:40
15. Rags To Riches - 2:25
16. Can't Help Falling In Love - 1:40
17. Closing Vamp - 1:52
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