It was supposed to be the biggest stint ElvisMatters would ever pull together: “Elvis Lives”, an unprecedented show with a fabulous line up: the TCB Band, The Imperials, singers Stephen Ackles + surprise guest Jenson Bloomer and of course the Maestro himself, Joe Guercio and ‘his’ 75-piece Joe Guercio Orchestra. The Belgian fanclub ElvisMatters had presented Joe and the huge orchestra before in their “Elvis Classics” series, and this multi talent show was the closure of the Classics-trilogy. But would the magic still be there, would “it” still happen?
On the other hand: with a show like this, what could possibly go wrong? The powerful, rockin’ seventy-five piece orchestra has become a crowd puller all by itself – add the TCB Band and the Imperials to that, and it’s no surprise that both shows at the VITO showroom in Mol, Belgium are sold out in no time. Over 1200 Elvis fans can’t be wrong, can it? The concept is there, the talent, and as usual the perfect organization – three aces in a row.
Saturday evening’s show started with a few surprises. The prestigious ElvisMatters Award for Outstanding Achievement in the ElvisWorld was presented to Joe Guercio. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving man. After all, Joe – who had lost his wife 3 weeks earlier but still decided to come – has always been a key figure in the seventies shows. He arranged most of the songs (together with Glenn D.) and made the orchestra sound like no other conductor can. Clearly, Joe was impressed by this unexpected award. “It’s one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, because it’s been given to me by the fans themselves – and tthàt’s what matters.” As an inside joke, Joe got a second present backstage: being a collector of baseball caps, he proudly wore a cap with the words “Joe Matters”. I mean: he wàs the boss on stage, right?
Also, ElvisMatters welcomed a very special member: number One Thousand! A fan from Zaandam, Holland, got a signed T-shirt, dedicated to “Number 1.000”.
But no matter how interesting all that was, we came to see the show. When the lights went down, and the booming voice through the speakers announced the Band, the Imperials, Stephen Ackles and ‘the Legendary’ Joe Guercioooooooo… the bullet train was on its way. No matter how often you’ve attended Elvis tribute concerts – but when “2001” is kicked of by a 75 piece orchestra you just know that this is the real thing. The showroom was shakin’ when UK drummer Tim Welding beat up his instrument for See See Rider. James Burton was there, playing his wonderful brandnew Fender Flame Signature guitar, made for him at his directions. And next to him – yet another surprise – Tony Smith, playing the original guitar that John Wilkinson used in the seventies for his shows with Elvis.
At first, we didn’t quite know what to make of the ‘new’ singer Stephen Ackles. Born in the States, he now resides in Norway. Man, he looked strange: black dyed hair, flashy clothes, no sideburns but a little chin beard. Could it be us, or did he really sound insecure the first few songs? We’re pretty sure it was the nerves. Stephen has worked with the TCB Band countless times – in fact, they’ve played on his last 4 albums – but he never did a show with all this talent on stage. He sounded somewhat withdrawn on “See See Rider”, gained some vocal power for “Proud Mary” and only from the third song on, “Never Been To Spain”, he sounded like the Stephen Ackles that made it big time in Scandinavia. From there on, it was a smooth ride and a pure joy to listen to the big orchestra songs and watch The Guys on stage: “Just Can’t Help Believin’” (wow, that instrumental part!), “Lovin’ Feelin’”, “Pretend”, My Boy”, “The Wonder of You”, and the rather rarely performed “Kentucky Rain’” James Burton, 66 by now, made it clear that he’s still the Master of Telecaster – wonderful solo’s, great sound, everything right on. Jerry, Glenn D… How could you even doubt their talent?
The second part kicked off with a feature spot by the legendary Imperials. Of course, they did “He Touched Me” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” – but the undisputed goose bumps-moment was their version of “How Great Thou Art”. Backed up by the huge orchestra and the TCB Band, this was the ultimate tribute to Elvis. Had He been there, he would have run on stage and hugged each and everyone of the musicians. Above the orchestra was the huge logo of “Elvis Lives” – that’s exactly the feeling everybody in the audience had. Hat’s off to the people of ElvisMatters who made this happen. Long, warm standing ovations accompanied the Imperials back to their backing vocals-spot on the right hand side of the Orchestra. And again, Stephen was in control with “Mountain”, “Burning Love”, “Steamroller” and the mighty “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – if you’ve ever heard this song done by Elvis, or live by this orchestra – you won’t be able to stand another version of it. This was so good – sometimes it’s allowed to be speechless, right?
“Bridge” had just gotten the well deserved standing ovation, and there was the next surprise of the evening: straight from the UK, the “friend of the House”, Mr. Jenson Bloomer. Jenson had been in Belgium for 7 shows in a row, but still the team of ElvisMatters asked him back for a surprise feature. It took Jenson only the opening line of “What Now My Love” to get the audience on their feet. In a big way, this was a crowning moment for him. He was ‘back in Belgium’, and the fans made it crisp clear that they still want him. Jenson dedicated the song “I’ll Remember You” to a friend, and finished his set of 3 with a phenomenal version of “Hurt”. He almost cried his heart out, when he sang the line “Yes Belgium, I’m so Hurt…” was it because he wanted to do the whole show instead of a feature spot – or was it pure professionalism? A bit of both, probably.
Stephen had 3 more songs to do: “Polk Salad”, “Trilogy” and of course “Can’t Help Falling In Love”. As expected, the crowd demanded more, more, more – and that’s exactly what they got: they rushed the stage when James B. kicked off “Johnny B.” and sand their lungs out during “Suspicious Minds”.
What a Grand Finale, what an amazing show, what a group of talented musicians on stage in Mol, Belgium – this show was so much more than a tribute to Elvis. It was a statement for all disbelievers: Elvis Lives, no Matter what!
Or as the crowd echoed for a long while: “We Want More!”