May 01 - Review Las Vegas International Presents Elvis - The First Engagements

The follow up to the Memphis Recording Service 3-CD set 'Elvis Summer Festival 1970 - The Rehearsals' moved Elvis back where he belonged, on stage, with three early engagements from 1969 and early 1970.

Design

The design of this second installment is an exact copy of the first volume. A cardboard book / digi-pack with an illustrated 40-page booklet inside. Gordon Minto summarized Elvis’ return to life performing in 1969 ,and triumphant return in January 1970 nicely in the introductory notes. 

I prefer the design of the upcoming LP version over this CD version, the marquee takes away the attention from Elvis. But there is enough eye-candy in side. Browsing through the booklet the (casual) buyer sees Elvis in Vegas in his prime. He did look good in Vegas!


Content

On this 3-CD set we get three concerts, an undated 1969 performance from Elvis’ return to stage (probably mid-August) and two early 1970 shows from his return engagement is Sin City. And for the first time, these mono soundboard recordings were remastered, restored and remixed to “True Stereo” creating a new listening experience, not available before. 

There is some discussion on (the origin of some of) the recordings on this set and legal issues that might play here. Are they taken from the 2020 ‘That’s The Way It Is’ 8-CD box or other previous Follow That Dream releases like ‘Return To Vegas’ and ‘Return Of A Prodigy’, the Fort Baxter CD ‘Walk A Mile In My Shoes’, Backdraft’s ‘Rebooked at the International’ or one of the other outings of these shows? Or did they use on of the “original” DAT-tape sold by Joe Esposito in the nineties? Is it legal to use and release these recordings (it looks like Public Domain legislation allows this in Europe) and should you “tamper” with Elvis recordings?

Like Elvis sings ‘If we spent the day, throwing stones at each-other’ on these topics … I prefer to listen to what’s available. And on these discs the MRS label presents us an enhanced “True Stereo” listening experience. We haven’t had that experience with this material yet. 

The stereo had to be created from original mono recordings. The audio separation was created “with outstanding expertise using the most sophisticated technologies to achieve the best possible sound … and the tracks have not been electronically processed and nothing has been added to make these tracks to true stereo” according to the promo for this set. And although the separation was created artificially it worked pretty well for the most part in my opinion. It must have been quite an effort to separate the various elements on a live recording like this. You can’t compare it to the separation of the more simple fifties recording with a basic band set-up. 

Listening to the music, the musicians take their original place on stage again. Elvis takes center stage, of course! The drums and backing vocals are off center to the right, the bass, guitar and piano off center left. The orchestra is positioned more in the back. Good to hear everyone in different parts of the aural picture. 

As the band is on fire during these performances, the sound is a bit heavy on the 70’s concerts and the drums off-center draw the audio a bit too much on the right for me.

But the stereo experience is really there, so compliments to the producers for realizing this effect. 

The audio-remastering is good too, this is especially audible when you hear Elvis talking, he sounds very clear. There is some distortion every now and then (especially when Elvis and the band go “bombastic”), but this appears to be part of the original live recording that was made too loud. The “train sound” in ‘Mystery Train’ sounds a bit too emphasized, pushing the band aside.

We all know these concerts. I prefer the 69 show over the two 70’s shows as Elvis sounded more raw and less polished and this show features more of his own original material. Also the insecurity of the return to live performing he shares give these recordings an honest touch. The January and February shows contain material from other artists, which would become Elvis standards in years to come. I really liked ‘Polk Salad Annie’ from the February 23rd show, Elvis taking a little break catch his breath but the sweets and band continue. Somehow I never noticed the bongo’s this well before. 

The original stereo bonus songs from February 19th 1970 (some songs from this show were featured on the ‘On Stage’ album) do show that there still is a difference between original and recreated stereo as the separation is as originally recorded. But the new stereo tracks come close. 


Conclusion 

This is another fine release from the MRS label, putting Elvis in his prime, back in the record store. The “True Stereo” is a nice touch with added value that really works. 

I understand the purist viewpoint, but now fans have a real choice, they can get the original mono or a new stereo listening experience.