Monday, April 24, 2023

Review Las Vegas Summer Festival 1972

Just a day before Record Store Day 2023, with vinyl on my mind, the Memphis Recording Service presented us 4 silver discs, packed together as the ‘Las Vegas Summer Festival 1972’

The set contains 4 concert performances from August 1972, with some additional “room recorded” rehearsals, taped days before the engagement began. All newly (re)packed and (re)mixed to stereo for this release. Time to revisit these concerts in 2023.

The 4-CD-set comes housed in the standard hardback digipack format we know from this label. I like these deluxe looking booklets more than the standard digipacks, as they give the release a quality look and feel. The combination of the picture of Elvis’ head and the Vegas marquee on the cover does not really work for me, the LP cover with just Elvis’ head looks better, but it does fit in with the designs of the previous releases from this label. 
Inside we get some short, but well written liner-notes, summarizing this Vegas season and placing it in the proper 1972 context. The remaining pages are filled with pictures from the engagement, in part provided by Joseph Tunzi and Erik Lorentzen, but nothing new to these eyes. 
With this new release the MRS label leaped from Elvis’ 6th month long Vegas engagement - as released on their ‘Opening Night 1972’ set - to his 7th stint in the gambling capital of the world, since he returned to live performing. 

In between these two engagements Elvis had been busy. His performances from April 1972 were filmed for ‘Elvis On Tour’ and he did some recording sessions at RCA’s Studio C in Hollywood a month earlier, recording classics like ‘Separate Ways’, ‘For The Good Times’, ‘Burning Love’ and ‘Always On My Mind’. He conquered the Big Apple audience with his Madison Square Garden concerts in June in New York. 
Back in the bright light city Elvis had updated his set-list with songs like ‘Never Been To Spain’, the oldie ‘A Big Hunk O’Love’, his sixties hits ‘Fever’ and ‘Little Sister (the latter mixed with the Beatles’ ‘Get Back’) and the 1971 single ‘Until It’s Time For You To Go’. 
He did hang on to classics like ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ and ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ as these songs probably referred to the current state of his love live. The addition of ‘What Now My Love’ and ‘My Way’ makes sense too from that perspective. 
After performing ‘My Way’ in the August 12, 1972 Midnight Show he states: “that's a very good song, I wouldn't want to associate it with my own personal life … now the end is near and all that jazz... it's a nice song, it's okay for Sinatra (laughter from the audience) but I haven't even ate it up and spit it out yet, still chewing on it”. I’m not sure if he is completely honest here!
Strangely enough he didn’t include his new single ‘Burning Love’ which was released by RCA Victor August 1, 1972. Looking back from 2023, we know this would be his last big hit, but at the time Elvis did not really like the song and almost did not record it!
The shows on this set have been reviewed various times, no need to do that all again in depth. Despite his personal circumstances, the 1972 Elvis Presley concert machine produced solid quality shows, perhaps almost on demand. Listening to both the rehearsals and the shows on this set, you hear they are very close, the only difference is the cursing, picking on Charlie Hodge and the audience missing at the rehearsals.
During the live shows Elvis interacts in a professional, but entertaining way with his gambling audience. The Hilton management probably liked that! The introductions are short and sweet, and don’t take up half the show as they would a few years later. 
The highlights on this set are the big show stoppers like 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling', and ‘American Trilogy’, the sincere 'What Now My Love' and the reflective 'My Way'. He did not go all the way on most performances, probably as he was working monthlong job, and wasn’t properly challenged being filmed for ‘On Tour’ or feeling the urge to win over a hostile crowd like the New York audience who hadn’t given him a warm welcome when he first performed there in 1956. 
Added to the 4 concerts on this set are “room recorded” rehearsals (which probably means someone had a small tape-recorder running). These bonus recordings cater a certain segment of the fanbase, me included and complete this little time-box on this 7th engagement. But I would have placed them on a 5th disc as the sound is really different from the concert you just heard. 
All the shows on this set have previously been released as soundboard (an some as audience recordings too) on bootlegs, or officially on the Follow That Dream Collectors label, somewhere in the past 30 years.
The August 11 1972 Dinner Show on 'Summer Festival' (FTD 2012), the August 11 1972 Midnight Show on ‘Elvis at Full Blast’ (Fort Baxter 1995), ‘Summer Festival Continues at Full Blast’ (Gravel Road Music 2010) and 'What Now my Love' (FTD 2018), the August 12, 1972 Dinner Show on ‘Blazing Into Darkness’ (Premier 1999), ‘Hiltons All Shook Up’ (Gravel Road Music 2010) and ‘3000 South Paradise Road’ (FTD 2012) and finally the August 12, 1972 Midnight Show performance, which has seen previous releases on 'Hot August Night' (Madison 2008), 'One Week In August 1972' (Rock Legends 2015) and ‘What Now My Love' (FTD 2018). 
So with 10 soundboard sources available, the MRS label had plenty source material - under E.U. copyright legislation - to work with. My guess is the label used the FTD releases as the base for the new mixes. 

Reviews of these releases may get a little repetitive with so many MRS releases coming out, but you also hear that the engineer is on a learning curve and the mixes get better. The audio for this set was deconstructed, restored, remastered and reassembled into a new stereo mix, placing the singer, band, backing vocalists and orchestra at their proper places "on stage" in the stereo presentation. 
While some purist fans don’t like it when someone tampers Elvis recordings, I hear the advantage here as the mix is less flat and some of the elements stand out stronger. For me this works best on the ballads, just listen to ’Fever’ with just Jerry Scheff on bass, some light brushing by Ronnie Tutt and Elvis singing. The snapping fingers are clearly audible. These songs can be "deconstructed" more easily than 'Trilogy' with an 30-piece orchestra at full blast.

Overall the engineer created a more open and entertaining listening experience which works good for a 2023 audience. A plain soundboard recording will probably not sound “good” to Joe Public picking up a CD like this in his local record store.
The audio is not without faults. The recordings were not made with the intent to be released as a live performance, these were reference tapes, so they were done using basic equipment. You can hear this when the tape or equipment can’t handle the volume of the big show numbers like ‘You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling' or ‘Suspicious Minds’. 
I would rank the quality and enjoyment of the CDs from “best to worst” as CD 3, CD 2, CD 1 CD 4. Usually Elvis was at his best during the Midnight Show performances, but here the August 12th Dinner Show performance stood out for me. 
The rehearsals appear to be the same songs as released on the ‘Stage Rehearsal‘ (FTD, 2011), ‘Destination U.S.A. (FTD, 2014)’ and ‘From the Bottom Of My Heart Vol. 2’ (Savanah Records, 1996). I would not have spread the bonus rehearsal material over 3 discs after a live concert, it would have fitted better on a disc of its own. The same goes for the addition of incomplete songs aimed at the general public. The set closes with a 19 second fragment of 'Tiger Man'. Presented like this the concert tampers of into nowhere land, for me not a satisfying ending. 
I like these little sets, focusing on tours or engagements. They represent part of his legacy. On this set a good representation perhaps the last serious Vegas engagement. That makes this set interesting for fans who missed out on the bootleg or Follow That Dream releases, and offers an upgrade in audio-quality (or an alternative sound presentation as some purists might say) for everyone else. 
Besides that, it is good to see entertaining shows like this, housed in a neatly designed package, available in shops around Europe (and various other parts of the world). Otherwise we’d mainly see budget release with the standard hit and oldies compilations.

And for the fans of vinyl, a double LP edition containing the two Midnight Show performances is due May 24th 2023.