Though I grew up listening to him all my life, it wasn’t until I was about 12 years old that I became a “serious” Elvis fan. By that, I mean that was the first year I actually started my own collection of his records rather than listening to tapes of my brother’s records. It was my brother who gave me my third and fourth Elvis LP albums for Christmas 1987, Elvis’ Golden Records and On Stage—February, 1970. I played both of those records until they were nearly worn out.
I can’t remember how many times I listened to On Stage before I noticed something unusual between two of the songs. The first time I caught it, I lifted the needle up and playing the segment again to make sure I wasn’t crazy. “You’re just really knocking yourself out to make everybody happy!” a woman in the audience says, between “Polk Salad Annie” and “Yesterday.” How had I missed hearing that all the previous times I played the record? For whatever reason, hearing stray comments of audience members during live concerts took on a fascination for me after this. Perhaps it was because it made the concerts seem that much more real.
Fast-forward 13 years. In 2000, BMG released the 3-disc That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition. Featuring Elvis’ August 12, 1970, Midnight Show in Las Vegas, the highlight of this set was Disc Two: The Concert. This was the first release of a complete concert recorded for That’s The Way It Is.
The liner notes state that this show was “probably the best concert ever recorded by Elvis Presley.” I’m unable to buy every single FTD release, but I’ve heard at least parts of more than 75 Elvis concerts. I wasn’t old enough to see Elvis Presley perform before he passed away, but if someone ever invents a time machine, I would have a tough time choosing between buying a ticket back in time to see this concert versus Elvis’ 6 PM, June 27, 1968, Sit Down show in Burbank, recorded for the ELVIS special.
While the raw power of that 1968 show, featuring definitive live versions of many of his classic hits, certainly has a huge appeal, in my heart of hearts, I must admit I would probably choose to see this 1970 concert instead. A relaxed but energetic Elvis performs a wide variety of musical styles, proving that he is not only a consummate showman, but the greatest entertainer of all time.
The sound mix on this CD is terrific. So much so, in fact, that you can clearly hear comments from several different audience members throughout the show. It’s a fascinating listening experience, so if you haven’t played this one in awhile, I suggest you take it out, crank it up, and try to picture yourself there.
It’s not really my purpose today to review an eight-year-old boxed set, though. Instead, I want to focus on some of those audience comments, including one participant who becomes more and more demanding until Elvis finally has enough.
The fun comments begin after “Polk Salad Annie.” As an aside, I want to point out that the opening seconds of this song have been replaced with the opening seconds of its counterpart from Elvis’ August 10, 1970, Opening Show (which FTD later released in full on One Night In Vegas). Presumably, there were audio issues at the beginning of the August 12 recording, though it certainly sounds acceptable in both the 1970 and 2000 versions of the That’s The Way It Is film.
Soon after the song ends, a man in the audience growls “Blue Suede Shoes!” as a request. “One Night!” yells a woman.
“Hang loose, man, I’ll get it for you,” says Elvis, apparently to the Growling Man. He is obviously in a great mood, because he does not always field song requests. Just a few months earlier, during his February 1970 engagement, as captured on the 1999 version of On Stage, Elvis responded to a man who yelled out “Jailhouse!” by saying, “I can’t do that. We don’t have it on the program, man, I’m sorry. I don’t have ‘Jailhouse Rock’ or all that jazz on the program tonight. I’ve recorded something like four hundred and eighty-something songs, and I can only do sixteen of them, so I’m sorry, I can’t. If I don’t do the songs you want to hear, I’m sorry.”
At the August 12 show, Elvis lets the requests keep coming, though. “Let’s do a little ‘Treat Me Nice!'” shouts another man. “‘Wonder of You’!” shouts a woman, and a couple of other audience members agree with her.
Her request gets Elvis’ attention as well. “Have we got ‘The Wonder of You’ on the charts over there?” he asks one of his band members. While Elvis waits for an answer, the Growling Man shouts “Blue Suede Shoes!” a couple more times.
“All right, we’ll get it,” Elvis says, though it is not clear whether he is referring to “The Wonder of You” or to “Blue Suede Shoes” again. For what it’s worth, he never sings “The Wonder of You” in this show, though. At this point, the concert is edited again. Portions of what was taken out can be seen in the 1970 version of the That’s The Way It Is movie. Elvis continues interacting with the audience, relaxed enough to sit on the edge of the stage and even take sips of a mixed drink from one of them. He instructs the band to play some music, and when they start out tentatively, he tells them not to be afraid to just “play the hell out of it!”
Shortly after that, Elvis jumps down into the audience, causing pandemonium. He slowly makes his way through a swarm of fans from one side of the showroom to the other. Elvis also pulled this extremely rare stunt at the August 11, 1970, Dinner Show, during “Love Me Tender.”
The CD picks the show back up with Elvis already back on stage, launching into “Heartbreak Hotel.” The film reveals that Elvis is now disheveled and part of his costume is torn, but he looks so alive, like he’s having the best time ever and wants to make sure everyone there feels the same way.
Elvis then knocks out a couple of those requests. He performs a great version of “One Night” and quickly follows that with a fast-paced “Blue Suede Shoes.” Though Elvis had performed “Blue Suede Shoes” as requested, Growling Man is apparently not satisfied and wants to start controlling each song of the show. No sooner does “Blue Suede Shoes” end that he begins shouting his next request, “‘Trouble’!” A woman, probably one of Growling Man’s sisters sitting at the same table, also shouts “‘Trouble’!”
Elvis is in a groove now, though, and moves right into “All Shook Up.” After that, Elvis calls for his stool and grabs his electric guitar. Harkening back to his August 1969 Vegas engagement, Elvis is about to treat this audience to another extremely rare moment, perhaps never again to be repeated. Before Elvis can get going, though, Growing Man pipes up again with “‘Trouble’!”
“Do what?” asks Elvis.
“‘Trouble’!” demands Growling Man. In unison, two women then shout “‘Trouble’!” as well. After no response from Elvis, Growling Man tries yet again, “‘Trouble’!”
Suddenly, another man, sounding older, throws out his own request: “Anything!” which gets a laugh from the audience and a reaction from Elvis.
“Anything. . .” Elvis sings, apparently ad-libbing, “. . . you’re feeling lonely. . .”
“You’re So Square!” shouts another man.
Elvis hears this, too, wrapping up his little song with a spoken bit: “. . . baby, I don’t care.”
“‘Suspicious Minds’!” shouts someone else. (Hey, I wonder if anyone ever yelled out “Can’t Help Falling In Love!” as a request at an Elvis concert? All of the other fans would have probably hurt them.)
A woman throws out a different sort of request, “Hey, Elvis, come up here on the balcony!”
“Honey, I wouldn’t come out there again for love nor money, I tell you,” he replies good-naturedly.
Disturbed by the lack of attention, Growling Man yells “‘Trouble’!” again. Meanwhile, Elvis gets “strapped in” to his guitar and announces that he’s going to sing “Little Sister.” Though it’s not “Trouble,” Growling Man apparently approves of this song choice, for he shouts, “Get it on, baby!” though he might have been talking to one of his sisters.
A few songs later, Elvis wraps up his impromptu jam with a short version of “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” even throwing in the “Do you gaze at your bald head and wish you had hair?” line that had helped send him into a fit of laughter just a year before when performing the same song.
“‘Trouble’!” yells Growling Man.
Elvis ignores him, taking off his guitar. “Well, we got that out of the way and now we can go on with the show,” he says.
“Do ‘Don’t Be Cruel,'” yells someone else.
“What? Oh yeah, yeah. There’s about 26 others I forgot, you see,” says Elvis.
“Remember them!” demands another audience member.
“Do ‘Trouble,'” growls the Growling Man.
“Punt! We’ll punt is what we’ll do,” Elvis tells the Growling Man, seemingly tired of being told what to do. In American football, a team that is unable to advance far enough down the field will punt (kick) the ball to the other team in hopes of obtaining better field position later. Elvis has essentially given up on pleasing the Growling Man and is ready to move on to something else. He wraps up the show with fantastic renditions of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Suspicious Minds,” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” Growling Man is never audible again. Maybe he and his sisters left.
I wish I could’ve been there, August 12, 1970—one of the best shows ever, unless you were looking for “Trouble.”