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Here I go again

Diamond Anniversary Editions DAE 3595-5 (Released 1995)

Opening theme
Blue suede shoes
I got a woman
All shook up
Love me tender
Jailhouse rock/ don't be cruel
Heartbreak hotel
Hound dog
I can't stop loving you
Johnny B. Goode
Monologue (Life story)
Baby what you want me to do
Are you lonesome tonight
Yesterday/ Hey Jude
In the ghetto
Suspicious minds
What'd I say
Can't help falling in love
(Live, August 24, 1969, Dinner show, Las Vegas)

"Thin as a rake and handsomer than 10 movie stars," said bodyguard Sonny West of Elvis as the 1969 Vegas gig approached. This period of Elvis' life cannot be underestimated -- he was focused and anxious to enter the modern performing arena at his best. He was "into it"! It's a shame that Vegas was the venue chosen by his management (imagine a national tour in 1969, followed by an international one, with that drive!), but we all know that story, don't we?

This fabulous disc documents the August 24th dinner show, not the 23rd as the cover states, in superb sound quality with gorgeous photos from that month. It's the essential statement from this initial run in Las Vegas, far superior to 'Opening Night 1969' (which wasn't, anyway). By the 24th of August Elvis was incredibly confident and his performance of numbers like "I Can't Stop Loving You", "I Got A Woman" and "Suspicious Minds" are superb. It's worth mentioning that the band plays the shit out of the songs, feeding off of Elvis' intensity. It's also worth noting that the last two tracks seem to be lifted from the above-mentioned 'Opening Night 1969' (which was probably a show from August 1st), and I would guess that DAE didn't have access to the same songs from the 24th. It doesn't matter!

The swinging "Runaway" (he ain't gonna do that falsetto part!) is different to the one RCA/BMG keeps releasing over and over (where he laughs after singing "I wonder where HE will stay"), and just as fun. It's so cool to hear, at the beginning of the cd, a little bit of the band's pre-show warming up, followed by the full-length "(You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care" instrumental introduction. Many of the monologues are the ones you've read quoted in the books, but it's fun to actually listen to them. In contrast to the rambling, drug-influenced Elvis speeches of August/September 1974, in August 1969 he sounds crazy and high but he was simply being silly, I believe. The standout tune this night is his blistering version of "Johnny B. Goode" (it's as much his story as anyone's). James Burton was born to play those guitar licks! And Elvis' vocal is SO intense! This may be the same as the version we've had since the first official live record in 1969, but it sounds better in context here.

At the same time, given hindsight, you can see how Elvis was affected by the big, brassy arrangements from the 1968 TV Special. And I mean in a bad way. Just like on that show (the stand up "medley" segments reflect how the 50's music was subtly designated as "that kid stuff"), two of the greatest songs of his career, "Jailhouse Rock" and "Don't Be Cruel", are shoved together in a medley! He never really did either song justice in his later performing career. And as we know, very few of his classics from the 1950's would be treated with the respect that he gave songs like "My Way". Let's not forget too that this was Las Vegas, and several other songs suffer from a Las Vegas arrangement, most notably "Love Me Tender" and "In The Ghetto". He would still excite and do great shows in spite of this right up until the end, but plying his craft in a place like Vegas ultimately killed him as a creative, viable artist.

But I digress. As with all things Elvis, the drawbacks or disappointments are nearly eliminated by his charisma and, in 1969, by his amazing energy level. Despite it all, he rocks! And that's what Elvis Presley was all about. Of all the privately released live discs out there, this is the best one, right up there with 'Elvis Rocks Little Rock' for the perfect snapshot of a time when it seemed anything was possible.

Review by Johnny Savage, USA

Sound rate ***