Elvis: Viva Las Vegas

Elvis Presley

For me, there has always been three distinct Elvises: the pre-army, hip-swiveling hillbilly rocker boy; the post-army softly, slightly out-of-focus movie-star-safe Elvis; and lastly, the cape-wearing high-karate-kicking-despite-the-obvious paunch-Vegas headliner. Sure there have been moments within all those three stages where the Elvis images overlapped…I’m thinking about that white hot TV comeback in ‘68 when Elvis wore that amazing black leather suit and sang mostly solo, an audience of admirers at his feet. But mainly when I think of ‘The King Of Rock And Roll,’ I think of Elvis in those three guises and I must admit, I’ve always broke down his music into categories as well: hillbilly rock, gospel, schmaltzy covers. But what I never realized, until now, was that Elvis had full command of all his styles and guises, as Elvis: Viva Las Vegas makes plainly clear.

Released on the 30th anniversary of the King's passing, the 16-song Elvis: Viva Las Vegas is mainly a collection of live performances taped in Las Vegas from 1970-72. The songs range from old rockers like “See See Rider,” movie tie-ins like the title track to renditions of contemporary hits like “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Elvis' own concoction, “An American Trilogy,” featuring snippets of “Dixieland” among other ‘American’ music staples. Often one hears a distinct discord between Elvis' core rock and roll lounge band (and a good one at that) battling his band's more gospel elements (most notably in his backing vocalists) – sometimes too over laden with his string section. “The Wonder Of You,” the third song on the CD comes to mind suffering, as it does, from this cacophony, but through it all, Elvis sings his heart out.

“Polk Salad Annie” is as nasty a mix of old swampy hillbilly funk with horns as you’ll ever be lucky to find (ironically, the horn section seems to work for me every time they are put to use), the classic “See See Rider,” the gospel heavy “Walk A Mile In My Shoes,” and, hate to admit it though I must, Elvis' over-the-top take of "The Impossible Dream(The Quest)." Not to dismiss the other 12 tracks as they really do illustrate these later years of Elvis' live performances. It’s just that with such a large and schizophrenic band behind him – at once gospel revue, other times rock and roll act, still another time it's a full blown Sinatra-style orchestra – Elvis: Viva Las Vegas sometimes suffers from just "too much." (then again, wasn’t that the complaint about Elvis during these last years of his life, that he was simply "too much" – more image then substance?) On Elvis: Viva Las Vegas, Elvis never loses his voice. Despite the weight gain, jet black hair, army fatigues or Hawaiian shirt, this boy could sing! And a tip of my hat to the producer of this collection as Elvis expresses a hearty “thank you very much” just as “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)” ends.

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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