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Elvis Hits Jackpot In Vegas : On Stage CD Review

By John Dunn
Source: Times Record
April 6, 2010 - 6:51:27 PM

Sometimes a gamble pays off - big time.

During the same headline-filled summer of 1969 as Neil Armstrong taking his 'one giant leap for mankind' on the pockmarked moon's surface, a half-million hippies 'communing' in a big pasture near Woodstock, N.Y., Elvis Presley rolled the dice on his career 'comeback' in Las Vegas and won.

Why worry?

Because the sting of Sin City's rejection of Elvis mania in 1956 never abated for the pompadoured Memphian despite that engagement at the New Frontier Hotel being a case of wrong town, wrong crowd, wrong time. By 1969, the brash young rocker had matured into a 34-year-old showbiz icon who had more than 30 films under his karate belt (the quality noticeably deteriorated after 1963's 'Viva Las Vegas') and had been away from performing in public for eight years. Presley's pivotal NBC TV 'comeback' special in December 1968 (the network's highest-rated show of the year) whetted his appetite for more live audiences. In January and February 1969, a reinvigorated Presley recorded tracks for his critically acclaimed album, 'From Elvis in Memphis', and underwent a commercial renaissance with such adult-contemporary material as 'In the Ghetto' (No. 3), 'Don't Cry Daddy' (No. 6) and 'Suspicious Minds', his first No. 1 in seven years. In April, Presley inked a lucrative contract with the then-new International Hotel in Las Vegas. His return to the stage from July 31 to Aug. 28 proved triumphant, with more than 101,500 people attending the re-coronation of 'The King'.

'On Stage: Legacy Edition' - another 'gift' from RCA/Legacy during its yearlong celebration of Presley's 75th birthday - is a sonic revisitation of 'The King' holding court in Vegas.

The two-disc document collects work from two previous albums, 'Elvis in Person at the International Hotel', released in November 1969 (originally half of the double-LP 'From Memphis to Vegas - From Vegas to Memphis') and 'On Stage', recorded in February 1970 on his second Vegas stint and released in June 1970. The specially designed package also includes multiple bonus tracks, a full-color booklet with numerous photos and a 3,000-word essay by Ken Sharp, the author of 2009's 'Elvis: Vegas '69'.

‘Versatile Singer'

Sharp's liner notes benefit greatly from the recollections of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist James Burton and members of The Imperials, among others, in telling how Presley came to form what would later be rechristened the TCB Band. 'When Elvis called, he wanted me to find players that could play different styles and could improvise', Burton recalled. The band, with backup vocal groups The Imperials and The Sweet Inspirations, helped Presley bridge the worlds of gospel, rock and R&B. Musical director Bobby Morris, noting that Presley had become a 'more well-rounded entertainer and versatile singer' by 1969, added an orchestra to the mix. The blending of a rock band with an orchestra became the Presley sound until his death. It was, in essence, Elvis music - or, simply, American music. No one before or since bridged such varied musical genres as rock, country, gospel, soul, blues and pop ballads as fluidly as Presley and Co.

Oldies And Covers

The discs' original 'Elvis in Person' sides feature performances culled from late August 1969 and include spirited versions of such early smashes as 'Hound Dog', 'All Shook Up', 'Are You Lonesome Tonight?' and 'Can't Help Falling in Love', which would become his show-closer, as well as smart covers of Carl Perkins' 'Blue Suede Shoes', Chuck Berry's 'Johnny B. Goode' and Don Gibson's 'I Can't Stop Loving You.' Still fresh, a swirling, seven-minute, 45-second version of 'Suspicious Minds' would become a concert staple.

The bonus tracks include effective readings of Ray Charles' 'I Got a Woman', Jimmy Reed's 'Baby, What You Want Me to Do' and Willie Nelson's 'Funny How Time Slips Away'. Presley's cover of the Bee Gees' 'Words' pointed him in the direction of the February 1970 recordings on the stronger Disc One. Months after his first Vegas engagement, Presley had branched out with his covers to more contemporary material. Presley's unparalleled ability as a song interpreter comes to the fore on Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline', The Beatles' 'Yesterday', Creedence Clearwater Revival's 'Proud Mary' and 'Release Me', a pop hit for British crooner Engelbert Humperdinck. And why Presley didn't record more songs by Joe South, a Georgian whose 'Walk a Mile in My Shoes' fits easily with Presley's vision of himself as an Everyman, is a mystery.

On Top Again

The original 'On Stage' album also includes two songs that became mainstays in Presley's live shows - 'See See Rider', his show-opener until his death, and Tony Joe White's 'Polk Salad Annie'. Presley identified with the latter, having eaten polk as a boy in Mississippi, and turned his on-stage performances of the song into exhausting aerobic workouts and karate moves. With the orchestra in full bloom during the intro, Presley's show-stopping treatment of Ray Peterson's 1959 hit, 'The Wonder of You', became a No. 9 hit in 1970. The February 1970 extras also include two versions of Presley's more recent singles, Mac Davis' 'Don't Cry Daddy' and the Eddie Rabbitt-Dick Heard song, 'Kentucky Rain', as well as a rehearsal take of 'The Wonder of You'.

Presley's first two engagements in Las Vegas yielded good results. He was excited about performing again, and his vocals - deeper, moodier and more nuanced than the gyrating dynamo of mid-1950s - were at a peak as he hit 35 in 1970. His songs and albums were charting high; he was on top again.

For The Record

Elvis Presley

Buy On Stage: Legacy Edition

Review: On Stage: Legacy Edition 2 CD Set By Musicouch

Elvis Presley's 1968 comeback sparked the King's live concert touring machine with a slew of stunning comeback concerts in Las Vegas - Elvis Presley's 1970 classic ON STAGE now gets the LEGACY 2-CD treatment with the additional 1969 classic album, IN PERSON added as the second disc. These two classic live CD albums sound better than ever with sparkling audio restorations and it's proof that Elvis's mojo was alive and kickin.'.

Maybe Elvis turned caricature in the late 1970s but these early Vegas concerts capture him firing on all cylinders - it's an effervescent Las Vegas extravaganza and Elvis is obviously having a blast! SONY LEGACY have hit paydirt with this release adding additional bonus tracks to each album.

The blues belter 'See See Rider' starts ON STAGE with aplomb. Standouts include: Del Shannon's 'Runaway', the majestic 'The Wonder Of You', and the swamp blues classic 'Polk Salad Annie' - Tony Joe White's original was a live staple of Elvis's 1970 Las Vegas repertoire and this rendition cuts a deep bluesy groove. More cases in point: Joe South's spiritual classic 'Walk A Mile In My Shoes' delights while 'Let It Be Me' becomes the definitive performance of the Everly Brothers classic.

Four bonus tracks including sublime ballads, 'Don't Cry Daddy', 'Kentucky Rain' and a rocking Little Richard cover, 'Long Tall Sally' add more to the sparkling mix. A six minute plus rehearsal take of 'The Wonder Of You' provides a fly on-the-wall experience into the rehearsal process and is a fine addition.

Disc-two features the IN PERSON album from 1969 and it's evident from the start that rocking the Vegas showroom was the aim. 'Blues Suede Shoes' rocks and rolls like never before in the stunning audio while the incendiary Johnny B. Goode cover would have Mr Berry himself rocking in the front row. More highlights include: a roof raising cover of Willie Dixon's blues classic 'My Babe' and a rocking Mystery Train/Tiger Man medley where Elvis takes us back to the rocking 1950s with panache.

The bonus tracks, all six are a fabulous addition - Ray Charles 'I Got A Woman' satisfies while blues drenched classics, 'Heartbreak Hotel', 'Baby, What You Want Me To Do', 'Reconsider Baby' and Willie Nelson's 'Funny How Time Slips Away' finish the album in exemplary blues fashion.

Presley's return to Vegas proved a huge success smashing attendance records and wowing fans from all corners of the globe. The ON STAGE LEGACY 2-CD features Elvis and his mighty band raw and unleashed.

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Elvis Presley Review Review: On Stage: Legacy Edition 2 CD Set By David Adams
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