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Review: Elvis Presley, “Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis”

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Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis Legacy EditionLord a-mighty, do you feel your temperature rising?  Okay, “Burning Love” isn’t among the songs on the new 2-CD Legacy Edition of Elvis Presley’s 1974 Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis, but there’s nonetheless plenty to get the pulse pounding and the pelvis swiveling.  The original Memphis LP preserved The King’s hometown show of March 20, 1974, and this reissue adds a live concert from two nights earlier in Richmond, Virginia plus five bonus tracks from an in-studio rehearsal session.  Memphis was Elvis’ fifth live recording in five years, following Elvis in Person at the International Hotel and On Stage, Elvis as Recorded at Madison Square Garden and Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite.  Each one of those has been previously addressed by Legacy as part of this ongoing series.

On March 20, Elvis stepped onstage at Memphis, Tennessee’s Mid-South Coliseum, located roughly eight miles from his Graceland mansion – so memorably, if unexcitingly, pictured on the cover artwork for Live on Stage.  Elvis clearly had Memphis on his mind, and had just recently returned to the city’s studios in July and December 1973 for sessions at Stax.  On the same day of the concert, his album Good Times was released by RCA, culled from these sessions.  (Its tracks were reissued last year by Legacy on Elvis at Stax.)

In a move that would be odd by today’s standards, Elvis didn’t perform any of the tracks from his new album at Mid-South.  The set list hewed to the basic format he had been employing, and there’s plenty of overlap with the New York and Hawaii concerts reissued by Legacy – from the opening fanfare of Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” to the finale of “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”  But the local crowd seemingly energized Elvis from the second he launched his big show with the support of The TCB Band (James Burton and John Wilkinson on guitar, Charlie Hodge on guitar/vocals, Duke Bardwell on bass, Ronnie Tutt on drums and Glen D. Hardin on piano), singers The Sweet Inspirations, J.D. Sumner and the Stamps, Kathy Westmoreland and the Nashville group called Voice, and Joe Guercio and his orchestra.

That Elvis vocally was in solid shape is somewhat surprising, considering the punishing touring schedule on which he embarked in ’74.  He played over 150 U.S. concerts that year, and the Memphis homecoming shows – five, overall, of which March 20 was the final one – were his first performances there since a benefit in 1961.  The first disc of the new Legacy Edition reissues the Follow That Dream label’s complete presentation of the concert (heavily edited on the original LP) from 2004 but in newly remixed form by Steve Rosenthal and reissue co-producer Rob Santos.

After the jump, join us in Memphis!

Though the sound was far from stripped-down, as was Elvis’ extravagant wont, he made sure that there was still plenty of pure, hardcore rock-and-roll on offer.  As he had in Hawaii, he opened with a high-octane run through “See See Rider,” his vigorous, husky vocals driving the brassy, frenetic arrangement.  Producer Felton Jarvis’ microphones captured the appreciative audience, prompting the afternoon’s first “thank you very much” barely three minutes into the concert.  Elvis playfully bantered with screaming fans, as well as with his band, throughout.  The screams are so prevalent on this recording that they’re almost a part of the show.

The King was generous with fan-favorite oldies: a quick, spirited “All Shook Up,” a melding of “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” and an even more expansive medley including “Jailhouse Rock” and “Hound Dog” plus a pinch of Loggins and Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance” for good measure!  Picking up the tempo on “Love Me Tender,” Presley also evinced a surprising intimacy despite his larger-than-life his persona.  Elvis even balanced the earthy with the divine on a medley of Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman” with Jester Hairston’s rousing “Amen,” and netted his third Grammy Award for the stirring live rendition of “How Great Thou Art” here.  The full-throttle gospel ode is one of the high points here.  The devout Elvis emerges, too, on a heartfelt rendition of Larry Gatlin’s “Help Me” and on Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me Lord.”  On the latter, Elvis shares the microphone with J.D. Sumner’s low warble of a voice.

By this period of his career, the Presley machine was a well-oiled one.  But if the singer-showman was entirely polished, he never lost the authenticity that kept him connected to his fans and makes him such an enduring figure even today.  James Taylor wrote “Steamroller Blues” as a parody of the white blues bands he had heard in his early days as an up-and-coming musician, but if Presley was in on the joke, he hardly shows it.  Whereas Taylor exaggeratedly drawls the lyrics, Elvis rips and roars through them, making lines like “I’m a napalm bomb for you, baby” seem perfectly natural.  (It’s not much of a stretch from a “hunka hunka burning love,” is it?)  His innate sincerity makes even the concert’s most bombastic moments, such as Mickey Newbury’s grandiose “An American Trilogy,” both memorable and resonant – especially to an audience in the heart of Dixie.  But the Presley sense of humor is on display, too, as he alternately throws himself into, and goofs around with, a medley of the chestnuts “Blueberry Hill” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”

Disc Two of this set offers the mono dry-run recording of Elvis’ March 18 concert at Richmond, Virginia’s Coliseum.  This was first released in 2011 by Follow That Dream, and presents a more rough-hewn take on the Memphis setlist.  The set is virtually identical, though “How Great Thou Art,” “Blueberry Hill,” “My Baby Left Me” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” weren’t performed in the tighter Richmond show.  It’s great fun hearing Elvis in a less “momentous” setting, cutting even looser with the crowd.  This disc is rounded out by five rehearsal performances from August 1974 taped in RCA’s Hollywood studios for reference purposes only as Elvis was preparing for an upcoming Las Vegas engagement.  These five songs – including “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues,” “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Softly As I Leave You” – make a fine complement to Live on Stage in Memphis as none of them appeared in the Memphis show.   These five tracks are in stereo.

The two discs, housed in a digipak with the original album artwork, are packaged with a 28-page booklet that’s chock-full of fascinating memorabilia and photographs (all informatively captioned) plus a strong essay by Ken Sharp.  Vic Anesini has splendidly remastered both CDs, and both feature replica orange RCA label designs.  Live recordings of Elvis from this era are plentiful, with numerous concerts having been unearthed for Follow That Dream’s collector-oriented series.  But there’s an unmistakable frisson to Live on Stage in Memphis.  As Elvis told the audience, “It’s always been said that a person cannot return to their hometowns, but you have disproven that theory completely and you have really made it worthwhile.”  This Legacy Edition offers you a front row seat.

Elvis Presley’s Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis is available from Amazon U.S. and Amazon U.K.  !

Written by Joe Marchese

March 27, 2014 at 11:29

Posted in Elvis Presley, Reissues, Reviews

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3 Responses

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  1. I know the official title of this album is “Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis” but I have always called it “Graceland.” That always made more sense to me given that the cover is a picture of Graceland and it says “Graceland” in fancy writing across the bottom. “Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis” seems more like a subtitle. (It’s also a mouthful to say and way too close to previous album titles like “On Stage” and “Recorded at MSG.” RCA’s creative team kinda slept through some of those releases back in the day. LOL!!)


    March 27, 2014 at 13:01

  2. I wonder why Elvis performed so many covers in his concerts? I mean, look at the guy’s vast repertoire of hits. He didn’t need to do other artist’s hits. I never got to see him live, but in all honesty, I would have been disappointed if I had gone to his concert only for him to omit many of his own big hits to play covers of other artists hit records.


    March 27, 2014 at 22:13

    • As Rick Nelson sung, “If all I sang was memories, I’d rather drive a truck.” Give the artist a break.

      Chris Butcher

      May 15, 2014 at 22:41

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