Elvis does Vegas in 1969

By Tom Von Malder | Sep 23, 2019
Photo by: RCA/Legacy Recordings The cover of the new Elvis Presley box set.

Owls Head — Elvis Presley: Elvis Live 1969 (RCA/Legacy, 11 CDs, about 780 min.). This box set, aimed at the true Elvis fan, celebrates the 50th anniversary of Presley’s return to performing before live audiences after nine years away, first serving in the U.S. Army and then making three movies a year. Presley relaunched his stage career with 29 shows at the International Hotel in La Vegas in August 1969. This set contains 11 consecutive, complete shows from Aug. 21 to Aug. 26, with two shows a day on fours of the dates.

There is one complete unreleased show, another with only a single track previously released and most of the other shows have had performances released here and there. All of the music has been newly mixed and mastered. The song line-up hardly varies, although his spoken bits evolve. In the first show, Presley sounds kind of loopy. He laughs a lot during the opening “Blue Suede Shoes,” as his mood is very good through the first three numbers. He then talks to the audience, but he sounds a bit jittery as he explains his long absence from perming live and how he missed audiences. Presley turns silly when telling the story of a woman during “Hound Dog.” Also, his story of his early TV career is weirdly told.

The music overcomes the wobbly stage patter, though. “Runaway” is very nice and his medley of The Beatles’ “Yesterday” and the coda from “Hey Jude” is well done. During the band introductions, Presley notes that it is guitarist James Burton’s birthday and sings him a bit of “Happy Birthday.” One of the many musical highlights follows: “Suspicious Minds,” which was about to be released as his next single in a couple of weeks. Overall, the show is a take-no-chances hits rollout.

During the shows, Presley is backed by his regular five-piece band, as well as a full orchestra and two vocal groups, the Imperials and the Sweet Inspirations. The audience numbered some 2,200 each night. The most difference in the performances from show to show are when Presley talks, and his moods vary. He does come up with some funny ad-libs – if they are not off-the-cuff misspeaks – as when he notes the Las Vegas desert conditions make him so parched that it feels like “Bob Dylan slep’ in ya mouth.” At another show he says he has “a little bitty dead lizard” sharing his stage. He often interacts with the women demanding kisses, as in the second show during “Memories.” And then there is the time that the refrain of “Heartbreak Hotel” comes out as “I get so horny I could die.”

The shows came at a time when Presley’s career was slightly waning and his chart success trailed that of Dylan and The Beatles. From 1956 to 1963, Presley had had 17 chart-topping singles, plus more than a dozen additional Top 10 hits. However, while he had a string of hits between 1964 and 1968, there were no chart-toppers and only one made the Top 10.

The box set includes a 52-page booklet with photos and quotes from Presley, his manager Colonel Tom Parker and others. The booklet is a very nice keepsake. Grade: B+

Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators: Living the Dream Tour (Eagle Vision/Universal, Blu-ray + 2 CDs or DVD + 2 CDs, NR, 125 min.). This is at least Slash’s fifth live concert release with Myles Kennedy and fourth with the Conspirators. This time, though, the 22-song set includes seven songs from their recent “Living the Dream” album, the third album the collaborators made together, and only one song, “Nightrain,” from Slash’s days with Guns N’ Roses. The concert here was recorded at a packed Hammersmith Apollo in London on the final night of the tour.

Among the seven new songs are concert highlights: the ballad “Lost Inside the Girl,” the opening “Call of the Wild” and the infectious “Serve You Right.” The other new songs are “My Antidote,” “Boulevard of Broken Hearts,” “Mind Your Manners” and “Driving Rain.”

Seventeen of the songs are co-written by Slash (under his real name, Saul Hudson) and Kennedy, with another two having added writers, so the concert really showcases the band’s last decade of working together. For the two outside songs, bassist Todd Kearns takes over lead vocals; the songs are Iggy Pop’s “We’re All Gonna Die” and “Doctor Alibi” by Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead.

Visually, the production is very strong as the camera pulls in close to Slash’s finger work and guitar on his many solos. We see Kerns’ bass lines at the appropriate moments, while Frank Sidoris holds his own on rhythm guitar. Brent Fitz is a force on the drums and gets a brief solo during “World on Fire,” which extends to nearly 18 minutes. In the 11-minute “Wicked Stone,” Slash plays an 8-minute solo. Towards the end of the concert, Kennedy’s vocals are particularly good on “Starlight” and You’re a Lie,” with Kennedy saying the former song is what started it all for this band. The encores are “Avalon” and “Anastasia,” which leaves everything on a high. Other fan-favorites include “Back from Cali” and “By the Sword.”

The two CDs included have a better sound mix than the Blu-ray. There also are a 3-LP black vinyl version and a very limited 3-LP red vinyl version, plus even more limited signed copies available online at www.slashonline.com. Grade: A

John & Yoko: Above Us Only Sky (Eagle Vision/Universal, Blu-ray or DVD, NR, 89 min.). Repeating footage from the bonus video features in the recent “Imagine Ultimate Edition” box set, particularly at the beginning and also towards the end, this film is a deeper dive into the making of the “Imagine” album by centering on the creative relationship between John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, and life and work at Lennon’s Tittenhurst Park estate in England. The director is Emmy Award winner and Oscar nominee Michael Epstein (“American Masters,” “The Battle Over Citizen Kane”).

The documentary includes previously unreleased recordings, including the first demo of “Imagine,” unseen film and archival and brand-new interviews. As well as a new and exclusive interview with Ono, the film features new interviews with those closest to the couple at that time, including Lennon’s son Julian, who recalls playing at Tittenhurst; photographer David Bailey, who famously captured the couple in a 1971 photograph that graced the cover of Vogue; gallerist John Dunbar, who set up Ono’s first London art show and introduced the couple; Dan Richter, a neighbor of Ono’s who became their personal assistant; pioneering studio designer Eddie Veale, who built Ascot Sound Studios at their home in Tittenhurst Park; and musicians Klaus Voormann, Alan White and Jim Keltner, who all played on thee “Imagine” album. These figures provide open and unprecedented insight, alongside previously-unseen footage, photographs and audio recordings.

During her interview, Ono says, “I feel in the big picture the fact that John and I met was to do this song (“Imagine”).” In an archival film clip, Lennon acknowledges that he should have given Ono a co-songwriting credit, as even the title “Imagine,” as well as some of the idea behind the song, came from her “Grapefruit” book.

Among the archival footage is Lennon playing part of a new song for George Harrison; Lennon and Ono’s Peace Bed-In in Toronto and the Plastic Ono Band performing “Cold Turkey.” Bonus video includes takes five and six, raw studio mix, of “How Do You Sleep?” (10:33); the raw studio mix of “Oh My Love” (10:33); the 1969 Bahamas recording of “Oh Yoko!” (4:25); and the complete conversation with Vietnam War veteran Curt Claudio (7:56). Grade: B+

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