The “mother of all Elvis releases” has come out, how to review this? Well just from the beginning.
This new edition has a very stylish design. Black with the red dots from the famous “ELVIS” in red lights everyone knows from the special. Again, no big image of Elvis himself. For this set BMG came up with a four panel digi-pack. One panel to hold a 32 pages booklet and three panels for the three discs in this set.
The booklet is very complete and contains informative notes on the special and contents of the discs, accompanied by screenshots from the special. You can find what you need easily. The navigation menu is the best Elvis menu we’ve seen so far, with again the “ELVIS” in red lights. All segments have separate chapters for the songs.
The first disc contains the adapted broadcast version of the special and the first and second leather sit-down shows.
The original special is even more complete than the version that aired on December 3, 1968. The bordello scene is back. This scene had made it past the censors, but the sponsor Singer wanted it to be deleted. Another part that could have been there isn’t there. “It Hurts Me” is listed in the track listing, but isn’t added here, only a fragment of the instrumental part. This wasn’t part of the original version either, it was first aired in 1978 in a special hosted by Ann Margret and used in the first official video release according to a posting on the FECC message board where this "error" is discussed.
The first sit-down shown has been released before as “One Night With You”, but as with most material on the deluxe editions they have been reedited from scratch. You can see how far ahead the concept of the show was, recently Robbie Williams (a big Elvis fan) copied the entire concept for his own television show.
The raw Elvis, caged in a boxing ring and guarded by (what seems) women only, really enjoys himself on the small square stage. Elvis connects to his audience (while seriously working through the parts he has to record), probably wondering why he stayed away from performing so long (look at all those girls ...). The footage is as raw as Elvis, the camera keeps rolling between the different songs, and it is like you’re sitting in the studio too. All the misses by Elvis and glitches by the crew are here, but Elvis doesn’t seem to have any troubles, he clearly enjoys himself.
The second sit down show is (officially) unreleased, and probably new to a lot of fans out there. It follows the line of the first show. You can see Elvis has done it once before, he is a bit more relaxed. Remember that this can be called the first “unplugged” show and Elvis, reunited with his old buddies, hasn’t seen an audience this close by since … well, since too long probably.
The second disc brings the two stand-up shows and the “Trouble / Guitar Man” and “If I Can Dream” production numbers. Again a relaxed Elvis really interacting with the fans, we even spotted some kids and a granny in the audience this time and noticed that Elvis wore an V shaped black T-shirt under the leather jacket. Elvis throws in an instrumental rendition of “Baby, What Do You Want Me To Do” when there is a delay in the starting of “If I Can Dream” which he lip-syncs to for insertion in the special.
With the lights on, you can clearly see the complete production floor and the band backing Elvis. And is the announcer Bob Finkel wearing the white suit Elvis uses for the ‘If I Can Dream” segment? Probably not, although later on the second disc we learn that white was the dress code for that day.
Both stand-up shows have the same song line up, only the spontaneous jam on the first one and a one liner (“Tiptoe Through The Tulips” and "McArthur Park") on the second show differ. Looking at the complete material you can see that Elvis delivers the production segments he is supposed to record, but also re-finds himself as a performer singing for an audience again. He even starts the final "TROUBLE” with a smile on his face, not looking all that evil.
The different takes of the production numbers is like watching bonus material for an Elvis DVD for the first time. Usually the producers don’t give us fans anything else then a trailer. Just like with the studio bootlegs and Follow That Dream releases you can enjoy Elvis finding his way to the definitive version of the performance he wants to deliver, including several takes of “huh-huh-huh” for promotion of the special. Although here it isn’t mainly Elvis calling the shots as in the studio, but the director Steve Binder.
The close up of Elvis’ hand play backing on the guitar (a shot for insertion later) clearly shows everything they have is added to this release. Some shot show Elvis from a larger distance, so we get a view of the old fashioned camera’s filming the details. This section ends with the same song the show ends with, "If I Can Dream". We get a false start and two complete takes that were previously unreleased.
The 2004 music video is great, shots of Elvis in his white suit combined with Elvis in his leather suit. This makes a great promotional clip; hopefully it will be picked up to promote this DVD-set.
The video quality is very good on a big screen and good DVD player. But when you watch it on a cheaper DVD player and smaller television set you see differences in the background (especially on a black background like in the arena and in the “Trouble / Guitar Man” and “If I Can Dream” sections), between dark and light sections and faster movements. But perhaps it is asking for too much now we are used to modern movies and computer graphics regarding the age of these recordings and the way the tapes were recorded?
The third DVD starts with the gospel show numbers. Still a strange combination, a gospel section in a church and a bordello scene in one (Christmas) special. This scene features the Blossoms (with Danny Glover’s wife from the Lethal Weapon movies) opening with “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child”, a pity Elvis didn’t perform that song. On “Saved” you can see him following the tambourine which he throws up into the air, and yes, he is "saved" the tambourine doen't come down again.
Looking at this and the other production takes you can clearly see the amount of work that goes into a special like this. So much material is recorded, and only part of it is used for the final section. As with the Aloha special, there were no videotape machines dedicated to a specific camera, choices were made “live”. So the material used is the material that is available. On the “Big Boss Man” you can see that even a match that doesn’t go out or a guitar that doesn’t break mess up a take.
Up next is “it Hurts Me”, not added in the restoration of the original version on disc one, but the sixteen takes here make up for that. For the insert shot in the bordello scene Steve Binder pulled a prank on Elvis and Susan Henning, playing Andy Williams and comedienne Phyllis Oiler on the background (no sound was needed) which explains part of the smiles on their faces (we hope for Pricilla).
Always thought they already used flashing disco lights for the bordello scene with the “honkey tonk” music, but it is some kind of rotating van in front of the camera. We learn and learn.
Almost seven hours later we have a first review. What can we say, three smashing discs, delivering all material available in a good quality. Everything an Elvis fan wants. We do wonder if this isn’t too much for Joe Public (and that there should be a cheaper single disc with just the TV Special for him), but on the other hand, material of this kind is sure to make you a fan and once that virus got you, you want it all.
Just as for the Aloha set we can only applaud all people involved, they really made the effort to give us fans what we have been asking for, for so many years. So “Thank You”!
Now the review is written, we’re off to t