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The Wonder of You
At The International - Elvis Presley
Member Name: Jake Speed
At The International - Elvis Presley
Advantages: Great songs and performance
Disadvantages: His monologue is a bit rambling
Elvis at the International is a concert CD taken from a 1969 Elvis Presley midnight performance in Las Vegas at the International Hotel. This was part of a triumphant musical comeback by Elvis after making all those terrible films and he's fighting fit again and somewhere near the top of his game. We are not yet into the era of bloated peanut butter and banana sandwich tassled glitter jumpsuit Elvis (although it wouldn't take long to arrive). There are over twenty songs on the collection and most of them of course need no introduction. Elvis at the International begins with a rabble rousing performance of Blue Suede Shoes where Elvis turns back the clock and sounds great and immediately on top form. He's like a legendary boxer who has come out of retirement for last shot at the title. The guitar, orchestra and piano is all perfectly in sync with the vocal and Elvis is clearly enjoying himself as he laughs more than once during the song, happy to be back in front of live audiences instead of film cameras. A very impressive rendition of I got A woman (I like the phrasing of Elvis in this rendition in particular, you sense that he's in a happy and silly mood and ready to give a memorable performance) follows before we morph into All Shook Up/Welcome. Elvis clearly enjoys these trips back to his rockabilly days and his voice is strong and agile. By the end he was so drug addled he would sometimes forget what he was singing in the middle of a song but he's very sharp here and up to the challenge. I like too his easy going banter with his audience. He seems very content to be back on stage singing again after his disappointing flirtation with Hollywood. He isn't bored of this yet as he would eventually seem to become when he was wheeled out night after night after night to do these shows and they started to morph into one another as he began to become heavy and sometimes sound like he was going through the motions. At one point, an insect flies in and Elvis makes a joke about those pesky Beatles being everywhere. The audience interaction and background noise adds an extra layer of atmosphere to the already rich sound of this midnight show.
Love Me Tender is a familiar and classic staple and is rendered in emotional and heartfelt fashion by Elvis. This song feels like it should be the ultimate closer to a show but then I suppose that Elvis had so many great songs associated with him that he was spoilt for choice as far as the coda went. This is such a simple song but very special of course and it always felt like a perfect fit for Elvis. You can't imagine anyone else singing it quite so well. Chesney Hawkes maybe on a good day. The Jailhouse Rock/Don't Be Cruel medley allows for some retro rockabilly Elvis to enter proceedings again and his vocal is suitably energetic and rich as he takes to the guitar himself while he sings. I think Elvis gave the impression that he enjoyed revisiting these nostalgic vintage waltzers a lot in later shows and this is certainly true here. It perhaps reminded him of the early days when life was less complicated and everything was new. While he sometimes gave one the impression that he was somewhat woozy and too tongue-in-cheek in later shows (I do have a soft spot for parody jumpsuit Elvis though) he still has some of the old bite here and sounds full of pep and determination. Heartbreak Hotel is one of the most famous of all Elvis songs and was originally released in 1956 - the opening bars immediately expressing a sound and energy that was revolutionary at the time as far as popular music as concerned. Even without the echo of the original single version it sounds good here and Elvis is on good form. Much in the same vein is Hound Dog. This song requires a dexterous vocal ability and a good pair of lungs and Elvis is well up to the task. The peaks and dips of this song, those little frozen moments in time, are what make it exceptional live if performed well.
The version of Memories here maybe could have been better (Elvis seems to be enjoying himself far too much and becomes distracted) but he dons the acoustic guitar for a sublime performance of Mystery Train/Tiger Man There is a rather rambling "Monologue" by Elvis next where he just talks about himself to the audience for ten minutes or so, mostly about his early days and first appearance on television. It's quite interesting. He talks about training to be an electrician and how he made his first record just for himself and was surprised that he attracted any interest. He does make it perfectly clear that he was very unhappy in the film industry in the end. He says he was making three films a year and in a complete rut. It was a grind and he needed to get out of that and experience a live audience again. The most interesting thing about the monologue is the way that Elvis, without saying it in the plainest terms, makes it abundantly clear that he didn't think much of those films he was obliged to make and that he's drawn a line under them now and is back doing what he does best and loves to do more than anything. Elvis then dons his electric guitar for a great rendition of Baby, What You Want Me to Do and the versions of Runaway and Reconsider Baby that follow are excellent. On the latter, Elvis seems to be improvising and challenging the musicians to keep up and although I'm sure they were well used to such capers and probably even messed around like this rehearsing the overall effect is amusing and entertaining.
Are You Lonesome Tonight? is replete with falsetto backing vocals that lift the song up even more and make it feel even more honey drenched and poignant and Elvis gives a nod to the new kids on the icon block with Yesterday/Hey Jude. There are some wonderful strings here and Elvis changes a few lines for (mild) comic self-deprecating effect. In the Ghetto is Elvis showing a more sensitive culturally aware side (on stage when he sings it anyway) and performed with great depth and heart while the performance of Suspicious Minds is one of the highlights. The song hadn't been released at the time and Elvis introduces it as a new one they have just cobbled together quickly. The rendition of this song is very energetic and dynamic and he certainly keeps the backing musicians on their toes. What'd I Say has lovely horns and guitars and a breathless Elvis thanks everyone for turning out afterwards before sliding into Can't Help Falling In Love, a fittingly iconic coda to what has been one of his best live recordings. He has left the building and is off home for a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich and a mug of Ovaltine. Elvis at the International is an excellent live album and highly recommended if you are a fan. The performer himself is right near the top of his game and slightly giddy celebration aura that always filters through the recording is enjoyably conveyed and captured and gives one a sense of owning a moment in time that will never come around again. All of the famous staples are sung and performed in impressive fashion and the rendering of many of these is superior to similar Elvis live/compilation albums. This runs to about 80 minutes and is an enjoyable and well mastered album that is certainly worth a listen if you are a fan.