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Home > Concerts Reviewed > 1974 > LOST THAT DREAM, CHAOS INDEED
Concerts Reviewed - 1974
Lost That Dream, Chaos IndeedCollege Park, Maryland
September 27, 1974
By Forest George
One day you are the King of the Jungle, loved by millions. The next day you are almost at Rock Bottom, panned by critics, businessmen and a few fans, but still loved by millions. In 1974, Elvis Presley went out on tour and knocked them dead over and over again with incredible concerts. Several imports and FTD albums have covered 1974 from the March tour, the June tour, the Tahoe engagements, the two Vegas engagements, and his final tour of the year from September 27-October 9, 1974.
During the final Vegas stint, a turning point began that would affect Elvis for the rest of his life. He had seemingly prepared himself for a 1974 revival in Vegas much like his 1970 "That's The Way It Is" revival four years earlier. He had prepared a different set list to open his August 19, 1974 Vegas season. A mixture of his old 1972 set-list, and some songs from current albums that he had never sang before. These included opening with "Big Boss Man," and singing "Down In The Alley," and "Good Time Charlie Got The Blues." Most Elvis fans assumed the Vegas crowd had not appreciated the changes. Elvis would return to his usual set-list he had used all year, opening with "See See Rider" and following with "I Got A Woman" as usual for the rest of the engagement.
In hindsight, even if the changes had been accepted, Elvis still had his drug use issues, and had almost OD' a couple of times in 1974, according to Linda Thompson on the documentary The Last Day's Of Elvis. The two broke up, albeit shortly, during the summer, and Elvis' behavior was already becoming erratic. He had been experimenting with different drugs during the summer. The Vegas stint was successful as usual, but as the Vegas season winded down, Elvis was wound up with a lot of aggression. He ended up cussing out a heckler during an August 30 midnight show. On September 2, 1974, Elvis would perform his final Vegas show for the season, and the songs were performed adequately, but the key point of the show were the strange dialogues on different subjects. These subjects included Karate; Bill Cosby; flirting with his ex-wife and trashing her current boyfriend, Mike Stone; flirting with his "girlfriend of the month," Sheila Ryan; his liver biopsy; his diamond rings; and the most infamous drugs dialogue ever. One of the only few times Elvis openly denied that he never had done drugs and went into a tirade against "movie magazines."
The concert known by the fans, as "Desert Storm," would have been enough of a story itself. With the season over, however, many would have felt the worst was over. Elvis, however, had another tour to perform in less than three weeks and apparently the stress and the drug use had finally reached him to his breaking point.
September 27, 1974 was the opening night of his fall tour and it began in College Park, Maryland. He would perform two shows on two different nights, and for years it would rumored that both of these shows had been the worse performances Elvis ever gave on stage up to that point. Stein Eric Skar, of Elvis: The Concert Years noted a story of Elvis arriving to College park, that he simply fell out of the car. "Lying on the ground he refused help from any, and from here he struggled to the stage." This concert can be heard in its entirety now with the import Chaos in College Park.
As the opening rift blasted thru the arena, it was like every other Elvis concert. Everybody went crazy, and was excited to see the man himself, but according to Geoff The Chef in the "Chaos In College Park" album jacket, Elvis "was visibly struggling as he entered the stage . . . Right from the get-go, the musicians on stage noticed that something was wrong. Elvis' vocals were weak and lackluster, and his delivery lacked focus and power." There was no joy, no excitement, and it appeared that he was struggling and sometimes out of tune. It had to been the first time Elvis truly did a bad version of "See See Rider" that had no redeeming value. Ignoring the fact that the band completely missed the timing at the end, the audience gave a loud ovation as if it was the greatest performance ever.
Critic Larry Rohter, of the Washington Post, noted the Cole Field House had "horrendous acoustics," and that maybe a small majority of people didn't even hear Elvis during the open, which lead Elvis on a small tirade. "I like to ask . . . ah . . . I would like to ask a Question? Is the group too loud on stage." The audience gives an audible "yes," as Elvis instructed his sound engineer, Bill Porter, to "take the group down a little bit," which received another loud ovation. Elvis would mumble for a few seconds, before both men and women started screaming, "Turn around," and by their reaction he does so. Elvis then quipped with a lackluster, "Man you people are fantastic up here in Maryland. All I got to do is turn around," and again the audience goes crazy. In Elvis' state of mind, who knew what he truly felt, when he knew all he needed to do was show up? There was too much going on with Elvis Presley in 1974 involving his ego, drug use, and now fans were cheering him after singing horribly.
After some mumbling and some flirting with female fans, finally Elvis started his "well, well" routine. This was done fairly good, but before going into "I Got A Woman," Elvis again went into a rant about the sound system. "I am hearing myself 2000 times too much. I don't like to hear myself talk, I like to hear myself sing!" Then preceded to do his "well, wells" again, while begging the crowd to let him sing for a change. After what seemed years, "I Got A Woman" finally started. It was pretty disjointed in places, and Elvis just sounded like he was forcing himself just to sing at all. After rolling into a quick melody into Amen, Elvis allowed J.D. to do his bass routine, where Elvis quipped his usual stuff about J.D. being the lowest bass singer, and joked, "In fact, he's the lowest guy I've ever met." Elvis then continued to rant about J. D's singing, but another female fan screams and Elvis stopped to flirt with her and the crowd laughs and applauds again; but a audience member near the tape source started to talk about Elvis doing a lot of "weird" stuff here. So not everybody in the building was brainwashed by Elvis' mystique. Elvis continued to flirt with more ladies, and gets another big reaction for it. Finally the "Amen" rift returned and J.D. once again does the bass note and finally Elvis ends the song. In spite of the cheering, another audience member nearby stated, "He's gotten terrible."
After introducing himself as Wayne Newton and flirting with the female fans yet again, Elvis proclaimed to the audience "I will do all the songs . . . I promise you as Charlie as my witness." Then proceeded to get off track yet again to flirt with another girl, and ended up giving her a guitar pick. There was no focus or direction during this show.
Elvis seemed to improve vocally on "Love Me," but Elvis did plenty of good versions in 1976-77 just due to the arrangement being a very easy and lazy arrangement to do. The improvement continued with "If You Love Me (Let Me Know), as Elvis was fairly strong during the regular verses if the song, but then would vanish with his weak voice during the refrain with the backup singers covering up his vocal. "It's Midnight" actually was a fairy good rendition, but many still noticed some dragging in Elvis' voice and some slurring.
Before Elvis could continue the show with "Big Boss Man," he once again goes into a long praise to the audience, as a fan shouted out a request for "Jailhouse Rock." Elvis quipped back "I don't know 'Jailhouse Rock', that was too long ago. I was only thirteen when I did it. . . . I don't have 'Jailhouse Rock,'" and proceed to tell a little white lie. "We've never rehearsed it." Although it might be true the band didn't know "Jailhouse Rock" and that particular night, Elvis and the group had done the song back in Vegas in 1969. On this night, however, I am not sure if Elvis knew "That's All Right Mama" let alone "Jailhouse Rock." Elvis then explained to the fans that he would do "Don't Be Cruel" and "Love Me Tender" later on in the show.
While "Big Boss Man" started out as a fairly preformed piece of music, Elvis would crash during the second half of the song by flubbing lines during the second verse and then during the final refrain just threw out weird noises. Then in another low moment in the show, the music to "Fever" started, but Elvis decided he would rather talk than sing. He flirted with another female fan, and gave her a scarf, paying no attention to the music playing. He then said something unintelligible about not being about to play "naughty kisser" because "they'd put me in jail." Then proceeded to go into a monologue about the band-aid on his hand. "I just got through working in Las Vegas. . . . Some girl scratched the daylights out of me. She didn't mean to, she just reached out and touched me. . . . (She) had fingernails like claws. . . . And so it got infected. I got 18 doctors, and they can't do anything with it." It almost seemed like Elvis was making an excuse for his poor behavior.
After a solid minute of talking, "Fever" continued to play as Elvis started flirting with the girls again. "I love you too honey, don't throw darts at me." While the women continue to scream each time he'd flirt with them. Finally, Elvis started "Fever", which started out as a fairly good version after the long wait. During the "Captain Smith and Pocahontas" line, however, Elvis tried to joke around with the words and ended up off tempo again and joked "cats were born to give you acne" before trying to be serious again. The fans still cheered, but the rendition ended in a horrible fashion. The audience member near the tape source seemed to say something about Elvis looked like he was "going to go over." Most reported he hanged on the microphone for dear life the entire show, as if he was going to fall off the stage.
"Love Me Tender" was next, but someone shouted a request to Blue Hawaii and Elvis again, in his state, felt the need to correct this woman and then proceeded to name off his movies. He proudly announced Love Me Tender was his first movie, and then seemed to announce his other movies in the order he remembered him. Elvis gave an almost accurate list with a few exceptions. Apparently he confused "Jailhouse Rock" coming before "Loving You." He also felt he had done a movie called "Return To Sender" filmed before "King Creole. After talking about his two years in the army, he listed G. I. Blues and Blue Hawaii correctly. Then he, however, named Wild In The Country as "Wild Wide Country" and then called "Follow That Dream" simply "Lost That Dream." He then simply ended the whole movie rant by going "I'm trying to figure what I did," which has one fan nearby give a very nasty, sarcastic laugh. Elvis then finally launched into "Love Me Tender," which started out fairy good until he stopped singing to tell the band, who was still playing, to "catch up." The song then continued to be okay, until he ordered "one more verse" and the started doing strange high note vocals before starting to go completely off key, ending the song badly.
"Hound Dog" would follow, and Elvis' own words before singing the song described how good it was. "Who put this rope on stage? (People think) I'm going to hang myself? My group wants me to hang myself," then he proceeded to metaphorically hang himself by screaming a bunch of off-key false starts that again get nothing but positive screams from the female portion of the audience. Finally he launched into a full version to a great pop from the fans, and just decided to trash through it and mumbles through it as if he could not have cared less.
"Bridge Over Troubled Waters" was next. In 1977, Elvis had done three versions, with June 26, 1977 being the best he may have ever done since the That's The Way It Is documentary. This version, on the other hand, was going fairly well until Elvis ordered the band to "slow down," and then his timing was again messed up. If those flaws had been avoided, then this would have been an almost passable version in spite of the weak voice. Instead, it was just another horrible performance.
"Polk Salad Annie" was next, and Elvis takes an extra ten seconds before starting to sing. Under normal circumstances, it would have been fun to have the band jam a few seconds before Elvis committing to the song; but on this night it just did not seem right. Sadly, there were 1977 versions of "Polk Salad Annie" that excelled better than this one. After the song was over, Elvis continued to embarrass himself. " I don't mind working for a group like this folks. I'll work my brains over it. Uh, my brains out," misspeaking and getting another sarcastic laugh from one fan.
Elvis decided to do his "Band Introductions" next, and gave some off colored comments to his band members. For instance, after he introduced voice he joked "I call them a lot of things, but I can't repeat them in front of kids." Then after introducing the Sweet Inspirations, the fans give them a warm, acceptable ovation, and Elvis blasted "Not too much. They'll ask for a damn raise," and then after doing his "Crew Cuts" joke on them Elvis got very defensive. "Now look, don't start no trouble with me. Don't get no double N CAP or whatever it is (on me)." Then he proceeded to call comedian Jackie Kahoon a time killer, and the fans applaud as if they agreed, or maybe they weren't really paying attention to what Elvis was saying because he would say it again to no reaction. Then Elvis praised J.D. Sumner again as the "lowest bass singer." "I don't know what he's got in his throat, man. Somebody just stretched him. He can go down and hit a low flat," which proceeded to take Elvis off task yet again. Then while introducing the Stamps individually, he called Bill Baize the "highest tenor in gospel music. . . . If you don't believe he's high, just ask him. " Well Elvis was half right, somebody was "high" on stage.
As he continued to introduce the band members, Elvis stopped to flirt with female fans yet again. Elvis goes "I'll be over there to give you a scarf. You can have the belt, and maybe the suit. Then I can go to jail," and the female fans scream once again. After introducing Kathy Westmoreland, Elvis teases the fans for applauding. "She's not that good," but quickly admitted he was only teasing Kathy. Nine months later, Kathy Westmoreland would actually walk off the stage in Norfolk, VA after Elvis got wind that she was unhappy with Elvis' teasing and blasted her for it with thousands looking on. Here he quickly goes back to flirting with the female fans, before having James Burton and John Wilkinson jam to the 1972-1974-band introduction arrangement. Then Elvis asked Ronnie Tutt to "change the rhythm" and Tutt proceeded to do something similar to his 1975-1976 drum solos. Duke Bardwell shinned next and Elvis seemed to approve.
After introducing Glen Hardin, Elvis accounted Glen could "drink more than anybody in the world," and then went into his own impersonation of a "drunk guy." After introducing the band, Elvis ordered Voice to sing "Killing Me Softly." I would have rather heard Elvis tried to cover this than have Sherrill Neilson be the one to do it. Elvis then had J.D. Sumner perform "Why Me Lord" next, where Elvis would sing the refrain. In early 1974 this song was done very seriously, but here he would tease J.D. during the second verse and would continue to do this for the rest of his life. Later on, in 1975, people would get the joke, but here they just sat on their hands in disbelief with no reaction when Elvis made J.D. laugh.
"All Shook Up" was next, and it seemed the long rest with band introductions had helped Elvis, as he his vocal had improved drastically. The "Teddy Bear/Don't Be Cruel" medley continued to show the Elvis everybody remembered, and even received some applause mid-song. With much improvement to his voice, Elvis decided to do the "Hawaiian Wedding Song," with the exception of a joking falsetto and stopping singing when he'd forgot the words, it was musically acceptable as he stayed on key. "My time is up on stage," Elvis tells the audience before launching into "How Great Thou Art." Even with the poor voice that Elvis had all night, this gospel song was very powerful. The timing only falters when he blasted out "almighty God," and wanted to hold it longer than the arrangement would allow. The arrangement was changed to allow Elvis to hold that high note for the 1975 season. This groundbreaking performance wasn't enough to save the show, but it showed even at his worst he still had the ability to perform. In this case, sadly, it was like finding a diamond ring at the bottom of a septic tank. The audience applause seemed more energetic, and Elvis responded with a "Thank you, and I love you." He then looked at the audience, and almost seemed to know that half of his concert was terrible, and said "In all sincerity, if all audiences were like you - I'd sing my guts out for you."
Finally "Can't Help Falling In Love" played and it was time to end the show. Elvis decided to vary with very high notes near the end of the song to prove he could still sing, and pulled it off fairly well. He had tried to save the show with his last five songs, but management wasn't impressed due to the first half of the show and Elvis would not be asked back to College Park ever again. He did, however, have another show there he would perform the following night. It would be a chance to redeem him from this horrible performance.
Instead, the September 28 show itself was a disaster, as Elvis would struggle with his vocal for the first half of the show. The main difference was Elvis' dialogues on the 27 had been reckless, yet harmless. On the 28, Elvis would blast newspaper reporters saying, "he had a paunch;" he would again blast the "movie magazines" saying he was a "drug addict" and proudly announce he was an official member of the DEA, and his Martial Arts beliefs forbade him to do drugs. Given the way some of our "superstars" act today with the media, this was tame; but still painful to listen too.
As the tour progressed, Elvis' performances and behavior would start to improve. By October 6, in Dayton, Ohio, Elvis was holding his own again, but was far from perfect. After closing on October 9, and a short stint at Lake Tahoe, Elvis was done for the year.
Although Elvis would return in 1975, and have a breakout year with great concerts in both Vegas and on tour; it marked the end of the flashy Elvis Presley from 1970. That Elvis hadn't truly existed since for years, but he had held the image and had looked the part of an "ageless legend." When he returned to Vegas in March 1975, he would give great performances, and his jokes would have perfect timing again; but he would start to show his age and while his weight was normal for a forty year old man, it wasn't the image of a "ageless legend." There would be rougher roads ahead in 1976 and 1977, but Elvis survived his first fall to perform brilliantly again.