Elvis Presley – On Stage (RCA Legacy, 2010)
After an eight-year layoff from concert performance, Elvis returned to the stage with a pair of runs at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. The first shows, in the summer of 1969, were first captured on Elvis in Person at the International Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada, and featured samples of his seminal early hits and then-contemporary smashes. In early 1970 he returned for a second set of shows, documented on On Stage, and changed up the set list to highlight his restyling of others’ hits in his own image. RCA’s new two-disc Legacy Edition combines both albums and ten bonus tracks into a superbly detailed picture of Elvis’ return to the stage and the physical reconnection to his fans.
When originally released, the albums caught Elvis amid his biggest blaze of glory. His televised ’68 Comeback Special had proved him still vital, and the 1969 studio sessions that resulted in From Elvis in Memphis (and its own 2-CD Legacy reissue) had proved him still relevant. The live sets showed Elvis to be both a star of the brightest magnitude and an artist with something to say to contemporary audiences. With both an extensive legacy and new singles, Elvis had to find a way to satisfy crowds that came to hear both his rich back catalog and his hot new hits. In the ’69 shows, featured on disc two of this set, Elvis cherry-picked from his seminal rock ‘n’ roll sides (including blistering versions of “Mystery Train” and “Hound Dog”), his early’60s post-army comeback hits, and the contemporary tracks he’d recently laid down with Chips Moman at American Studios.
For his 1970 return to Las Vegas, featured on disc one, Elvis leaned away from the rocked-up performances of 1969 and more heavily on his then-current penchant for covers. Beyond his Top 10 cover of Ray Peterson’s “The Wonder of You,” the selections forsook the golden oldies in favor of recent hits by Engelbert Humperdinck (“Release Me”), Neil Diamond (“Sweet Caroline”), Tony Joe White (“Polk Salad Annie”), the Beatles (“Yesterday,” recorded at the 1969 shows), Creedence Clearwater Revival (“Proud Mary”), and Joe South (“Walk a Mile in My Shoes”). It’s a mark of Elvis’ force and singularity as a performer that the original singers often disappeared in his wake, and a few of these songs (particularly “Walk a Mile in My Shoes”) became as closely associated with the King as with their originators.
Elvis sounds loose, comfortable and artistically commanding on stage, a surprise given his eight-year hiatus from live performance. No doubt his A-list TCB Band (which included James Burton, Jerry Scheff, Glen D. Hardin and the Sweet Inspirations) helped him regain his crown, but the essential flame that sparked in 1954 was clearly still burning within sixteen years later. A hint of his humble uncertainty is shown as he introduces “Kentucky Rain” with “I have out a new record, just came out in the past week or so, I hope you like it,” but his fans never had a doubt. As with his Memphis sessions of 1969, the liberty to engage his musical muse spurred Elvis to great artistic heights. Freed from the musical dross that filled many of his film soundtracks, standing in front of an audience he’d not seen face-to-face in nearly a decade, Elvis dug deep into the music he loved.
As with much of Elvis’ catalog, these tracks have been issued, reissued and scattered among previous collections. The original 10-track On Stage was reissued on CD in 1999 with six bonus tracks, and all of the extras collected here (four for On Stage, six for Elvis in Person) have seen previous release on reissues, greatest hits collections and collector’s discs from Follow That Dream. But gathered together into a single volume they paint a compelling picture of Elvis’ live show: the seminal early hits, post-army comebacks, contemporary breakthroughs, and refashioned covers, and amid it all the revival of a legendary musical talent mid-stride between the triumphs of the late ‘60s and the forthcoming early-70s successes (e.g., Elvis Country) that would cap his incredible comeback.
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