By Mahnuel Muñoz

Elvis in Person 1969

In 1969, Elvis had had a splinter of the hostile New Frontier stage in Las Vegas stuck in his heart for thirteen years; the King had changed the world, and made it his kingdom. But Las Vegas was ANOTHER world. In the New Frontier, as in the rest of the city’s ostentatious venues, the figure and message of Elvis did not fit anywhere. Champagne glasses and jewelry clinked to the music of the Dorsey Brothers or Liberace, and even Ronald Reagan’s jokes.

The liberating roar of a former truck driver from Mississippi, land of slaves, was in any case a nuisance to his mature visitors. Listening to the recording of one of Elvis’ concerts at the New Frontier is disconcerting to say the least; the only moment in his career in which he sings live without closed and sweaty ovations.

When The King became an artist suitable for Las Vegas – or Las Vegas a suitable place for the artist – wars, fashions and miles of celluloid had passed; idols and prophets had died; the fight for civil rights had become increasingly bloody; and the man had reached the moon to rip out the rocket launched by George Mèliès from its eye. Las Vegas begins a new stage, in which the decline of the mafia clans coincides with an opening trend towards the most popular public.

Elvis in 1969 is an American heritage figure, as accepted and relevant as Sinatra or Barbra Streisand. He has demonstrated his validity as family entertainment throughout thirty films – regardless of their quality -, he has vindicated his deepest spiritual values ​​in superb gospel albums (“His Hand In Mine”, “How Great Thou Art”), has regained the link with his artistic roots, recording again that same year in Memphis and giving life, no less, to two of his five best albums (“From Elvis In Memphis” and “Back In Memphis). Furthermore, when he had to stand before the camera to remember that he is the most natural and passionate performer of rock, he did so without hesitation, leaving for posterity that splendid television special made in 1968 for NBC, in which the some of his most raw and emotional songs, woven with melodies and verses that will not let him return to the insubstantiality of his years in Hollywood.

After an opening concert, for celebrities and the wealthy, on July 31, 1969, during the month of August of that year, The King exorcised himself and removed all the rage macerated in years of frustration; His interpretation is wild and organic, arising directly from the vein of Presley of the ’50s. “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Johnny B.Goode”, “Hound Dog”, “My Babe” and the medley “Mystery Train/Tiger Man” are reinvented with dangerous voltage and frenetic speed, in the most muscular and flammable register of Elvis’s voice, almost as a template for future punk-rockers. Covering his back is a new band made up of seasoned veterans of the business who seem to have always accompanied him, James Burton and John Wilkinson on guitars, Jerry Scheff on bass, Ronnie Tutt on drums, Larry Muhoberac on piano and organ; a bed of voices provided by The Imperials, Millie Kirkham and The Sweet Inspirations, heavenly timbres like those that introduced him to music, as a child, in the church in Tupelo. And an atomic orchestra, Bobby Morris’s, because this is Las Vegas, ladies and gentlemen, and the slot machines make a lot of noise.

Elvis always had something to give to everyone who paid for his tickets to the shows in Las Vegas. Now his jokes were filled with laughter from the stalls; The ballads returned that moved sensitive spirits (“Are You Lonesome Tonight?”, “Can’t Help Falling In Love”) and the country sound that shook the calloused hands of the men and women of the country (“I Can’t Stop Loving You “); In addition, the new generations were amazed by an artist whom they believed to be obsolete and who was nevertheless capable of credibly singing a protest song (“In The Ghetto”), giving life to a vibrant ode to the cracks that jealousy opens in love (“Suspicious Minds”) or reinterpret with respect and mastery some hymn of the moment (“Words”). Most importantly, Elvis once again feels like he is the creator of material capable of connecting with the world and leaving testimony to the time in which he lived.

The recorders were on to record the moment when the Tupelo Phoenix managed to return, in that August of ’69, to the path started at number 706 Union Avenue, and just like back then, the collision of two worlds, which until then, were at a distance of galaxies.

Article written and provided by Mahnuel Muñoz

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