Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Well, now, this is news...of a sort...

August 28, 1976.

Y'know, I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable on most things Elvis (if I may say so my(damn)self), I think I can rattle off the important dates in Elvis' personal life (for instance, Elvis married on x; his daughter was born on y; first recording session took place on z) but also (and more importantly) I can rattle off those important, need-to-know dates regarding Elvis' live performances. So, for instance, I can tell you the date of that Baltimore show in 1977 when Elvis leaves the stage mid-show and I can tell you the date of the show when Elvis was "attacked" by some guys who jumped up onto the stage and I can tell you the date of those shows when Elvis performed some particular rarity (such as when Elvis performed a cover of "Suzy Q" or when he performed a cover of "When The Snow Is On the Roses" or when he did even just a few lines of "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World").

But August 28, 1976? This is a new one for me.

My initial reaction to the news of a new, soon-to-be-released bootleg CD featuring a soundboard recording of the matinee show from August 28, 1976 in Houston, TX was a simple groan and a shrug.  I can count on one hand the number of decent performances given by Elvis in 1976 (such as the July 5 last-show-ever-in Memphis; just about all of the shows in the last few days of December, including the famed New Years Even show). But for the most part, the 1976 shows are really torture to listen to, often featuring an Elvis devoid of any energy, seemingly half asleep and obviously wholly disinterested in giving a good performance. And boy, do I hate the stage outfit Elvis primarily wore during 1976 (that gawdawful chicken looking one, pictured above).

But reading further into the press release for this new bootleg, I am surprised to learn that this August 28, 1976 show is considered "controversial", and "much has been written about Elvis' afternoon show" on this date and "the general consensus appears to be that this concert was a real disaster" and that this show "is a hot discussion point among fans."

Again, I never heard of this show before and I just can't believe that this show is soooo bad, sooo much more of a disaster than the May 3 crazy show at lake tahoe or the June 30 Greensboro, NC show or the Hampton, VA show on August 1 or the Tuscaloosa, AL on August 30.

The press release mentions that "the review by Bob Claypool has often been cited in Elvis literature..."

I have read many Elvis books but I dont recall ever seeing any mention of any review by this Bob Claypool person (who?) and, again, I dont recall ever making a mental note to myself about any show on August 28, 1976.

The review by this Bob Claypool person (who?) (which I have provided below for your reading pleasure) doesnt make the show sound any different from or any worse than any of the 1976 shows I have already mentioned.

Here is the setlist of this August 28 performance:

01. C. C. Rider (incomplete) - 02. I Got A Woman / Amen - 03. Love Me - 04. If You Love Me (Let Me Know) - 05. You Gave Me A Mountain - 06. All Shook Up - 07. (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear / Don't Be Cruel - 08. And I Love You So (with false start) - 09. Jailhouse Rock - 10. Fever - 11. America The Beautiful (with reprise) - 12. Polk Salad Annie - 13. Introductions by Elvis of Singers, Musicians - 14. Early Morning Rain (John Wilkinson) - 15. What'd I Say (James Burton) - 16. Johnny B. Goode (James Burton) - 17. Drum Solo (Ronnie Tutt) - 18. Bass Solo (Blues theme, Jerry Scheff) - 19. Bass Solo (Battle Of New Orleans theme, Jerry Scheff) - 20. Piano Solo (Tony Brown) - 21. Electric Piano & Clavinet Solo (David Briggs) - 22. School Day (Joe Guercio Orchestra) - 23. Hurt - 24. Funny How Time Slips Away - 25. Can't Help Falling In Love - 26. Closing Vamp / Announcements.
Running time: 79:22

Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary here, this is the same set of songs that Elvis performed at these 1976 shows.

I did a little research on the internet about this August 28 show, looking for confirmation that this is indeed some-special-kind-of-bad show and I did find some chatter among fans about the show but nothing really conclusive or convincing (mostly people were regurgitating what they had heard from other fans but no one seems to have actually heard the show).

But then I discovered a sound sample of a complete track from the CD, Elvis doing "Hurt" (link to the sample is below) and...and...well, first, if this sample is representative of the whole CD, this is a fantastic-sounding CD. But Elvis's performance of "Hurt"...whoa boy. This really might be some-special-kind-of-bad show. Elvis' voice is incredibly weak, and I was wincing as Elvis approached that final high note. No way he was gonna hit it. No way. And he didnt. This calls into question the critical acumen of this Bob Claypool person (who?) who wrote "Elvis pulled himself up momentarily when he launched into his current single "Hurt"..." Elvis does not pull himself up and Elvis most certainly does not launch into the song (he nervously begins the song, and his confidence shrinks considerably further as the song goes on).

Of course, this CD just went to the top of my "must have" list.

Here is link to page with the sound sample:

Here is the (famed?) review by this Bob Claypool person (who?):

CONCERT DATE: August 28, 1976. Houston, TX
Elvis: a disappointing visit at a shrine
by Dale Adamson
Houston Chronicle
August 29, 1976

Attending an Elvis Presley concert these days is like making a disappointing visit to a national shrine. First, there's a repetitious series of Historical-Marker-Ahead: opening acts. Then, a climactic first sighting of the king, a rock'n'roll landmark even 20 years after the fact. And finally, the disillusionment of discovering that the landmark has been strouded with souvenir stands, hawkers and vendors, overrun by tourists and decled out like a Christmas package in sequins and glitter.

Presley made one sold-out appearance in the Summit Saturday afternoon, drawing a typically enthusiastic and uncritical audience that was interested less in music and entertainment then in the mere ephemeral presence of E*L*V*I*S.

Once the crowd was settled in with a 45-minute prelude by J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet of gospel singers, the so-called "comedy" of Jack Kahan and the cheerleading performance of the Sweet Inspirations, the stage was set with quasireligious pomposity for Elvis' arrival. Policeman took their places in the aisles and in front of the stage. The band tuned up and slowly the grandiose strains of "Thus Sprach Zarathustra" rolled out the musical red carpet.

The crowd erupted in a single scream of delight when Elvis strode on stage. Puffy-faced and dressed is a gaudy costume with a heavily spangled vest and six-inch wide belt, he posed for the thousands of Instamatic flashcubes during a quick run-through of "C.C. Rider."

"I'm just trying to wake up," he joked tiredly after staggering through a lack luster "I Got A Woman" that was more notable for his calculatedly subtle hip movements than his singing.
Elvis still has a remarkable strong, deeply resonant voice that, unfortunately, he displayed only rarely Saturday. He spent most of his time tossing scarves like Mardi Gras favors to the audience, shaking hands, receiving flowers and presents and kissing the women persistent enough to break through the throng to the stage and pull themselves up close enough to the King that he didn't have to lean over too far.
He exerted no energy at all in a medley of his early rock tunes - "All Shook Up," "Teddy Bear" and "Don't Be Cruel" - and then complained that the band was too loud.
James Burton's electric guitar kicked off "Jailhouse Rock" with enough power to propel Elvis comfortably through the song to an intermittently effective "Fever" and an unabashedly patriotic "America, The Beautiful," which drew mere applause than any other musical number of the afternoon.
But his between-song mumblings and his insistent attention to the front row crush of fans at the expense of the other 17,000 audience members left a mighty dull finish on an otherwise polished performance.
He introduced his entire on-stage entourage - some 17 or 18 musicians and singers plus a conductor and small orchestra right down to Charlie Hodge, "the guy that gives me scarves, brings me my water and sings harmony with me." Let's hear it for Charlie - the hardest workin' man in show biz.
Elvis pulled himself up momentarily when he launched into his current single, "Hurt," singing with enough conviction to carry over into a pleasant, but unchallenging version of Willie Nelson's "Ain't funny How Times Slips Away." Then, he had the houselights turned up to get a look at the "real" show - the undyingly loyal fans of every age screaming and scrambling in hopes of possessing just one little piece of Elvis like a chip from the petrified forest. I wonder how many of those fans - who will surely claim that Saturday was one of the finest moments in their lives - noticed that after an hour and 20 minutes show, there was no ovation whatsoever for Elvis or the band? Just a crowded rush to the exits and the traffic jam waiting in the parking lots.


Maile Duval said...

I think the reviewer hit the nail right on the head: the audience members cared less about what Elvis actually sounded like that night than the fact that they were seeing and "experiencing" Elvis live. It's unfortunate that his performance was so lackluster, but I can understand why the excitement of just seeing him could cloud some people's objectivity about the quality of the performance.
For someone like me who has experienced Elvis only post-1977, sometimes one cuts Elvis a little slack because he was "not as bad" as expected. I (finally) started watching the summer 1977 concerts that led to Elvis in Concert and have found the performances not as bad as I had expected. It's all about expectations. If you expect him to perform like he did in 1956, 1968, or even 1970, you'll be sorely disappointed. If you expect him to be totally incoherent and then he surprises you by making some sense, then it's not so bad.

MJD13 said...

You were a little hard on Bob Claypool, who did not write the review you posted. Claypool was the music writer for the now defunct Houston Post. The Post material is (supposedly) gone, and Claypool died pre-internet so his work is hard to find.
He really was a great critic. He loved Elvis, but probably would have skewered him pretty good...he hated, above all else, performers who "mailed it in".
He was ornery, opinionated, loved music and was a great writer. You would have loved him.