BURNING IN BIRMINGHAM (Label 2001-05) (Released 1998)

   1. Review by James Devereaux

   2. Review by Morgan Sjögren
Birmingham, December 29 1976

See See Rider
I Got A Woman/Amen
Love Me
You Gave Me A Mountain
Jailhouse Rock
O Sole Mio/It's Now Or Never (incomplete)
Tryin' To Get To You
My Way
Polk Salad Annie
Band introductions
Early Morning Rain
What'd I Say
Johnny B. Goode
Band solos
Love Letters
School Days
Funny How Time Slips Away
Hurt (w/reprise)
Hound Dog
For The Good Times
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
Unchained Melody
Mystery Train/Tiger Man
Can't Help Falling In Love

Content: 5 Sound: 4- Artwork: 4+

1. Review by James Devereaux:

Whatever reason befitted Elvis to give so much to his new year's tour of 1976 still escapes me, nonetheless nothing can be taken away from the king in this one of his most historic performances ever to be captured off of the soundboard. Unlike most of the rest of the year, Elvis seems happy with what he is doing and in himself. His voice seems willing to provide the most spectacular acrobatics, and the crowd cannot help but scream in tandem with the shear adrenalin Elvis gives to the performance and his musicians. One of the maddest performances you have ever heard. A wonderful listening experience with every number!

To start off we rocket into this show with a solid version of 'See See Rider', which right from the start, demonstrates the feel of the occasion with a trademark of years past, Elvis' cheeky giggle, that fools us for a few moments into thinking this is 1969.

Unlike other 1976 versions, 'I Got A Woman' and its always long introduction, has real substance as if Elvis is genuinely interested in its lyrics and preamble. A parody of an old joke started in 1972, not that it has lost its humor, that its humor is defined by the effort of the performer. As with any comedian, a good joke is best performed when it appears it is being said for the first time. In this case, Elvis pulls it off nicely.

After exciting the crowd by mentioning that it's his first performance in the city, Elvis rolls into a richer version of Love Me than seen earlier in the year. With less kisses and more singing adding to a richer listening experience. Of course the usual joke of making the backing singers wait some time at the end of the song, evidently drawing breath for his fantastic endnote. A great punch line.

An above average version of Fairytale follows, the first demonstration of the strength of Elvis' voice, and benchmark for things to come. The most vocally acrobatic version to date! Mountain delivers the over top ballad that we are now used to, not to say it's a bad thing! 'Jailhouse Rock' brings a little more effort than usual which on this album is a song you just don't skip due to the effort. The funny thing however is the reminder that Elvis is totally insane in this concert just before 'It's Now Or Never'. A garbled rant preceding this fine version to a fan resembles the affect of too much medication, or possibly too much Gatorade. Nonetheless it all adds to the fun which is the word which best describes this performance. Trying To Get To Yall urrr You is yet again taken in good spirit, and 'My Way', possibly lacking the commitment of 1977 performances, displays the freedom of his vocal range at this venue, adding to the already impressive endnote by pushing it even higher up the scale. Hardly surprising since his health and weight had improved over the Christmas period. Finally to finish off this section an extremely funky version of 'Polk Salad Annie', made all the more enjoyable by David Briggs' Clavinova. A slight hickup in the drumming due to a drown out by the orchestra is only met by simply inquiry and forgiveness by the man in the Inca Gold leaf (namely Elvis), who in this show is only interested in having a good laugh. You're lucky this isn't Autumn 1974 Ronnie!

Unfortunately we're now plunging into the depths of the introductions, by this time taking up at least 10-15 min. of the show! There is not as much need to despair however as Elvis takes an active part in all of the band solos, making for more interesting listening and showing Elvis' commitment to the show as he would usually effectively take a breather throughout the displays of his musicians. 'Early Morning Rain' is taken at a good pace, 'What'd I Say' is a little rushed and 'Johnny B. Goode' is only one verse so there, I did it, I told you about the band intros now lets get on with the review.

Moving into the final section we are first greeted by a lovely version of 'Love Letters', which, unlike earlier versions, lacks the depression in its performance that could make the performer burst out crying at any moment. This is fortunate for us, as it DOESN'T lack the emotion that makes the song work. On the side, the tail end of introductions is still with us in this version of 'School Days', which only stands out for its endnote. 'Strained a gut' Elvis remarks (as it was a top B). 'Funny How Time Slips Away' is slightly spoilt by the Birmingham guys not quite knowing Elvis' routine, as the house lights go down about as soon as they go up. Elvis deals with it by telling them about it for around 15 seconds before they finally catch on, nothing major and it's still a fuller version than usual for this period. 'Hurt' is in my opinion is one of the best versions you'll hear. The song appears to have hit a climax around this time, and with Elvis' voice being in such good form the benchmark is rocketed skyward with some of the most amazing high notes ever to grace the arena. He just never ceases to amaze doesn't he? 'Hound Dog' is the standard throw away to justify a large portion of the ticket price. Not to say it's the worst version ever, just a constant in every show that isn't worth listening too unless it's the original. I couldn't tell you what year most of them were from. 'For The Good Times' is a little more unusual and is worth listening too to compare to 1972 versions, where I believe it was first introduced. On the scale of 1 to 10, I would give it an 8 for effort and atmosphere. The best part is the strange noise that makes Elvis shout out 'what the hell was that' and start over, it almost seems as if it was planted there to keep up the comedy feel. 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' is simply beautiful. Ginger Alden was in the audience at this show, and Elvis makes it clear he is singing it especially for her. The influence she had certainly seemed to lift Elvis' performances when they first met. In fact, he seems so determined to impress that he jokingly tells a fan to shut up during the quietest part as they wont 'stop yelling at me'.

In the closing numbers we are treated to one of the finest performances of the night, 'Unchained Melody'. Unlike 1977 versions, Elvis seems more comfortable with his technique and breathing, equaling all the greater of say Elvis In Concert, with one slight exception, which is his falsetto endnote. He just didn't seem to be able to hit them quite right at this point. Oh Well. Giggles still ablaze we enter 'Mystery Train/Tiger Man' which brings no surprises, and still contains those stupid scooping trumpets. God knows who added that. It may have even been Elvis for a joke! Whatever the case the show is now drawing to an end and it is time for the customary 'Can't Help Falling In Love'. A nice version that again represents Elvis' mood nicely in what has been an enjoyable listening experience. A few thrown scarves, a big end note and a short karate demonstration (if you've seen the video!) end this marvelous exhibition of immortality by the ONLY king of music.

From the footage that is available it seems that the New Year's tour of '76 was one of character. Each show produced a unique feel and atmosphere rare to the era; the third day in Birmingham Alabama demonstrated consummate professionalism at a heart of fun and entertainment. For what it's worth, this is one of the greatest performances ever to be captured for our enjoyment. In light of this, a purchase of this material would be for one of the greatest matches of high quality sound and performance I have ever known.

©  James Devereaux, U.S.A. January 2002

2. Review by Morgan Sjöberg

With the possible exception of the New Years Eve concert two days later, this must rank as Elvis's best performance of 1976. Compared to the the shows from 1969-70, one must admit that this is not Elvis at his peak, but on the other hand it compares very favorably with most concert recorded after 1970, including such efforts as 'As Recorded At Madison Square Garden' and 'Aloha From Hawaii'.

It's also much more enjoyable than most 1974-75 concerts and there's nothing from his final year 1977 that even comes close.

Elvis was obviously in pretty good shape during his short tour in late december 1976. His mood, always very unpredictable, was up, and his weight was slightly down, for a change. There are quite a few highlights on this show, including a longer than usual 'Early Morning Rain' and a tender, moving, 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face'. The latter was probably directed towards his new girlfriend Ginger Alden.

Also worth mentioning is the rare version of Kris Kristofferson's 'For The Good Times', seldom done after 1972, and one of the best ever versions of 'Unchained Melody'. Save for some bum piano notes from the man himself this is Elvis at his very best, a towering performance showing us that right up to the end he could still deliver. The sound is not as good as on Fort Baxter's 'The Bicentennial Elvis Experience' or DAE's 'Old Times They Are Not Forgotten' and 'Holding Back The Years', but Elvis's performance more than makes up for that.

In the final analysis, I would say that if you're gonna buy one live recording from 1976, make it 'Burning In Birmingham'. This CD is quite enjoyable throughout, and Elvis manages to turn on the old magic and power on many tracks. Unlike most releases from the 1976 shows, this is not a depressing listening experince. The renewed energy and inspiration was not to last, though. In february 1977 Elvis hit the road again, looking and - with a few exceptions - sounding worse than ever. What a shame...

Sound: ****
Performance: ****
Artwork: ****

Reviewed by Morgan Sjöberg

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