Live Review: Memories of Elvis w/ Steve Davis & the TCB Band
Memories of Elvis w/Steve Davis & the TCB Band–Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room–St. Louis, MO–August 18, 2009
The King is gone/Long live his name. Ronnie McDowell (you know, Ronnie, you sound just like Elvis) sang those words back in 1977 after Elvis was found slumped up against the drain with a whole lotta trouble running through his veins. Well, August 16 marked 32 years since Terrible Tuesday when Elvis left the building forevermore, and McDowell turned out to be merely the first Elvis impressionist I ever heard. The crass cash-in of the modern-day Elvis parody turns me off, but this year—I don’t know if it was Michael Jackson and the reexamination of the tragic and macabre effects of loneliness at the very top—but on this year’s Death Day, I felt the need for a substantial tribute to get right with the King, and if you live in St. Louis, that can only mean one thing: an evening with Steve Davis and the TCB Band.
Steve Davis is somewhere between Elvis’s age when he died and the age Elvis would be if he’d lived, so his “Memories of Elvis” show is, as is the case with almost every Elvis impersonator, a recreation of the Vegas and jumpsuit years, and Davis is a pretty good phantom of the ’74 Elvis. He’s good enough anyway that he’s made a full-time career out of pretending to be Elvis, so he’s living the dream, even if the rest of the time it means walking around the zoo and waiting in line at the license bureau with full-blown Elvis hair. Davis’s band does indeed make sure the business is taken care of—it’s an accomplished lock-step ensemble, complete with six backup singers and the drummer from Pavlov’s Dog—and Davis puts them through their paces, getting to 35 songs over two hours.
Most impressive about the evening wasn’t necessarily Davis’s looks or his voice, which mimicked the dramatic richness of the tubby years but missed E’s growling edge and that delicate vibrato, but, hey, there aren’t five guys in the world who can do that. No, what set this show apart was the attention to historical detail, digging deep into the Elvis canon with real reverence and integrity. Thankfully, he avoided the Elvis impersonator’s fatal flaw, impersonating the impersonation: the silly “thankya, thankyaverymuch” caricature. No, Davis has watched Aloha From Hawaii too many times for that. Sure, they played the biggies, but they also scratched the itch of true aficionados, whether with the “Little Sister/Get Back” mash-up, the late-period torcher “Just Pretend,” or a gospel suite including a beautiful rendition of “How Great Thou Art.” If Elvis himself had ever played a show with this exhaustive set list, it would have been his greatest concert ever.
If there’s any crowd that can compete for attention while an Elvis show rages onstage, it’s this one. Duckbills, beehives, and six-inch-long earrings are not back in style with this group…they never went away. The old gals in the front row—those who lined up an hour before the doors opened to secure the seats closest to yesteryear—were once the 30-year-old women squirming by the stage in 1968 when Elvis nailed his black-leather comeback…or at least they could’ve been, and they’ve never gotten over their first love. Recreating a hilarious tradition, Davis would launch into one of Elvis’s ballads and the women would line up, each with a plastic rose (on sale at the merchandise counter for two bucks), which they would carry to the stage to exchange for a sweaty scarf, to kiss Davis’s sideburn and, more often than not, to tell him they love him. Davis tossed the flowers into a big pile at the back of the stage, presumably to resell to these same women at the next show.
These gals weren’t professing to love Steve Davis, of course (unless they were); they were relishing the chance to say it to “Elvis Presley.” Everyone was working hard to blur the lines between flesh and fantasy, the band and most of the audience alike. To Davis’s credit, he maintains a sense of humor about the whole thing, which was essential in keeping the evening from getting intolerably bizarre. On one hand, he’d introduce a song with, “This was my first hit on RCA Records,” but then he’d throw in cheeky lines like, “I don’t look bad considering I’ve been dead for 32 years.” On the other hand, the lackey in the Charlie Hodge role, standing off to the side and bringing Davis his water and scarves, never seemed less than nervously earnest. Hey, and scary moment: The opening act included a Buddy Holly impressionist who was a lot of fun, but got just two songs into his set when he leaped up at the end of “Rave On,” bashing his head on the low-lying metalwork in the ceiling, staggering offstage with a face covered in blood, and wondering if this would be the day that he died. He was fine after four staples in the top of his noggin, I later found out. Reports that Steve Davis gave him a Cadillac for his troubles could not be confirmed at press time.
Intro: Theme from 2001
That’s Alright, Mama
Never Been to Spain
Treat Me Nice
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling
The Wonder of You
Blue Suede Shoes
Little Sister/Get Back
Polk Salad Annie
His Latest Flame
A Big Hunk o’ Love
A Little Less Conversation
When the Roll is Called Up Yonder
Down by the Riverside
How Great Thou Art
Don’t Be Cruel
Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On
Love Me Tender
Viva Las Vegas
I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You