Saturday, March 10, 2012

Elvis: Like a Prince From Another Planet. By Colin Escot

Its hard to know why it took so long for Elvis to play New York. He had performed on sound stages there when he had guested on "The Ed Sullivan Show", "The Steve Allen Show" and "The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show". He had recorded there, and he had embarked for Germany from Brooklin, but the most popular star of all time had neve played a stage show in his country´s most populous city. That changed on June 9-11 1972, when Elvis played four shows at Madison Square Garden.

Elvis at a Press Conference, N.Y. 1972
The Colonel's first idea had been to stage the New York debut at Radio City Music Hall, then he switched to the much larger Madison Square Garden. The media scrutiny was intense. The Col. decided to use the advance publicity to his advantage. After he hadn't found any takers for an exclusive interview with Elvis for $120,000, he scheduled one of Elvis' exceedingly rare press conferences five hours before the first show at the Mercury Ballroom in the New York Hilton. Elvis was in a bouyant mood, sidestepping questions about draft dodgers and current entertainers, attributing his staying power to Vitamin E, and bantering lightheartedly with the press corps.

There was one glorious soundbite, which must have made it all worthwhile from the Colonel's standpoint. "Elvis", came the question, "we're told that deep down you´re really very shy and humble".

"What do you mean shy? replied Elvis, standing uo and pulling back a powder blue cape jacket to reveal a splendiferously gaudy belt buckle, a gift from the Las Vegas Hilton for setting an attendance record. It was on every newscast that night. The Colonel knew you couldn't buy that kind of publicity. 

Everything now hinged on the shows themselves. There were four shows spread over three days, one on Friday, June 9, two on Saturday, June10, and another on Sunday, June 11. Tickets were $5.00, $7.50 and $10.00 and every seat was sold. There where no freebies. George Harrison, John Lennon and Bob Dylan had to pay like everyone else. RCA, deciding to make the most of the publicity surrounding the even, planned an in-person album to be issued just days afterward.

Elvis brought along his own emcee, Al Dvorin. Dvorin reminded the fans that Elvis merchandise was available after the show, and introduced the supporting act, Vegas comic Jackie Khane. A Slow handclap ushered Kahane from the stage; his act didn't work in New York. Dvorin brought on the Sweet Inspirations before the break. The Anticipation was intense by the time everyone had settled back in their seats. The lights dimmed and the Joe Guercio Orchesta broke into the omnious opening bars of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra". A cordon of red-jacketed security men appeared, and suddenly Elvis appeared in a blue body suit with gold appliqué. "He looked like a prince from another planet", said The New York Times reviewer.

The Horns slowly subsided, pairing down the intrumentation for "That's All Right". At double the original tempo, it was clear that this was going to be a high-energy show. "I'm sure Elvis never sang bettet than he did at the Madison Square Garden," said pianist Glen D. Hardin. "I supose he thought the fans in the BIg Apple might be more demanding, so he turned on the power, and powerful it was." The shows recapped everything that the New York Fans had been missing in the 18 years that Elvis had been a professional entertainer. He barely gave the fans let alone himself, a chance to catch their breath between songs. The crowd danced in their seats as Elvis tore through his '50s classics, "All Shook Up," "Teddy Bear," "Love Me," "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Hound Dog," punctuating them with his recent hits, "An American Trilogy" and "Until Its Time For You To Go"," and a selection of songs that moved him. "That afternoon he chose Three Dog Night's "Never Been To Spain," " Kristofferson's "For The Good Times,"  Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary," and Tony Joe White's "Polk Salad Annie." He roved the Stage, giving those seated at awkward angles a chance to see him. Then, at the close of "Can´t Help Falling In Love", the red-jacketed guards reappeared, and he was gone, leaving Dvorin to tell the Crowd that Elvis had left the building. The Colonel was a firm believer in leaving the wanting more ...and Elvis did.

The press eedict was unanimous. "From Backwoods Phenom in 1956 To Polished Superstar," said Variety", "Presley Talents Richly Intact," said The New York Times, "Elvis Enjoying Reign As King In New York," added the Memphis Commercial Appeal, "Nostalgia was but a small part of the celebration," said Billboard. "Elvis' voice, always better than the critics admitted has become even richer and more resonant than before... Thousands of bursting lightbulbs created a psychedelic lightshow, and the stage seemed to shudder and jump in the tiny spaces between light and dark. That image only reinforced what one had suspected from the start. Elvis has transcended the exasperating constrictions of times and place."

Elvis, rockin' at Madison Square Garden, June 10, 1972

As Elvis sang on Saturday, the RCA tape machines were rolling. "We recorded two of the shows", said Joan Deary. "The second was what we put out". The album, ELVIS AS RECORDED AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, was released the week after the show. It reached No.11 on the LP Charts, and No.3 in the U.K, and was certified double-platinum.

 "Elvis Enjoying Reign As King In New York," said  the Memphis Commercial Appeal,
but as soon as the N.Y. tour was over, Elvis was back in Memphis, and rather than looking like "A prince from another planet," as the New York Times stated about his concert appearence, he in fact looked as the downhome southern rebel he always was. Here the Memphis Commercial Appeal captures a long haired Elvis riding his Harley with a long legged girl on his back,  August 1972.

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