The Bicentennial Elvis Experience
Theme From 2001
See See Rider
I Got A Woman/ Amen
If You Love Me
You Gave Me A Mountain
All Shook Up
Teddy Bear/ Don't Be Cruel
And I Love You So
America The Beautiful
Return To Sender
Early Morning Rain
What'd I Say
Johnny B. Goode
Hail Hail Rock & Roll
Hurt (with reprise)
Funny How Time Slips Away
Can't Help Falling In Love
Volume 7 of Fort Baxter's "From the Mastertapes" series offers us a show from Elvis' late summer tour of 1976. This time the sound engineer decided to set the tape rolling in Hampton Roads, Virginia on August 1st. As one starts listening to the CD, the first thing to stand out is the better than average sound quality for a soundboard recording. The sound is clear and well balanced, with drums, bass and guitar dominating. The piano, which usually can be heard all too clearly on these recordings, can barely be heard this time.
Elvis opens the show with "C.C.Rider", as usual. It is immediately clear that this concert won't be a classic: Elvis sounds very tired from the first notes on. His vocals seem very strained and weak. The band, however, really rocks and the good sound really makes one appreciate the talent in the TCB band. Before the medley of "I Got a Woman / Amen " Elvis tells the audience that " we had a late show last night and I only got two hours sleep, so..."
He apparently realizes himself that he's not really up to it this night. The above medley doesn't differ from the hundreds other versions of it by Elvis. "Good afternoon", Elvis greets the audience, which is a little bit strange, since this was a 8.30PM show. "God, that sounds strange: 'Good afternoon'. I just got up!", he adds and goes into "Love Me", which is as lack-lustre as so many other versions before and after.
"If You Love Me" follows and this is a probably the worst version of this song I've ever heard from Elvis. At times he sounds like an 80-year old, especially on the line 'grew to love you more each passing day'. A bad performance. "You Gave Me a Mountain" is usually a strong song for Elvis whatever the circumstances, but this time he seems out of breath. It gets better as the song goes along, but it still isn't what one would expect from him.
There's not much one can say of following "All Shook Up" and the "Teddy Bear/ Don't Be Cruel" - medley, either. On "And I Love You So" Elvis' vocals are still somewhat shaky but it seems as if he was starting to wake up by now. It's easy to guess that the following "Jailhouse Rock" is nothing to write home about, but as these versions go it's surprisingly good. Again, the band really rocks here. "Fever" is up next and we get to hear an OK version of it, performed straighter than usual by Elvis. He also repeats the last verse this time.
The "since-it's-our-bicentennial-year" speech precedes "America the Beautiful", which is a much weaker version than usual, somehow lacking in conviction. Then it would be time for band intros, but... Someone from the audience makes a request "Please sing Return to Sender!". Elvis complies with this request by saying "Honey, if we know it..." and then he throws the band (and the audience) by actually singing a full version of the song. It's a pleasant and good-natured performance of a song that he only occasionally sang on stage (only other time I can think of was in July 1975 in Ashville). He substitutes the word the 'zone' with 'phone' but otherwise he remembers the song quite well. "That's it!", he suddenly says after a minute and a half and this fun excursion into more adventurous material is over. "I'm sorry, but we hadn't rehearsed that too much", he adds apolegetically. If only he'd had variation like this in his shows more often!
The band intros follow and there's nothing really special here. Elvis asks John (!) to play the guitar on the back of his head, causing some amusement among the musicians. "I mean James... James, John, Matthew, Mark, Luke...", clarifies Elvis the reasons of this mix-up. Of special mention is Ronnie Tutt's solo which lasts close to two (2) minutes. "Love Letters" is sung as part of the intros and once again it's not top-grade Elvis; his vocals sound whining here.
After telling everyone to "hold it a minute, I gotta get to this girl's underwear..." Elvis' latest record, "Hurt" is next. Usually a showstopper, it falls short of the mark this time. In fact, this version sounds downright awful at times. The audience doesn't seem to notice, as the ending is reprised to enthusiastic applause. "Hound Dog" is thrown away yet again and then the houselights are turned on, as Elvis greets the audience by saying 'Good golly miss Molly' and singing an OK version of "Funny How Time Slips Away". Then it's time to say goodbye: "I'd like to tell you that you've been a fantastic audience to work to, and anytime you want us back here just let us know and we'll come back, really." The familiar closing song, "Can't Help Falling in Love", is up next and then Elvis leaves the building. It's on to Roanoke for the next day...
This concert is probably the worst concert out on Elvis bootlegs as far as Elvis' performance is concerned. It seems that summer of '76 was the low point in Elvis' touring years. That's way this CD cannot be recommended for a casual listener. But it might be an eye-opener for some people: Elvis did give lousy concerts from time to time, and this was one of them. Soundwise it's one of the best bootleg CDs of concerts out there, so it can be recommended to the collector. But bear in mind, Elvis was capable of far better; even during his last years.
Review by Aki Korhonen