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Concerts Reviewed - 1976



"A 200-year old Elvis"
By Forest George, Richmond, VA.

There is nothing more exciting to me than finding a re-mastered soundboard of an Elvis Presley concert. Audience recordings are fine, but sometimes you just want to hear the entire band and Elvis rock and roll. If one happened to own the old import album "The Bicentennial Elvis Experience," you would believe by the soundboard quality and the way the opening rift begins with Tony Brown going across the piano, that this would be a great performance.

Sadly, you would be wrong. Elvis Presley was very questionable as a performer during most of the summer of 1976. This concert from August 1, 1976 in Hampton Roads, Virginia would be no exception. The fans cheered and screamed anyway just to be able to witness such a rock and roll icon in the flesh as he sang "See See Rider." What some of the audience missed was Elvis' voice was very hoarse, and off-key.

The opening song alone was evidence enough that this was going to be a very long concert. Elvis seemed coherent enough to know something wasn't right that night, and at tried to explain (excuse) himself. "We had a late show last night, and I only got two hours sleep." After a fair version of "I Got a Woman/Amen," Elvis introduced himself to the evening audience by saying "Good afternoon. God that sounds strange good afternoon. I just go up." While it could be assumed that Elvis was joking, it sounded very pathetic coming from the man that took Hampton Roads by storm just four years earlier, as shown in the documentary Elvis on Tour. After a fair, but a lazy version of "Love Me," Elvis proceeded with "If You Love me (Let Me Know)." This was another disappointment, as Elvis struggled as his background singers tried to disguise his mumbling. "You Gave Me a Mountain" had about the same results, including some embarrassing off-key moments.

Elvis then decided to do his usual "throwaway the classic songs" melody, and "All Shook Up" lived up to that claim modern fans and critics have claimed. On the other hand, Elvis made a more sincere effort on the "Teddy Bear/Don't Be Cruel" melody with a high note on "put a chain around my neck," and sounded like he was having fun with it. The streak of fair performances would continue with "And I Love You So," which was similar to his June 19, 1977-version that was re-mastered for the "Elvis in Concert" album. It was actually a good version here, but Elvis did slightly struggle with some of the key changes again. It was, however, much better than the June 19 version, which was so off-key, it had to be overdubbed and reprocessed to sound descent. "Jailhouse Rock," on the other hand, was horrible.

Elvis would redeem himself, however, with a fairly decent version of "Fever," as Elvis sounded a little more like himself here. Elvis then tried to do his standard of "America the Beautiful." From December 1975 until December 1976, Elvis Presley's version of the song was a triumphant musical experience, as it was evidence of Elvis' remarkable voice. During this concert, however, the song was not too good, with Elvis' talking portion sounding really weak, and possibly bored or sick.

At this point Elvis would go into his long "Band Introductions" routine. A fan screamed for Elvis to sing the song "Return to Sender." Elvis seemingly smiled at her and replied, "Please sing Return to Sender? Honey if we know it." What occurred next was amazing, as Elvis and the band go into an almost full impromptu version of the song. While the singing was not great, Elvis sounded very happy and motivated to do the song and would end up being the best song of the night. For one moment it seemed like all the previous bad songs of the night were all washed away. After ending the song with a simple, "that's it" and expressing the song hadn't been rehearsed, it was back to the usual band introductions. There was a glimmer of hope that Elvis might actually get a second wind after that fair performance, but sadly the dismal performances would continue.

"Early Morning Rain," "What I'd Say" and "Johnny B. Goode" were done very poorly, with no redeeming factors, outside of Elvis flubbing lead guitar players, James Burton's name. "I'm going to ask John to play the guitar with the back of his head." After getting his backup singers laughing, Elvis responded with "I mean James, (not) John," and proceeds to read off books of the New Testament to explain the confusion: "James, John, Matthew, Mark, Luke."

After some Instrumental solos, Elvis would then try to sing the song "Love Letters" with the same voice that did passable versions of "And I Love You So," and "Fever." He tried, but he just couldn't sing it on that day. Elvis did get a little more energy singing the excerpt of Chuck Berry's "School Days," but "Return to Sender" was only a memory.

Before singing his recent single record, "Hurt," Elvis paused to tell the audience, "Hold it a minute, I got to get this girl's underwear," as women would throw their underwear on stage to Elvis. Richmond-Times Dispatch and News-Leader music critic, Clark Bustard, once claimed most of the women that threw underwear were planted in the audience by Colonel Tom Parker, or some part of the Elvis entourage. There has always been some evidence of planted fans for every mainstream performer in the past and present, and that probably included Elvis. Although, there were plenty of women that were held captive by his charm in spite of being old, fat, over medicated, and sick.

As for the performance of "Hurt," Elvis made an effort, but sounded flat and "out of breath" at certain times, although he does a passable reprise of the ending. "Hound Dog," was just "par for the course" at this evening's concert. "Funny As Time Slips Away," was much better, but Elvis just was having major problems with staying in tune, and luckily Elvis finally ends the show with "Can't Help Falling in Love," and thus ending a rather miserable concert.

With the sole exception of a rather fun version of "Return to Sender," Elvis Presley needed to be anywhere, but on a stage performing. Majority of the songs were struggles for him just to stay on key. He seemed actually ill, rather than just being over medicated. Unlike some other poor concerts from that year, he wasn't intoxicated enough where he didn't care, as he really tried to make an effort to keep the concert from falling apart. In the end, the concert was one of the worst concerts of 1976, and completely forgettable.

2007 Forest George, All Rights Reserved.



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