- review by Piers Beagley -

In December 1976 Elvis performed a short mini-tour of five cities ending with the fabulous New Year’s Eve concert in Pittsburgh.

Unlike the majority of Elvis' very lackadaisical concerts from earlier in the year he was really ready to rock. Elvis' new girlfriend Ginger Alden, only 20 years old - was on tour with him. And we all know that Elvis performed at his best when faced with a real challenge.

These December 1976 concerts would be our last glimpse of that fabulous musical beacon that shone so brightly back in August 1969 in Las Vegas.

EIN's Piers Beagley checks out this new double-CD pack from FTD...

In December 1976 Elvis performed a short mini-tour of five cities ending with the fabulous New Year’s Eve concert in Pittsburgh. Unlike the majority of Elvis' very lackadaisical concerts from earlier in the year he was really ready to rock, attacking songs with a renewed energy. This was, of course, because Elvis' new girlfriend Ginger Alden - only 20 years old - was on tour with him. And we all know that Elvis performed at his best when faced with a real challenge.

These December concerts would be our last major glimpse of that fabulous musical beacon that shone so brightly back in August 1969 in Las Vegas. Sadly the light would soon fade with New Year's Eve being a grand finale of sorts, but both Dallas on December 28th and Birmingham the following night were two of his very best. Raising to the challenge of impressing his new girlfriend Ginger, Elvis was back on great form and with a very fine set-list. There was no dilution with tracks like ‘If You Love Me Let Me Know’ or ‘Let Me be There.’

Listening to these concerts there is a real energy to Elvis’ voice, unlike the dreadful slurriness of previously in the year. And while he is obviously buzzing with enthusiasm and trying to impress his girlfriend (he often calls out to Ginger during the show) he is also not excessively "speedy" as witnessed via his distracted chatter on some other concerts.

Supplied as a foldout 3-sided digipack the presentation is one of FTD’s better soundboard cover designs. Also included is an 8-page booklet with plenty of photos from the actual concerts.

(Right: The FTD booklet cover)

These help to show a slimmer, healthier looking Elvis than from earlier in the year. All praise to Ginger for lifting his spirits and enthusiasm those few short weeks.

I’m not sure of the use of the "damaged" film negative as a design idea (see below). Is this a statement about Elvis’ health? However the booklet (as also provided with the FTD ‘High Sierra’ release) is most welcome and should become a regular for digipack releases.

Note: There is a mistake with the Dallas track sequence as printed on the back cover with two Track 11s being indicated and no Track 16!


CD.1 - BIRMINGHAM - December 29, 1976 - 73 minutes.
Originally released back in 1998 as 'Burning In Birmingham' the concert was also re released as a bootleg back in 2008 (High Voltage, Birmingham Revisited) but that time in stereo. Sadly this FTD version is back to the basic mono and it’s a shame that something more couldn’t have been done with the original binaural master soundboard tape (as with Dallas on Disc.2).
The audio here is slightly improved on the original mono bootleg version, having more treble response, albeit with more cassette tape-hiss to go with it.

From the punchy start of 'See See Rider' Elvis is obviously in fine form and great spirits. What an amazing turn-around from the low-key shows of Cow Palace just one month previously, or even the Las Vegas season only two weeks before. You can hear it in the way Elvis holds the notes and plays with the lyrics, "I said, yeah, see, see, see, see, see Rider.." throws in some "whoas" and pushes along the band. So often in 1976 it sadly seemed the opposite as if the band were dragging Elvis along - but not here!

Even the "old regulars" that we have heard too many times and in better versions are fun. 'I Got a Woman/Amen' has a renewed spark to it and it is nice to hear Elvis enjoying himself making music on stage once again. Listen to "She's there to love me, both day and night, she knows, she knows, she knows, she knows .." @02.18.
The funk routine with Elvis laughing "That's enough my belt is falling off" is genuine fun and, while most people are probably over J.D's routine vocal bass-slide endings.

After his introduction "My name is Glen Campbell" Elvis mentions that he has never played in Birmingham before noting, "God this is a big place". He was right since it was the largest audience on the tour with 18,000 fans.

Even the often thrown-away 'Love Me' gets a serious treatment here and sincere ending, while a fine 'Fairytale' which follows has Elvis urging the band along "one more time" to an extra chorus.

'You Gave Me A Mountain' again has Elvis pushing his voice and throwing in some adlibs, "You gave me a mountain, over there somewhere" - and is followed by a crowd-pleasing extended 'Jailhouse Rock' with Elvis sounding more enthusiastic than usual.

Similarly 'It's Now Or Never' gets a good treatment this night. There is a little noted edit here due to cassette damage.
However it is the later part of the concert which really proves that Elvis was back on form.

"I'd like to... We're gonna do a lot of different songs, if you don't mind, that you don't recognise" takes us to a very cool 'Trying To Get To You' with Elvis singing his heart out. There are some cute emphasises, "When your lovin' letter told me, told me, told me, told me, yeah" and a fine ending falsetto.

Moving to 'My Way' Elvis once again touches our emotions adlibbing in the song, "You, guys know don't you? - I did it my way." The later 1977 versions of course have more emotional impact - but here Elvis sounds involved as he pushes his vocal to a climatic ending with his voice going up a key. The version in Dallas the night before (See below) is fascinating for having a very different overall feel to it.

'Polk Salad Annie' takes us once again back to the funk, Elvis throws in some fine growls, "Yeah Lord" and it’s an energetic rocker for 1976. Elvis joins in, singing along with the solos, and there's a real energy to the end as Elvis testifies, "Wind it up!". Play it loud!

From the fifties, to the emotional 'My Way', to 70's swamp-rock of 'Polk Salad Annie' and onto a sublime 'Early Morning Rain' it is a delightful pacing.

Contrasting against the previous funk, 'Early Morning Rain' is beautifully sung and one of the longest versions Elvis performed in concert as he pushes the band to continue saying, "One more verse". It is another example demonstrating what fine form he was on in Birmingham. (New Year's Eve would get the shorter version).

Elvis seems enthused by all the solos this night, joking about James Burton playing 'Johnny B Goode' with his guitar behind his head "Easy for him to do, Hard for me!"

'Love Letters' is the usual tender, if a little too slow in tempo, while Elvis really rocks joining in on 'Hail Hail Rock 'n' Roll'. In fact at the end Elvis really brings it to a climax causing him to laughingly comment, "What the heck was that note I just hit? I just strained a gut!"

The previous night in Dallas Elvis performed only three more songs at this point before he 'left the building' - but Birmingham would be really special with yet another eight songs to follow as Elvis strays way off the regular set-list!

There is a huge cheer as Elvis asks for the house lights to be turned up for a cool 'Funny How Time Slips Away' which includes some fine 'chicken-pickin' guitar from James Burton and some marvellous bass-rattling J.D Sumner vocals. With the house-lights up you can hear the audience screaming for Elvis’ attention and you can imagine the huge size of the auditorium and crowd that Elvis is playing to.

Elvis introduces 'Hurt' as "one of my latest records" with him treating it as a vocal showstopper and reprising the ending tonight. Again Elvis is working with the band "talk to me James" he says, but suggests, "Wanna' hear that last part again?.. we can do it better". The second ending is even more over-the-top as Elvis exclaims, "Lord have mercy!"

The crowd pleaser 'Hound Dog' follows before the completely spontaneous suggestion to the band of 'For The Good Times'! There is no record of Elvis performing this at all in 1976 - and only a couple of times since 1972! No wonder everyone was caught off guard! "What key did we do it in James?" asks Elvis while he also has to guide the band.

'For The Good Times' begins with a false start - due to some strange on-stage crash - and Elvis has to egg on the band who are obviously not rehearsed into joining in saying, "C'mon, c'mon... I can't hear them". The band is slow to respond but soon the feeling is there which produces a very tender and delightful slow-tempo version. Elvis approves, "Lord, have mercy" - with Charlie Hodge and Sherrill Neilsen also joining in on 3-part harmony. Elvis sings it very sincerely and it is all that more a highlight knowing that this would be the last time Elvis would ever sing the song in concert.

While this was surely sung to Ginger Alden ("hold your warm and tender body so close to mine") the next song 'The First Time Ever I saw Your Face' is also dedicated directly to her, "We'll do this song for you sweetheart".

'The First Time Ever I saw Your Face', possibly only sung once in the previous year, is again the last time Elvis would perform this particular tune in concert. Due to its rarity Elvis again has to help instruct the band and emphasises the sincerity of it being for Ginger saying "Listen" a few times. The highlight at 01.50 is when Elvis asks all the band to "lay out" apart from David Briggs on piano creating a sensationally touching verse of just his quiet vocal. Sadly a couple of fans have to call-out causing Elvis to comment "Shutup!" but this only goes to emphasise the sincerity of his performance. One has to wonder if Ginger even noticed the amazing uniqueness of the night at the time.

While 'Unchained Melody' is familiar to us all nowadays when Elvis announces, "If you don't mind I'd like to play the piano and sing for you" this was only the third time Elvis would perform it live. (I bet the band were wondering what the hell would come next!)

'Unchained Melody' is another highlight, if a little rough, with Elvis calling out chord changes as he plays. Elvis is obviously in far better physical shape than on his later versions, which tended to show his breathlessness, and the final build up where he calls to the band "Lay it on me" takes it to a fine climax, as he comments, "Whoo!"

Sounding pleased with his solo performance Elvis then jumps into a spontaneous 'Mystery Train/Tiger Man' - he would only perform it one more time. A fast and funky version it is a final highlight as Elvis improvises and sings along more than ever.
Comparing it to his laid-back 3 May 1977 version (where Elvis sounds out of breath and doesn't join in - See FTD 'Spring Tours' - here Elvis still has plenty of energy to spare. Check out his extremely funny "Hey hey Hey, bluh-luh-luh-luh-luh" segue between songs at 01.10 ! A classic live version.

It's a great ending to an inspired show but time is up, "'Til we meet you again - Adios Mother" takes us to the serious finale of 'Can't Help Falling In Love'. Again Elvis finishes the concert without throwing the song away and pushes the final note suggesting earlier to Ginger, "Stay here until the very end".

While the treat is perhaps the length of this Birmingham concert and the unique extra songs, there is no doubt that the prior night's concert in Dallas was equally strong and this time FTD greatly improves the audio quality compared to previous versions.

CD.1 - DALLAS - December 28, 1976 - 62 minutes.
Released back in 1998 as the bootleg "A Hot Winter Night In Dallas" Elvis’ concert of December 28th 1976 has always been regarded as one of his very best from his final years on stage.
Even better, this FTD release is actually in STEREO (albeit only slightly due to the right channel being mainly piano) and the quality is excellent. The sound is less muddied and without the added echo of previous versions. This is a real audio treat.

The concert also has one of the best "Also Sprach" builds-ups since the first 30 seconds are purely tickling piano before the full power-mix kicks in. It’s a great start to a superb show.

As soon as Elvis jumps on stage to sing ‘See See Rider’ you can hear that this will be a great concert. Elvis is bursting with energy

A very committed 'I Got A Woman' follows and Elvis has genuine fun during the 'Amen' segment that can so often sound like he is only going-through-the-motions. As Elvis slides down a bass-note he teases, "Bring it down to earth baby. I'm crazy, you know that don't you?" and jokes with the crowd about his stutter, "I can’t talk but I can do the routine."

(Right:Booklet photos)

The crowd is soaking up this great atmousphere and giving it back to Elvis with real applause and screams and the interaction is beautifully captured with Elvis comment, "If I died tonight it'd take a year to wipe the smile off may face!"

Even on the usually throwaway 'Love Me' Elvis sounds enthusiastic and throws in some vocal gymnastics at the end. For once he doesn't sound like he has sung this song 1000 times before. Again the crowd responds with loud applause and shrieks causing Elvis to laugh, "Hey folks, this is a concert, not an orgy!"

The very apt 'Fairytale' follows - "the story of my life" - with the sound mix particularly good here and Elvis enjoying the song asking the band for "one more time".

‘You Gave Me a Mountain' on the original bootleg missed a part and here we get a clever edited version (the second verse is missing). Although it was a song Elvis had been doing for years he still sings a powerful good version for 1976. Beforehand there is a false start spoilt by microphone feedback with Elvis apologising for it and re-commencing the song.

Even "the oldies" get treated with more respect than usual with Elvis giving 'Jailhouse Rock' (now complete although with minor tape damage) some extra energy and a positive falsetto ending.

Similarly 'O Sole Mio/It's Now or Never' gets a real work out with Elvis asking Sherrill Neilsen to repeat the Italian intro. Teasing Sherrill about his soprano solo Elvis jokes, "You're lucky to be alive son!"

'Trying To Get To You' is another track that sounds great. Being in stereo there's great rolling piano sound in the mix and the orchestra and band are very well balanced. Elvis adds a nice growl and there's a great line "You know, know, know.. There's nothing can hold me."

"You're sending me some good vibrations" Elvis tells the crowd and rightly dismisses Charlie Hodge's suggestion of 'Teddy Bear' "Forget that!" (why didn’t he do this more often!?) and instead throws in a quick but somewhat rarer 'Blue Suede Shoes.'

Elvis chooses 'My Way' and performs a fascinating version for the Dallas crowd. There’s no later 1976 usual lack-of-breath or vocal power evident this night. In 1977 Elvis’ version often sounded like a poignant final statement looking back at a sad life soon ending. Here it sounds very different like a mid-seventies version looking at his life’s successes. Elvis even adds, "I’ve lived a life that’s full almost" and laughs at himself at points. Quite fascinating, this version is no sad goodbye.

‘Polk Salad Annie’ is another energetic version for 1976 and Elvis is obviously working hard on stage. The sound mix here is excellent for a soundboard with clean piano and the Sweets very upfront. Elvis rocks out with a "sock it, sock it, yeah babe" extended ending.

Understandably sounding puffed the lengthy Introductions are next. Elvis still joins in on the solos with "Hey Bo Diddley" to Ronnie Tutt’s drum solo and also on ‘Johnny B Goode.’

‘Love Letters’ is a fine version sounding better for the clean audio quality and a good vocal from Elvis. A treat in Elvis later concerts he had only started performing this song in April of 1976.

‘Early Morning Rain’ is a delightful full-length version. Elvis adds the extra verse and notes "pay attention" to JD Sumner and asks the band to "keep it going." He is really enjoying himself on this fine night which is noticeable as Elvis adds his own bass-line to the final and of the song.

‘Hurt’ is a little faster than sometimes but Elvis gives it a great falsetto ending and the audience responds with huge applause with Elvis responding, "Wanna hear that last part again?" and to a quick reprise.

At this point Elvis included the crowd-pleaser ‘Hound Dog’ but it has been omitted on this CD due to unrepairable tape damage.

As Elvis steps up to the piano the audience is in for a big surprise as Elvis decides to perform ‘Unchained Melody’ for only the second time in concert. "We don’t know the chords but please bear with us. Let me play the piano." Being such an early version Elvis calls out the chord changes to the musicians along the way - "drum roll Ronnie" – and the feeling is pretty rough and can’t compete with his later well-rehearsed versions. In his final concerts this became a key personal song and this magic moment is still appreciated by the crowd.

By that time Elvis announces "Take it on baby" and with a powerful ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ it is all over too soon.

(Right:Back cover photograph)

My only complaint with this value-for-money set is that FTD didn’t manage to surprise us with any Wichita December 27th tracks. Perhaps Ernst is holding these for a future release. In 2002 he told EIN...

EIN – Is December 1976 one of your planned releases (from the great ‘Burning in Birmingham’ Tour)?
Ernst Jorgensen – We have the three and one of them could be the basis of a CD and the highlights from the others. None of them are complete on soundboards because the tapes weren’t long enough for those shows. Or there is a possibility to do one of them as a show. The problem is that the one that is out on bootleg is actually the best sound quality, so should we then release the one that is not out on bootleg and take the best of the other one? These are decisions to be made. Some of us know enough about the bootlegs.. they don’t sell that much.. so it shouldn’t be an excuse for not releasing anything. So we will definitely do that in the future."

Overall Verdict: Two Must-Have concerts that all true Elvis fans should own. While obviously nothing like Elvis’ supreme concerts of the early 1970s if you had been in the audience for either this Dallas or Birmingham night there’s no doubt you would have witnessed Elvis once again performing with an energy and intensity rarely seen in the previous year on stage. Raising himself to the challenge of impressing his new girlfriend Ginger, Elvis would never be as good on stage after this short Tour. With FTD giving you the two concerts for the price of one and tremendous audio improvement on the Dallas show this set is highly recommended.

Review by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN July 2010
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.

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'SHOWTIME' - FTD May 2010 release #506020 975013

Disc 1 – BIRMINGHAM – December 29, 1976
1) Also Sprach Zarathustra
2) See See Rider
3) I Got A Woman / Amen
4) Love Me
5) Fairytale
6) You Gave Me A Mountain
7) Jailhouse Rock
8) It's Now Or Never
9) Trying To Get To You
10) My Way
11) Polk Salad Annie
12) Introductions / Early Mornin’ Rain
13) What’d I Say / Johnny B. Goode
14) Love Letters
15) School Days
16) Funny How Time Slips Away
17) Hurt
18) Hound Dog (damaged)
19) For The Good Times
20) The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
21) Unchained Melody
22) Mystery Train/Tiger Man
23) Can’t Help Falling In Love
24) Closing vamp

FTD CD Credits: Compilation and art directed by Ernst Jorgensen & Roger Semon. - Mastered by Lene Reidel.

Disc 2 – DALLAS – December 28, 1976
 1) Also Sprach Zarathustra
 2) See See Rider
 3) I Got A Woman / Amen
 4) Love Me
 5) Fairytale
 6) You Gave Me A Mountain
 7) Jailhouse Rock
 8) It's Now Or Never
 9) Trying To Get To You
 10) Blue Suede Shoes
 11) My Way
 12) Polk Salad Annie
 13) Introductions/Early Mornin’ Rain
 14) What’d I Say / Johnny B. Goode
 15) Love Letters
 16) School Days
 17) Hurt
 18) Unchained Melody
 19) Can’t Help Falling In Love
 20) Closing vamp


Go here for other relevant EIN articles & reviews

Elvis New Year's Eve FTD Review

Minnesota Moment - 1976 FTD review

Elvis live on tour 1977 'Spring Tours'

High Voltage, Birmingham Revisited CD review

Elvis 1976 'The Jungle Room Sessions'

Elvis: Has Left the Building

'High Sierra' Elvis in Lake Tahoe 1974

'Unchained Melody' FTD review 1977

'Nevada Nights' FTD review 1974

Review of January 1974 FTD 'I Found My Thrill'

Click here for FTD 'Live In Memphis 1974'

'Southern Nights' - FTD review 1975:

Review of January 1974 FTD 'I Found My Thrill'

'LIVE in LA' May 1974 FTD Book/CD review

Review of FTD 'Writing For The King'

Review of BMG 'Viva Las Vegas LIVE' 1969'

The Impossible Dream FDT review 1971

'An American Trilogy' - FTD Review 1972

'Summer Festival' - FTD review 1972:

'Closing Night' a wild 1973 September'

EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
Elvis Presley, Elvis and Graceland are trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises.
The Elvis Information Network has been running since 1986 and is an EPE officially recognised Elvis fan club.















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