|'Closing Night' - Elvis says, "Adios Las Vegas, and bye-bye Colonel too!"
(Review by Piers Beagley)
Closing Night has surely been the most controversial FTD release so far, receiving comments varying from awesome to dreadful!
It seems that, despite all the pre-release information, some fans may have missed the point of this historic CD. It is important to remember that the FTD label was specifically designed to service Elvis Collectors. Its mandate includes "To make artistically and historically important material available for the dedicated collector" and "To steer fans away from buying illegal (bootleg) product".
There is no doubt that this specific Las Vegas date & this concert are incredibly important in Elvis history. At the end of his ninth Vegas season Elvis' emotions were a mess of contradictions. By 1971 Elvis was already bored with the Las Vegas routine so here, in 1973, Elvis was extremely happy to be at the end of his 58 date season. Demonstrating his very playful mood Elvis had even lined up a bed to be pushed on stage for 'What Now My Love'.
He had also planned to walk on with a toy Mo-Key (The Colonel?) strapped to his back. However Elvis was also in a foul mood with the Hilton because they were threatening to sack an employee, Mario, who Elvis had befriended.
Not only that but Elvis' original Hilton contract had now expired and other Vegas Hotels were desperate to sign him up. In reality Elvis was annoyed with Colonel Parker's style of management, really wanted out of Las Vegas completely, and felt a desire for something new. Before the concert Elvis is quoted as saying, "I don't want to play here anymore. I'll see that the son-of-a-bitch doesn't book me in Vegas again".
So with all these mixed emotions inside, and with Colonel Parker in the audience, Elvis puts on a twisted show demonstrably wearing his mood on his sleeve. This is absolutely NOT the staid routine of 'Aloha' just 8 months before; this is more like a token taste of 'Desert Storm' that would follow exactly one year later.
After the show (where The Colonel had just witnessed him say "To Hell with the Hilton Hotel" on stage!) Elvis would confront the old man - and in the presence of the Memphis Mafia - shout at Colonel Parker eventually telling him that he was fired! Parker responded with, "You can't fire me, I quit".
This is the moment that Elvis really should have followed through by saying, 'Adios Las Vegas, and bye-bye Colonel too.'
Sadly this never happened.
Unfortunately Elvis' main failing was to have his Father, a man who never finished High School, as his accountant. Any other adviser would have seen through Colonel Parker's dirty tricks and then history would have been very different. So this IS what the FTD label is all about and, best of all, they have recently found a reel-to-reel tape of the show. The audio quality is not quite as good as the 'Dinner At Eight' FTD but is a fabulous improvement on the cassette soundboards like 'It's Midnight.'
So to the CD itself..
There is no doubt that on the first listen Elvis' lyric changes, joking and general craziness may come as a shock however there is a real fascination to this concert. The performance certainly isn't routine, nor boring and listening to Elvis going from teasing, to angry, to impassioned and back again is captivating. Neither is this the slurring train-wreck of the awful College Park concerts in 1974.
I will certainly be playing this more that the more routine concerts like 1975's 'Dinner At Eight' or for that matter the new bootleg 'Movin' Mobile'!
The CD starts with 7 tracks from the Sept 3rd Dinner show but here, as with most Dinner Shows, Elvis takes a while to get up to speed. However there is a nice touch of playfulness even in 'See See Rider' when, towards the end, Elvis jokes 'Is this the right song?' It even seems that Elvis (under some influence?) is kidding Charlie Hodge (under alcohol influence?) about slurring his words!
The real interest starts with a strong 'Steamroller Blues. Here with the reel-2-reel audio quality you can truly appreciate Emery Gordy's cool bass playing. (Sadly missing from Takin' Tahoe Tonight as that was from cassette). Glen Hardin's piano work is a treat too. Crank it up & move your speakers!
'You Gave Me a Mountain' is also fine although Elvis does have a swipe at the Hilton. He sings, "The sound system of this hotel ain't worth a damn" - just a hint of things to come.
Afterwards Elvis makes sure you know that it isn't a personal complaint since he then praises his sound engineer Bill Porter. In a cute aside Bill shouts back, "Thank You" to Elvis!
Rare treat number one is the first issued official live performance of 'Trouble' from Elvis in the seventies. What a shame Elvis didn't use this in 'Aloha' or even in 'In Concert' as the song epitomizes everything Elvis. This is a very different laid-back 'n' lazy version but Elvis is obviously enjoying it & adds a cute falsetto mid-verse. James Burton adds an amazing fuzz guitar solo making it quite unique.
Beforehand Elvis teases the crowd with, "I'd like to do a medley of Spanish folks song for you" adding the start of 'Guadalajara' which gets a paltry applause. The audience, understandably, just don't know what to make of it!
The last eighteen tracks are all from the 'Closing show'.
The 'Rock Medley' is the first track and here Elvis gives the final part 'Hound Dog' a really hard workout. As Anne E Nixon noted in her concert review, "At the close of Hound Dog Elvis began a 'Ch-Ch-Ch' kind of sound. It went on and on, as he continued to improvise. The band behind him picked it up, and jammed along. Elvis was bent over double, knees bent, and moving from side to side, real gone! The audience was half hypnotised, half screaming."
This is a great insight into what it was like to experience this strange show.
At 'Love Me Tender' the weirdness truly starts with Elvis changing the words and making his real feeling felt. .
"Adios you Muttha,
Bye Bye Poppa too,
To hell with the Hilton Hotel
And screw the showroom too"
- Can you imagine what The Colonel was thinking? !
Elvis however was still in his playful final-night mood and had some surprises planned. Elvis jazzes up 'Fever' very playfully teasing The Sweets who purr in reply like cats. Elvis says, "I'm allergic to cats" and also tells his own shaking legs, "Cool it you fools!" Cute and a complete rarity, crazy indeed.
At this point the lights went down and a bed was rolled onto the stage letting Elvis sing an impassioned 'What Now My Love' lying on the bed! Elvis was also making some suggestive movements with his microphone but again the final half of the song becomes serious and gets the regular power ending.
The weirdest moment of the show is next when the band starts playing 'Suspicious Minds' while Elvis deliberately sings the lyrics of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water.' It is totally surreal and obviously pre-planned. Elvis is clearly enjoying the joke and the audience must be wondering what the hell was going on. The Colonel must have been fuming! Elvis keeps it going for nearly a minute before joking to the band, "Wait a minute! You don't know what you're doing. Hold the show. Cut!"
Elvis then continues with the real 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' but someone shouts from the audience and Elvis losses where he is in the lyrics. Then the most bizarre event occurs when Elvis says, "What's the words, give me the words?" and the whole band & showroom stand up and sing the lyrics back to Elvis! It is extraordinary with Elvis laughing, "Oh that's nice. Listen, the Ted Mack Amateur Hour!" Then honestly adds, "Very nice, thank you very much" and finishes the song with true passion, almost as proof of who exactly is in control. An amazing performance.
After a throw-away 'Suspicious Minds' the band introductions show Elvis' mood turning again as he asks for someone backstage to help Charlie Hodge. He heatedly says, "Someone else backstage come out and pick up the sheet music. Joe, Sonny, Red, Lamar? There's 25 other employees around backstage!" However he then seems genuinely thankful to Joe Guercio and nicely introduces, "A good friend of mine, George Hamilton" -- and even Colonel Tom Parker gets a mention! Elvis touchingly introduces his father who gets a huge around of applause.
An impassioned 'My Boy' follows. Elvis understood the autobiographical nature of this song and even dedicated it to Lisa Marie at one of this season's shows. Again this is a treat since it is the earliest release we have of this song - Elvis wouldn't record it until 3 months later at Stax Studios. Elvis continues by giving Charlie Hodge more credit than ever, "He does these fantastic harmonies... He does it so well that it's almost like one voice."
'I Can't Stop Loving You' again shows Elvis really singing his heart out, adding a full power ending but he then gets annoyed by the audience's lack of applause. Because if this the following 'An American Trilogy' gets a knowing, "I wish I was in land of cotton. Hell, I wish you were too!" He also kids everyone that he wishes he was in 'Disneyland'.
The show's emotional roller-coaster ride is then demonstrated by the powerful & sincere second half of the song. Elvis unusually takes time out to thank everybody, "The guy that plays the flute solo, Jimmy Mulidore, he's played it 144 times and never missed it once. Fantastic Jimmy. The trumpet players, they have actually split their lips from blowing so hard, really. We kid a lot, and have a lot of fun, but we really love to sing and play music and entertain people. That's the name of the game. As long as I can do that, I'll be a happy old sonofabitch!"
A delicate, 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' follows with an interesting brass arrangement & with Elvis enjoying singing it in a very operatic style. "I like that song" he adds. Again this is a first as, amazingly, this song has never been officially released as a live version before.
At this point Elvis begins by announcing that the gold chain around his neck was given to him in thanks by The Hilton but then starts telling off their management for trying to fire his waiter friend Mario! It is quite surreal as he says that, "Mario needs a job, and I think the Hilton's bigger than that. No disrespect, but I just wanna' wake up Conrad (Hilton) and tell him about Mario's job, that's all."
His angry mood continues into a fascinating & powerful 'Mystery Train/Tiger Man. Elvis really lays down the gauntlet - stimulating the band to a driving performance - and halfway through states, "This next song is dedicated to the hierarchy and the staff of the Hilton Hotel." Elvis then defiantly & ferociously asserts, "I'm the King of The Jungle..." There is no doubt that he's warning everyone not to mess with Elvis.
But what a difference when Elvis follows with an astonishing 'How Great thou Art'. One of Elvis' most sincere performances, getting the ovation it deserves & prompting Elvis to do two reprises. This is the gospel music that he loves and, as he says, "Yeah baby I like that. Wanna do it again? Whatever, I don't care, I'll sing it all night!" His low opinion of the Hilton audience is still apparent though as he also adds, "You're very nice. I'm glad you finally showed some appreciation for something." - Extraordinary stuff.
An interesting, 'Help Me Make It Through The Night' follows with Elvis nicely playing with the melody before the exceptional & weird 'Softly As I Leave You.'
Elvis had never performed 'Softly As I Leave You' before and would not return to it for another year. Here it is totally spontaneous. Although the orchestra picked up the melody halfway though, here you get only get Elvis' whispered recitation. It is nothing like the version recorded in the following year and only adds to the peculiar nature of the show.
As in most Closing Night's Elvis had kept this penultimate number as his spontaneous treat. With 'Can't Help Falling In Love' the band takes it home & he was gone, hopefully saying Goodbye to Vegas & firing the Colonel.
But it was never to be.
There is no doubt that if this concert was available on Bootleg everyone would be falling over themselves to get a copy. After all, the newest bootleg is yet another June 75 routine show that we have had so many times before.
If you get the chance you should combine listening to this CD with the excellent 'Caught In Trap' photo book of the same period and you can also read the concert review by Anne E Nixon.
Elvis fans who prefer the more professional shows should keep playing Aloha, Live in Memphis 74 etc, and beware of the investigating this other side of Elvis. Surely the cover photo of Elvis with a mo-Key on his back should give a hint of the content!
However this is Elvis, it was an important night, a fascinating show, and we should be grateful that FTD are brave enough to release another alternate side of Elvis history.
After the show Elvis would thankfully take 5 months holiday before touring again. Unfortunately it would once again be with The Colonel as his manager and once again back at the Hilton Hotel. The only change would be that Elvis' seasons would be restricted to two weeks from then on.
To investigate the history further visit www.ElvisInfoNet.com for
1 - The recent EIN Ed Bonja interview where he made some interesting comments about the
fight between The Colonel & Elvis.
2 - The complete Anne E Nixon concert review.
, December 2004
Elvis Information Network Fan Club, Australia.