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CONCERT DATE: May 11, 1974 (8:30 pm). Los Angeles, CA.

Elvis At 39 - A Time for Reassessment
by Robert Hilburn
Los Angeles Times
May 14, 1974


Since a performer's attitude is so important, I have been worried for some time now that the enormity of Elvis Presley's success since he returned to live appearances in 1969 was having a negative affect on the man who was surely the most significant single figure in the development of rock music

When Presley returned to concerts after a decade's absence, he was a dynamic, determined, electrifying performer who not only lived up to his legend but added to it. Even though he spoke at the time of the necessity to find new songs with more meaningful lyrics, he sang the old tunes - from the early "That's All Right" to the "Hound Dog" trademark - with a spirit that was faithful to the original recordings"

Despite the vastness of his influence and commercial appeal, Presley had to prove himself in those early Las Vegas engagements and subsequent "return" tours. There was no guarantee that nostalgia alone would be enough. Elvis' performances were stunning this country-blues voice was more controlled than ever and his moves - emphasizing karate-like twists and turns rather than the original hip-shaking eroticism - nicely updated his dramatic style) and the audience response, including critics, was overwhelming.

When female fans shrieked with delight and charged the stage at his concerts in the 1950s, some disbelievers suggested they surely must be paid plants. But there was no denying the genuineness of the screams and rushes toward the stage night after night in Las Vegas. There was also no denying the long lines that wove through the hotel casino each night of the Presley engagement. Every show in Las Vegas and on the subsequent concert tours was a sell-out.

In the face of this enormous commercial appeal, however, it soon became apparent that the audience was, in a very real sense, presold. Nostalgia was enough, after all, for most of those who went to see Elvis. thus, the quality of a particular show didn't have a noticeable impact on the reaction of the audience. They wanted, most of all, to see Elvis.

The problem with this type of largely undiscerning audience is that it makes it easy for an artist to lose - or at least seriously weaken - his own standards. And that's what seemed to happen to Elvis. It was too easy to simply coast through the shows. That's exactly what he did in most of the shows I've seen over the past couple years. I all too many cases, he didn't seem to care. His attitude was clearly a problem.

Thus, I went to the Inglewood Forum Saturday night hoping for a reversal, but was not optimistic. The initial signs at the Forum didn't lend encouragement. The evening started with the same shameless, excessive hawking of Elvis souvenirs (the emcee told the audience the $5 scarfs and $3 photo albums are specially designed for the tours and a limited number is allocated to each city...get one for a friend) and the same modest supporting acts (comedian Jackie Kahane and the Sweet Inspirations vocal trio) that we've seen on past tours.

When Elvis finally arrived, there were the same shrieks from the audience and occasional fans racing down the aisles that we've come to expect. But what about Elvis? Some mixed reactions. He was noticeably heavier and his moves are becoming less and less dynamic, but his voice is, when he chooses to use it, as effective as ever. He remains the finest contemporary country-blues vocalist.

And thankfully he seemed to enjoy performing again. The indifference of some of the past shows was absent. He regained his old humor about the tunes and his whole sex symbol image. Thus, there were often wide grins on his face when he shifted a leg dramatically or paused for special effect. On the matter of attitude, Elvis, then, seemed to have made a reversal.

But, at 39 it may be time for him to reassess his career to consider where he wants to go musically. By continuing to adequately recreate the hits, he can certainly hold on to his enormous present audience, but to expand it and reach his potencial as an artist, he needs to find more challenging material. Only the gospel songs seem to truly stir him at this point.

The decision isn't easy. He can play it safe and continue to do what he has been doing or take a gamble and grow. With all the shrieking and sold-outs halls, it's hard to see the need for a gamble. But the importance of ELvis was that he was an innovator, and I'm hoping that he takes the step. His improved attitude Saturday somehow gives me optimism that he hasn't settled for the applause.

Courtesy of Francesc Lopez