|Review by Arnaud Charreyre
This recording does not feature a common Elvis concert! That is the very first thing to say about this CD. I don't think you'll enjoy this Elvis show the way you do with the others recordings. This CD is an archive, a document and a piece of Elvis' history.
The sound is downright awful, not that it is really far away (as, for example, some Vegas audience recordings that only hardcore fans can listen to, can be) but the speed of the tape varied greatly, sometimes Elvis sounds like Mickey Mouse, right in the middle of a song ('Heartbreak Hotel', 'Hound Dog', the end of 'Hurt' and nearly every songs, in fact), to the almost unbearable. And the audience is particularly wild and noisy, screaming all the way to the end of the show (reducing some reports and rumors about that show being a flop without ovations to nothing: the audience never stopped hanging with him).
Anyway, it is not for pleasure that you listen to this concert.
And it is a very, very unusual one. Never heard that kind of show, it sounds like a rehearsal in front of an audience. Nothing's prepared, even the track listing is not the one we are used to. A lot of oldies, immediately after 'I Got A Woman/Amen', Elvis takes his guitar and tries to entertain the crowd with a few numbers (he succeed only to the extent that the crowd's reactions are enthusiast and ecstatic, as his performances are sloppy, almost half-awake), before going back to the usual openings ('Love Me') and going immediately to another setup, with his backup singers singing two songs. Elvis then do an anemic 'Teddy Bear/Don't Be cruel' and right after... simply leaves the stage!
So, let's go back to the time this concert happened: we all know that Elvis wasn't in his prime in 1977, but springtime was nothing but a disaster at every points. His way of life, the prescription drugs abuse on a daily basis and his loneliness. Ginger Alden who seems to not be the right person on the right place at the right time, the one-nighters one after the other, not to forget the press which has really begun to attack Elvis in a way they never did earlier. And of course the tell-all book of the bodyguards, which is supposed to wake him up... That's a lot of pressure, a lot of problems, which drive to this result: a complete fiasco in Baltimore, May 29th 1977.
From the beginning of the show, things seem to be on the edge, but no sign for an abysmal show yet: Elvis try to do his best, and we can clearly FEEL a change from the moment he sings the third number: 'That's All Right'. From then on, things go slightly out of control: even with the sound distortions, we can hear his voice expressing a severe distress, long moments where nothing is said, the crowd screaming to Elvis, but it seems like the stage is empty at times (listen to the endless intermission before 'Are You Lonesome Tonight'). When Elvis talks, it seems like he have something in the mouth, like he's eating. His sentences are never finished, he sounds lost and, to be honest, really stone on a strong degree.
When he comes back after leaving the stage for nearly 30 minutes, he sounds much clearer. But not for long! Voice is ok through 'Hurt', 'Hound Dog' and 'Help Me'. He is really strong, clear and impressive on 'Unchained Melody'" (quasi a miracle when you know how bad he is since the beginning of the show...). Then, he trash 'Blue Suede Shoes' the way he use to do it these days. He tries 'The Wonder Of You' but is virtually unable to go further than the first verse, and stop the song immediately (you can hear the crowd disappointment, wondering if Elvis is completely out of it or not). He did two more numbers, apologize for having left the stage once again, and close this disturbed and disturbing show for good this time.
Listening to this recording, we can write a few things for sure, contrary to a numbers of rumors and press reports: Elvis did not collapse at all, he simply left the stage. The audience was wild from the beginning to the end of the show; they never started booing or anything. They support the King with the extravaganza they use us to: screaming loud, clapping, etc.
On the opposite, what we can confirm is that, indeed, the King was at the end of his journey, and it is a tragic sight sometimes, because, even with the sound, we can hear the state in which he is, and it is heartbreaking. A wreck of the pre-eminent artist he was, erasing his past with no respect for himself at all, just dying live and that's all. That's nonsense. Why did the professional surrounding and friends never stop this vicious circle? Why hasn't anybody around Elvis called the Colonel and told him that Elvis wasn't going to perform anymore, that he needed rest. Or a holiday in a straightening center, something like the Betty Ford Clinic or else. A drastic change in his career, good songs, top-notch producers, strong albums, a world tour, anything! At least a temptation to escape from this nightmare of endless tours criss-crossing the States with an Elvis who has become the shadow of his former self. Where you'd saw, only two years back, powerful energy, terrific voice and absolute charisma without any pretense, now had become pain, loneliness, fall, weight gain and drug abuse. Shame on them, shame on Elvis too. Things like that mess in Baltimore hurts. Even deeper if it's from an entertainer we all consider as the greatest, as a lovable man and as a good human person.
This document is a piece of Elvis' history, and as fans we care about that kind of things. But Baltimore brings us to the darkest side of Elvis' life and you get out of this CD with relief and sadness. Poor Elvis, if only he'd known how much we love and care for him...
© Arnaud Charreyre, Belgium, June 2004.