Music

The TCB Years: Elvis On Stage In The 70’s

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The next step for post Hollywood Elvis after recording new material was a return to live performing. So in 1969, rather than automatically going on tour, Elvis did a string of shows in Vegas. It was at the International hotel and casino that he first assembled and performed with the TCB Band, including James Burton on guitar, Jerry Scheff on bass, and Ron Tutt on drums. They were among the best of the best, and along with perfect soul girl backup singing by the Sweet Inspirations and crackerjack brass section, they were an unstoppable, unparalleled force to be reckoned with. The shows that would follow would blow away all expectations. As always, Elvis did his best when his ability to do so was in doubt.
So in doubt, in fact, that nobody filmed the shows. It was considered a possibility that E might actually embarrass himself, so only audio exists to prove that perception wrong, and woefully so. This would be the last time that the 50’s hits would be vigorously performed, and made up most of the show. The big closer was Suspicious Minds, not even released yet, performed for a live audience that had never heard it and ridden until the wheels fell off.


The next year Elvis went back and hit it again, and this time on film in a theatrically released movie called That’s The Way It Is. I like this better than the 68 Comeback, which means it’s my favorite Elvis on video experience. But only the Extended Version, released about 10 years ago from unused footage. In this version, you get to see Elvis the musician building and directing his show, working with the musicians in his employ, a glimpse at Elvis as the person behind the personae. You then see what amounts to a full production of the best concert E had in him, way before the stage show became kitsch. It’s beyond “Rock & Roll” or really any inane genre classification, it’s simply American Music all in one synthesis presented for your entertainment. The original version, however, shows just Elvis goofing off during the rehearsal period, falling out of chairs on purpose and making bad jokes. During that version, the live show is interrupted in order to present footage of scary freaky fans babbling nonsense between the presentation of each song. This was the version in theaters in the 70s and the only one the general public saw until 2001.

Compared to the original version, the Special Edition is revelatory. You see Elvis as much more than the caricature, the butt of a million jokes and lame impressions. You see here the phenomenal talent that’s been tragically eclipsed by the crassness of the product Elvis became in years to come.

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70’s Elvis concerts films run like a 3 act play thematically, or if you’ll forgive the analogy, like the Star Wars trilogy. That’s The Way It Is the victorious first act, all bright eyed and full of new ideas. Then came act two: Elvis On Tour. In 72, Elvis and company took the show on the road, and the road took it’s toll. Much like in The Empire Strikes Back, darkness starts to settle around the proceedings. The stage show remained strong, but backstage and in the afterhours, Elvis started to appear strung out. This is where the cracks really begin to appear, and the drama that implies is thick like a fog that you could break with a karate chop, but unfortunately couldn’t be dispersed.

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Which leads us to the most famous one of all, the Return Of The Jedi number, the big moment of victory. Aloha From Hawaii was the grand apology for never touring the world, as Elvis instead journeyed to the 50th state and shot a concert that was beamed live via satellite all over the planet, but not aired in America for about half a year. Beloved and renowned, it doesn’t exactly show Elvis at his very best, but it does perhaps show him at his most victorious, which I suppose explains all the decanters.

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