By: Ivan Fructuoso
That's All Right / Mystery Train - Tiger Man / I Can't Stop Loving You* / Love Me Tender / The Next Step Is Love* / Words / I Just Can't Help Believin' / Something / Sweet Caroline / You've Lost That Loving Feeling / You Don't Have To Say You Love Me* / Polk Salad Annie / I've Lost You / Bridge Over Troubled Water / Patch It Up / Can't Help Falling In Love.
Rehearsals : Words / Cattle Call - Yodel / Twenty Days And Twenty Nights / You Don't Have To Say You Love Me / Bridge over troubled water
ONE NIGHT IN VEGAS
When Elvis first visited Vegas in 1969, he did it using a repertoire filled with old classics. The show was based on a look at the past, featuring many 50’s songs, a handful of early 60’s trfacks (notably “Are you lonesome tonight” and “Reconsider baby”) and featured some other artists covers, such as “Runaway”, “Yesterday” or “Words” amongst others. He featured his current smash “In the ghetto”, his next one “Suspicious minds” (the show-stopper), and the fans favourite “Memories”. He declined to feature his most recent studio work deeper, trusting in the power of past, proven hits, wich he attacked at double speed.
January 1970 saw an Elvis that relied on many contemporary hits, both his (“Kentucky rain”, “Don’t cry daddy”, etc.) and other’s, such as Joe South’s “Walk a mile in my shoes”, T.J. White’s “Polk Salad Annie”, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”, etc
For his third visit, Elvis designed a new show that still featured oldies, but quite a few less than in previous engagements, that also still featured current smashes by other big entertainers, but that for the first time, featured not only both sides of his current and next singles, but also more tracks from the recent Nashville June sessions. It´s as if in 1969 Elvis had sang “Any day now”, “In the ghetto”, “Suspicious minds”, “You’ll think of me” plus another string of songs from his famous american studio sessions.
Probably Elvis relied in olden classics when his confidence in success was under minimum, because in Madison Square Garden in 1972 he also planned an updated show with many new songs, finally deciding the oldies but goodies kind of show.
One question that remains unsolved forever is why Elvis seldom never looked at his 1969 sessions in search for material, or why, if he did, he never found it suitable. But that’s another story.
One thing remained the same that hot night in the desert in august 1970. Since his return to live performances, Elvis focused on his own classics for opening his shows. First, on July-August 1969, “Blue suede shoes” had take the spot. In the january-february 1970 engagement, “All shook up” replaced “Suede”. Now he trusted his very first record to be the opening number. He must felt he had taken the right decission, as he mantained the song as an opener for long, until in 1972 CC Rider proved itself as the definitive opener. Yet, “that’s all right” never lost the battle completely, because Elvis used it for the rest of his career both as an alternative opening number and as a “guitar number”.
From the moment we hear the drum roll intro and the horns in the “that’s all right” rendeering, we notice two important differences between this opening show and the January one (available in two parts on two different import cds, “Walk a mile in my shoes” and “True love travels on a gravel road”). The first change is that the drum spot is again occupied by Ronnie Tutt. Ronnie is without doubt the quintessential Elvis drummer, just as Irving Cottler was Sinatra’s. So we have a good start, haven’t we?
The second is that Bobby Morris and his orchrestra have left and Joe Guercio and his men are now backing Elvis along with the TCB band. The J.Guercio addition is an important one, and sadly too often an overlooked one, as usually Elvis fans dislike the orchrestral arrangements. Up until that moment, Bobby Morris Orchrestra just “accompained” Elvis, giving some touches on fast numbers and more solid backing on ballads, such as in “In the ghetto”, using the arrangements that Bergen White and others have wrote for Elvis studio outings. In songs not previously recorded by Elvis, they used “ad hoc” arrangements, nice but improvised, such as in “Yesterday”. In February 1970, Glenn Hardin made a great effort to put some order on Elvis orchrestrations, as evidenced in “The wonder of you” and “Let it be me”, both written by him. But still Elvis didn’t have a library, wich upset Joe Guercio a lot, specially given the large amount of new material Elvis was about to perform in the Summer 1970 festival. Hardin and Guercio worked overnight and the result was obviously good. The orchrestra is tight, the arrangements have class. Just listen to the orchrestra solo during the break in “I just can’t help believing”.
But we are now with Elvis in front of the audience of the International hotel giving a solid renditon of “that’s all right”. Elvis finishes the song and goes with just a brief “thank you” into another Sun classic, “Mystery train”, coupled in a mix with “Tiger man”, the mystery song he introduced later in this engagement as “the third song I ever recorded”. The song is rescued from the 69 engagement, but this time James starts the song, whilst last year was Elvis on his guitar who gave the intro. That different intro causes some problems with the band members trying to catch each other. Elvis himself starts to sing and sensing the situation, exclaims “wow, feel like Johnny Cash”, for the rhythm reminds J.Cash songs a lot. Right there the band focuses on, tighting themselves a bit and carrying the song to a happy end.
After a few comments welcomig the audience and joking about “Gatorade”, Elvis attacks one of his favourite concert numbers, “I can’t stop loving you”, with a new orchrestal arrangement. The performance is, as always with this song, great. Elvis for sure loved it, as he included it in his first Vegas show in July 1969 and at his last show ever, in Indianapolis.
When Elvis finishes “can’t stop”, he starts “Love me tender”, that could easyly be titled “Elvis holds court”. He uses the song for saluting the crowd, shaking hands and kissing ladies. He changes the line “you have made my dreams come true” to “you have made my nose turn blue”.
Until now, we are listening to a very standard Elvis show, with no surprises at all, but the next song starts what would prove to be a very exciting and new Elvis Presley show. “The next step is love” is performed for the first and only time, and that alone makes this show unique. “Next step” is performed because it is a side of Elvis current single. The perfomance itself is good enough. Somehow, the new arrangement and the less romantic rhythm pattern makes some people to think the song really doesn’t work live. It could be, as Elvis never performed it again. A welcome adition anyway.
Next is the 1967 Bee Gees hit, “Words” also rescued from 1969. The arrangement is also new, and the overall performance truly superior when compared with the available 1969 versions. Elvis vocal is more defined, more mature on that song. And the band is tight. Just listen the part wher Elvis sings “talk” and the chorus repeats “talk”, “an everlasting word” sings Elvis, “word” echoes the band. Quite different to 1969!
After some coments, Elvis starts a real pearl, the BJ Thomas song “I just can’t help believing”. The reading Elvis gives of this song is simply perfect. The accompaiment is glorious. It’s an ambitious song, and a good one. When I first listened to this version I was accustomed, just as all of us, to the “That’s the way it is” LP version, and I found this new version, the very first version, different, feeling the orchrestra and the chorus parts were different. Then, upon closer listening, I discovered it had to do with Denis Ferrante mixing, that had brought along a clearer musical picture than the one we had of this song since 1970. All this aside, this performance is a real gem.
After this song, elvis jokes a little with the “Laughing toy” and when the toy stops laughing, without pause, he launches into yet ANOTHER new song, the George Harrison- Beatles classic “Something”. You can think that the Beatles version was definitive. You can think Sinatra’s 1979 reading was definitive (certainly his first 1970 swing version wasn’t it!). You can think and think, but you can’t tell me Elvis version isn’t simply excellent. And far more focused than the later Aloha version.
This song has started as a look to the past kind of show, a lá 1969, but it has suddenly turned into a very contemporary show, and Elvis seems to keep on, for he choses Neil Diamond 1969 “Sweet Caroline” as a following, with Ronnie playing it for the first time. It’s in fact Ronnie who makes this version (for me) better that the february one, as the functional Bob Lanning never quite fitted on Elvis land. And let me add that it’s superior to Neil’s original, with my personal excuses to Neil’s fans. And let me add too that Jerry Scheff hated the song!
The sixth “modern” song in a row is the “Righteous Brothers” 1965’s “You’ve lost that loving feeling”. Just as he did with “I just can’t help believing” he makes this song his own, transforming it into an Elvis song. He looses his track a couple of times, but the result is still impressive for a first outing.
Elvis returns to his own material again, but he chooses to preview his next-to-be single, “You don’t have to say you love me”, recorded in Nashville the previous June, and ready to be released at fall. The song was a winner since it was written in Italy (and in Italian, as it’s originally titled “Io che non vivo senza te”, that means I who can’t live without you). Dusty Springfield, the soulful british single made it her own, in a semi poetical musically very european reading. His straight reading had nothing to do with Elvis’s. Dusty in her 1966 top ten version was pleading, Elvis was angry. Dusty was quite, and depressive. Elvis is regreting, full of pasion. Elvis really succeeds in conquering both our hearts and the song.
“I’m gonna get dirty on you”, says Elvis. It’s “Polk Salad Annie” time. This Tony Joe White 1969 hit was liked by Elvis from the start. He fooled with it in the July 69 rehearsals, but finally felt that all the glory of the center piece of the show should go to “Suspicious minds”. Next winter he did both, Polk and Suspicious. Felton Jarvis flew Tony Joe an his wife just to see Elvis doing the song. After the show, Elvis confided White that he got trapped in the song so much that he felt as if he had written it. White answered “man, I can tell it by the way you sang it!!”
But this version of Polk Salad is in part a failure. It is too short and according to some fans who attended the show, Elvis was more focused in telling the MGM crew when he was going to shake so they could closely film it than in shaking itself!
After this version, Elvis gives some kisses and briefly introduces the members of his band “this is the members of my group”!! Yes! He just says that!!
And then performs the A side of his current top 40 record, “I’ve lost you”. He falters on it, having problems with the instrumental breaks, explaining afterwards that he has learnt so many songs for the show (50) that anything can happens.
We enter then yet another new song in the Elvis show. “Bridge over troubled water” was probably the most famous song in 1970, receiving many awards. But Simon and Garfunkel reading really seems unispired when compared with the definitive Elvis version. Reportedly Simon (who saw Elvis perform the song at Madison Square Garden in 1972) thought it was a bad version, but really his words were “it’s a bit melodramatic, but how am I supposed to compete with it???”. Elvis version is exquisite. Tender, powerfull, meaningful, anything you want to call it. Perfect.
Next comes the B side of his planned October single (“You don’t have to say you love me”), “Patch it up”. The song was a soulful song recorded by Elvis in June.This version is good and a bit different to the “That’s the way it is” movie and record previously released one. After the song, Elvis sings his closing number, “Can’t help falling in love”.
The show is ended, but a reflection is needed. This show is considered very good by Elvis fans, but the one released on the triple cd box “That’s the way it is” 2000 box set is considered the definitve Elvis performance, far better than this. But there is a fact about “One night in Vegas” that cannot be overlooked and that has been pointed in this review. Elvis was presenting a completely “new” show. Gone are the oldies, except opening and closing numbers, plus mystery train and the perennial love me tender. No “Hound dog”, no “Don’t be cruel”, and so on. Gone is also almost all the covers and hits performed in last seasons, such as “In the ghetto”, “Yesterday”, “Walk a mile in my shoes”. Only “Words” and “Sweet Caroline”, along with favourite “I can’t stop loving you” remain on the set list.
Even “Suspicious minds” is forgotten, “Patch it up” covering its spot and “Polk Salad” taking the place of the central number. And in between both sides of his current and next singles are perfomed along with five more new songs, making a total of eight new songs out of a total of sixteen performed.
Perhaps sensing that some choices were inapropiated (“Next step is love”?), that “Patch it up” couldn’t replace “Suspicious minds”, and that the audience needed more oldies, the songlist was from now on more conservative, but STILL impressive, as Elvis continued to include new songs for the rest of the movie filming, including more Nashville recorded songs. So it was indeed one night in Vegas, and WHAT A NIGHT.