Elvis Presley – ‘Closing Night’ -September 3, 1973

by | Jul 2, 2021 | 0 comments

Jamming this evening in the ‘rock room’ is a live Elvis Presley performance hailing from the closing night of a 58 show season at the Las Vegas Hilton. This particular recording is a well-balanced
reel to reel in contrast to the usual Presley cassette soundboards to
circulate. This concert is also an official release by the Follow That Dream label, a subsidiary of RCA for serious Presley
collectors and to ‘steer fans away from bootleg products. Many if not all of
these FTD’s quickly go out of print as they are pressed in limited fashion. In
the case of the October 2004 title Closing Night, reviews
and attitudes were mixed but the release nonetheless remained in high demand. On
the Closing Night cd the first seven
tracks hail from Presley’s dinner performance with the rest of the CD featuring
the Midnight show. The recording is a clean soundboard line tape from reel to
reel, a little bit sterile, but with a respectable balance of instruments.

A caveat emptor, this review will be a bit longer than some as there is a lot to unpack on this evening. There are both psychological and musical aspects to the concert as well as a plethora of dialog and a substantial amount of musical highlights.

A bit of historical context regarding the performances
featured on the recording is needed to fully appreciate the concerts.
Reportedly prior to the show Presley had said to others around him that he was
done playing Vegas and was fed up with the Colonel’s tactics. The magnetic tape
reflects these repressed emotions of the King through the performance with
Presley’s playful and tipsy mood is underlined with a dose of angst. 1973 is a
year when everything was coming to a head for the ‘King’. This was his 9th
Las Vegas season and he was getting fed up with Vegas, Parker and personal issues
including but not limited to his increasing reliance on prescription pills.
Following this Vegas residency Presley would take five months off of touring. When he would return there would be set changes and a temporary improvement in his Vegas stage show. But really, this particular show in the ‘rock room’s opinion, is where Presley started to pull away from being a commodity. Unfortunately it was already too late.

The media line regarding Presley during this time is not
simple, there is strata to be revealed by peeling away layers of myth.
Admittedly 1973 was a strange year for Elvis, subpar performances, An upcoming
divorce, and a deeply buried longing for something that not even he could not
discern. The ‘rock room’ doesn’t deal in tall tales, we listen to the sounds.
The band is crisp and Presley is on for the most part. But this is not the
usual Presley performance as his emotions get the better of him. The September
3rd dinner show which as previously stated begins the CD is pretty chill with
‘E’ in a goofy mood. He does at times song slightly medicated but typical to
other shows of the time pulls out more than a couple slam bangers for the
crowd. The dinner show is just a precursor to the main event, but regardless
the entire collection allows for an insider’s view of the entire event.

Admittedly there are much better performances Presley available,
but only a handful so revealing and charged emotionally. Presley, the
consummate showman, usually left his luggage at the door, but for this one Las
Vegas evening he revealed more than usual while putting on a memorable evening
of music. The ‘TCB’ band is as to be expected, professional, brisk and ass
kicking.

The dinner show begins with the usual for the era ‘CC Rider’
opening which spits up gravel in a jittery version highlighted by James Burton
chicken pickin’. Presley is turning the key for a cold engine and it takes a
bit for him to get cooking. Presley remarks, ‘Is this the right song?’ toward
‘CC’s’ conclusion. A brief intro and the beginning of Presley’s humorous dialog
for the evening.

Elvis comments about destroying his microphone before
entering into a chat with Charlie Hodge which gets a great laugh from the
crowd. Presley mentions being ‘straight’ for those who had not witnessed the
show before to which Hodge responds, ‘I’ve never been straight in my life’. Inside
jokes and silliness prevails early on. Presley slurs his way into a fluid ‘I
Got a Woman’ that lays so far back that it almost lays down. Glenn D. Hardin’s
piano is a major highlight on the tape as well as the vocal dive bomb By J. D.
Sumner (backing vocalist) that became a great place of amusement for the ‘King’
during concerts. Sumner’s ability to reach subterranean depths of bass with his
voice placed him the Guinness World Book
of Records
and during this particular show Elvis got extra pleasure out of
it and had J. D sing it again!

Another set list standard follows with ‘Love Me’ which is as
loose as is the show thus far. Presley takes the opportunity to smooch with
some female fans while some off mic giggles continue to litter the stage. James
Taylor’s ‘Steamroller Blues’ follows and the things begin to get wrenched down
on the stage. Again, Glenn D. is a superstar, with some dirty saloon stylings
leading into a typically stellar James Burton Tele solo spot.

While Presley’s voice is not as strong as the later show,
‘Steamroller Blues’ gets him fully invested and ends up being a strong version.
The band flattens everything in the Hilton playing a swinging rendition of a
‘rock room’ Presley on stage favorite. Highlight.

‘You Gave Me a Mountain’ follows and continues the upswing
of the first show. This reading is sung well and played dramatically with
Presley exhibiting some superb vocal strength. Oddly enough, Elvis sings midway
through the number, ‘The sound system in this hotel isn’t worth a damn!’, then apologizes
to his own long time sound engineer Bill Porter following the performance.

The final featured song from the dinner show tape is a good
one. Presley jumps into ‘Trouble’ played for the first time since the 1968 Comeback Special, the original
featured on 1958’s King Creole
soundtrack. Prior to the song beginning Presley remarks to the crowd, I’d like
to do a medley of Spanish folk songs for ya’ to a limited response. This
Leiber/Stoller classic has, in keeping with the theme of the concert has a
chill vibe but a fully present Elvis. The band plows through the 12 bar with a
gritty Telecaster spotlight solo on Burton and Presley crooning free.

Thus ends the available tracks from the dinner show and we
are placed in the midnight show already in progress. Photos show that Presley begin the midnight show by coming on stage with a stuffed monkey on his back! The aural evidence is not present on the FTD release, but the symbolism of Presley’s statement makes too much sense. The ‘rock and roll’ medley
begins and Presley is in the same sort of mood as the preceding performance. The
band sizzles through the changes connecting each classic seamlessly seguing verses
of ‘Long Tall Sally/Whole Lot of Shakin Going On/You’re Mama Don’t Dance’/Flip
Flop Fly/Hound Dog’. No surprise to the ‘rock room’ James Burton is en fuego
with a plethora of heady playing.

Giggle and snorts are the order of the day as the show
begins its descent into the alien land of strange. ‘Fever’ follows and finds Presley swapping out lyrics, snorting, embarrassing his stage mates and just plain being odd. I find myself laughing out loud during this unique rendition.  I’m sure the assembled crowd was blown away by the Elvis show on this twilight zone evening.

Just when you think the late night show can’t possibly get any stranger, according to reports following ‘Fever’ a bed is then rolled out to center stage.  Yes, a bed in which Elvis gets comfy and performs a fitting ‘What Now My Love’ laying down (with questionable movements). Howls of laughter and a confused response from the crowd litter the performance. Actually, not a bad performance that concludes in a massive conclusion. Hmm.

What happens next could be one of the weirdest moments on a Presley stage. James Burton picks out the opening lick to ‘Suspicious Minds’ and Presley promptly starts to sing the lyrics to ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’! This segment is admittedly kind of painful, but definitely funny and you can discern that Elvis is having a good laugh at both Tom Parker and the Hilton’s expense. Presley quirks to the orchestra director, “I gotta stick to one song or the other’. After calling the director lovingly a ‘son of a bitch’ Presley decides on ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and again flubs lyric after lyric before completely forgetting them  and causing the crowd and back ground singers to collaboratively sing the words back to Presley! Classic. Presley emerges out of the fog and proceeds to sing the shit out of the rest of a powerhouse reading. Proof positive of why this is such a mercurial concert and how much of a emotional yo yo Presley was at this point.

‘Suspicious Minds’ finally gets its chance and is played fast and carelessly. Not even a shadow on the 1970 versions. It’s unfortunate that we cannot see what is transpiring on stage! Presley is reverberating between Yin and Yang at this point because as he prepares to introduce the band and notices some sheet music on the floor of the stage. When someone goes to pick it up, Presley starts calling out members of the mafia to come out and pick up the music stand, ‘There’s 25 other employees around backstage!’ The band grooves on behind the King as he continues the introductions while also acknowledging friends and family in the audience. 

What comes next many consider to be a highlight of the two closing  Fall 1973 Vegas shows is Presley’s reading of ‘My Boy’. Elvis had covered the song on his 1974 LP Good Times and played it on stage during this Vegas run while also dedicating it to Lisa Marie Presley. You can tell Elvis connects deeply with the song and like flipping an emotional switch he grabs the crowd and holds them in the palm of his hand. There is no joking here, just prime Presley. Elvis is obviously content and feeling it as he takes the opportunity to thank Charlie Hodge with a comment that when he sings with Elvis that ‘it sounds like one voice’.

Elvis is feeling it as we now hit the home stretch with a series of tight but loose performances beginning with a hearty ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ with horny punctuations from the orchestra. At the songs conclusion a disappointed Elvis says, ‘Thank you for the light applause’. You can just feel that Elvis is searching for a different venue, audience, direction, anything on this particular evening. ‘American Trilogy’ follows, always a highlight, but here it takes until the song conclusion to reach a boil as Presley is back with messing with the words in an obvious response to the crowd. By the time the song hits the ‘Hush little baby’ lyric, Elvis pulls up his boot straps and digs in.

Presley quickly calls out ‘Big Hunk’ and Glen D. bangs the ivory’s for ‘A Big Hunk O’ Love’ a 1959 single from Presley’s one and only military recording session. Here is a brisk version with Presley sweetly slurring the verses and the band popping through the syncopated licks. In contrast, Elvis then introduces ‘a favorite’ of his with ‘The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face’, a song made famous by Roberta Flack and a 1972 single for Elvis as well as the ‘B’ side to ‘American Trilogy’. Presley is fully invested in this song and you can feel it. The show now takes a strange but welcome turn as Elvis bets big and cashes out bigger. Elvis concluded the song with, ‘I hope you like it, it don’t make no difference’. 

As what was rumbling beneath the surface during ‘My Boy’ with Presley’s mood, he is in fine fettle and sinks himself into the song with total aplomb. Then, at the song’s conclusion Presley takes a small break to draw attention to the chain around his neck which he said was given to him by the staff of the Hilton for playing a third show the evening prior. Elvis then mentions a Hilton worker named Mario who presides in the Italian restaurant who is going to be fired after Presley’s stand at the hotel. Presley states plainly, ‘I don’t want him to go, he needs a job, and I think the Hilton’s are bigger than that’.

Presley calls out ‘Mystery Train’ and then precedes to devote the evening’s energy and his performing energy to Mario’s cause as the band peels through a sidewinding version on ‘Mystery Train/Tiger Man’ medley. Ronnie Tutt is all over the kit with tribal explosives and the rest of band and the bank vault tight proving why they are the best in the land. The energy pouring off of the recording as James Burton pulls out a series of  reverberant twang laden licks. 

What happens next is a major highlight of my personal ‘rock room’ collection and any ‘bootleg’ recording for that matter. Presley has the band bring it way down before calling out over the undulating groove, ‘This next song is dedicated to the hierarchy, the staff, of the Hilton Hotel’ as he roars into ‘Tiger Man’ leaving no doubt as to who is the king of the LAs Vegas jungle. Classic stuff.

Presley hitting his stride continues as he introduces the ‘Stamps’ quartet and introduces a ‘gospel number’, which is ‘How Great Thou Art’. A usual concert highlight, this performance is no different and similarly to the preceding songs is wonderfully performed. Elvis displays his vocal power and control and its obvious to the ‘rock room’ where Presley’s true heart lies. There is some distortion on the tape here but this does not deter from the stellar musical display. The song concludes to great applause to which Presley replies, ‘Thank you, thank you, you’re very nice, you finally showed some appreciation for something. The King is definitely not being clandestine with his feelings toward the Hilton, the crowd, or his situation. Elvis then asks the crowd, ‘Do it again?’ The band and Elvis then look skyward with a second substantial conclusion, to which Elvis says, ‘I’ll sing it all night’ and enters into a second reprise!!! Amazing stuff. 

The concert settles into a mellow introspective vibe, with the expected closer of ‘I Can’t Help Falling In Love’ providing the finale. Presley first sings the always welcome ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night’ wonderfully before another special concert moment.

‘Softy As I leave You’ continues the unique aspect of the performance as this is the ‘song’s’ debut with Presley reciting the lyrics as opposed to a full band version which would be the case when he recorded it the following year. Obviously, something is haunting Presley throughout this evening and ‘Softly as Leave You’ is dictated with great feeling. A unique and special performance. An expected and well sung rendition of ‘I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’ brings this idiosyncratic show to a well played conclusion. While putting on his usual fully invested performance Presley exercised some demons on this particular Las Vegas concert stage evening. 

A concert like this particular 1973 Elvis Presley show offers as much to the artist’s personality an off stage existence as it does to the performance. Shows that blur the line between the art and the artist are always interesting glimpses in the window’s of the artist’s soul we enjoy and idolize. Jim Morrison and the Doors in Miami 1969, Keith Moon at the Cow Palace in 1973, are just a couple examples of how rockers played out their own issues in front of paying fans on a concert stage. It’s shows fans and listeners the human side of rock as well as illustrating that these artists are not infallible. The ‘rock room’ will leave you with a Presley quote following the performance of ‘A Big Hunk O’ Love’ that we feel sums up the entire experience on this Closing Night, ‘We kid a lot, and have a lot of fun, but we really love to
sing and play music and entertain people. That’s the name of the game. As long as I can do that I’ll be a happy old son of a bitch!”

ELVIS- CLOSING NIGHT

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