Tucson '76

RCA 74321 790445-2

The Follow That Dream (FTD) collector's label is a godsend for both Elvis fans and scholars! Although it won't eradicate "import" CD releases from the face of the earth, it does provide otherwise unavailable, quality Presley material for the hungry fan while simultaneously pleasing the folks at RCA/BMG who apparently fret over lost sales due to those privately created products. 'Tucson '76' is the sixth FTD escape, uh, release, and this time we get a soundboard gig from Elvis' bicentennial year of touring, touring and more touring.

Elvis' standard of performance in the final 18 months of his career can be termed inconsistent at best. For reasons never quite clear, he only gives a good show when he feels like it, riding on stage banter and pure charisma the rest of the time. Presley in 1976 is not the Elvis of 1969, or even the Elvis of 1974; his fatigue is evident in often very tired vocals. But in Tucson the artist is in a good mood, and both the songs played and the show given reflect this.

'Tucson '76 ,' save a few gap-fillers from Odessa, Texas on May 30 (with David Briggs' Stevie Wonder-style electric piano high in the mix), comes from June 1 at the Community Center Arena in front of 10,000 rabid fans. They do not leave disappointed. Working around his set standards, Elvis sprinkles the show with lesser known songs and bright renditions of the usual fare. He skillfully brings the tempo of Larry Gatlin's soulful "Help Me" down a notch or two, which intensifies its desperate, lonely quality. Presley belts his recent single, the Roy Hamilton-informed "Hurt," to show-stopping effect not once but twice in a row!

Listen out for a snatch of "When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again" prior to "All Shook Up" and a cute false start by the singer on "You Gave Me A Mountain," owing to some type of audience commotion. It should also be noted that "Long Live Rock And Roll" is not a "new" number closing the introductions on track 13. For some odd reason, the producers mis-credit the orchestra's standard rave-up of Chuck Berry's "School Day." Hope Chuck doesn't find out!

"Burning Love," his rocking chart topper from the fall of 1972, is really groovy, if lyric-challenged. Sadly, he won't ever choose do this bouncy number many more times after Tucson. For one night, on a whim, Elvis begins to direct some of the songs into tapping his emotional core. A request for "For The Good Times" gets translated by Presley into a crisp "Help Me Make It Through The Night." Another Arizona fan can be heard asking for "The Last Farewell," a bombastic, icky Roger Whittaker hit single included on Elvis' brand-new 'From Elvis Presley Boulevard' album. By the grace of God, Elvis claims not to be familiar with it; then, something pops into his head: "Is 'Danny Boy' on that album?" he asks water and scarves man Charlie Hodge. "Huh? I haven't heard it," he confesses. Getting the answer (yes, it is), he leads the TCB band through a sensitive, complete rendition of the Irish classic. From as far back as his final session in 1958 before leaving for a two year army "vacation" in Germany, Presley has adored this dark, traditional folk ballad. Not surprisingly, the dedication and care are still here, at full blast. This previously-unknown live take makes sitting through the classic fifties hits he, as usual, trashes earlier in the set almost forgivable.

In Jerry Hopkins' 1980 Presley biography sequel "The Final Years," Tony Brown, TCB Band pianist in 1976-77, singles out June 3, 1976 in Forth Worth, TX as the best show Elvis ever does. According to Brown, there are no missed notes, mumbling or fooling around doing half-songs. It's possible Tony's memory is slightly off; perhaps the set Brown praises is actually two days earlier in Tucson. If so, he's right on the money.

Reviewed by Johnny Savage, USA