Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Elvis: Viva Las Vegas

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Elvis: Viva Las Vegas is sixteen songs recorded live in Las Vegas from 1969-73 and is the soundtrack to the upcoming documentary highlighting the King’s years as the top draw in the gambling mecca of the west.

When Elvis hit the strip in the summer of ’69, he wasn’t a punk kid or paper-cutout actor. He was a reinvented powerhouse and a force to be dealt with by entertainers everywhere. With the ‘68 Comeback Special he proved that he could still rock a house to its foundation. His voice now reflected his age, bringing maturity and a renewed confidence to his live act. With a roundhouse kick of seasoned musicians led by guitarist James Burton, Elvis stormed the International Hotel with a passion and fury he hadn’t shown in ten years. Elvis carried with him an aggressive new sound fueled with strong guitars, funky bass lines, and a soaring horn section inspired by the Memphis soul stew cooked up over at Stax and Atlantic records.

Like a lion he roared at the bright neon lights to let that city know that the King was back and more than ready to erase the lukewarm reception he received back in ’56. With the nervous jitters of his first live appearance long out of the way Elvis stepped onto the stage of his new kingdom and possessed an energy that Vegas had been lacking for a while. To show his subjects that he could still stomp ass, he chose songs that were popular and had a drive that he could use to hammer his new sound home. He handpicked tunes that he admired and knew he could turn into his own.

The CD opens with the only studio recording on the disc, “Viva Las Vegas” from the 1963 movie of the same title. Other songs such as “The Wonder Of You,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Let It Be Me,” and “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” would become staples of his act for years to come. While the old blues tune “See See Rider” provided the triumphant sounding horns that would serve as the theme for the jumpsuit-clad Elvis’ choreographed Karate moves. If you listen closely to “That Loving Feeling” you can her him joke about the fit of those suits.

Elvis also chose songs that meant something to him personally and that would mirror his own life. “An American Trilogy” is about Southern life and God while “You Gave Me A Mountain” is a soulful ballad concerning a man’s wife leaving and taking their child with her. “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” is a jamming little ditty packed with sting aimed at his critics and negative press. The disc contains a number of swingin’ jams that filled his Vegas shows, including “Release Me,” “Patch It Up,” and the mean, bass-driven, horn-filled “Polk Salad Annie,” complete with big E’s fumble on the introduction. It’s always good to hear the King laugh at himself.

Elvis: Viva Las Vegas is a good sample of why at this stage in his career Elvis was truly the king of entertainers and the liner notes to the CD by the knowledgeable Colin Escott stress this as well. Sadly, it wouldn’t be long until the King was to be a bloated, pill-popping parody of his former glorious self and just a few years later his throne would be empty. Impersonators of all types from good to horrid sprung up everywhere to mock or turn the spotlight back to a time when Elvis stood tall and commanded respect as a true American icon prowling the desert nights in Sin City.

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