November 11, 2012


A King at the Height of His Reign (WILL FRIEDWALD, 11/10/12, WSJ)

The King of Rock 'n' Roll was at his all-time pinnacle in the early 1970s, and virtually every number during those 1972 New York performances, which have just been reissued in a deluxe concert CD and DVD package titled "Prince From Another Planet," is as moving as that climactic moment in Rapid City.

"Prince" marks Presley's evolution into an artist of the 1970s. He's moved beyond the three-chord rocker who shook up a generation in the 1950s with his gyrating hips and his brilliant synthesis of country, pop and R&B, and likewise transcended the more internationally focused movie star of the 1960s.

Concert-era Presley was different from any of his previous incarnations. A decade earlier he had begun to grow as a performer, in terms of vocal range but also material--his foray into songs in Italian, French and German, for instance, indicated he wanted to be more than just another hillbilly. That growth took a detour during his movie years, when his artistically short-sighted manager, Colonel Tom Parker, pressured him into recording songs they could own a piece of but weren't necessarily worthy of him.

Every song in the two Garden shows features Presley at his greatest. There's a portion of both concerts that covers his early hits, but even then the King isn't interested in simple nostalgia. He does "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Love Me Tender," but after coyly introducing "Hound Dog" as his "message song," the arrangement that follows is far from retro, deriving more from James Brown or some contemporary funk band than from the Elvis tradition.

There are only a few of the often trite songs of his early years (for example, "Teddy Bear"), but these are balanced by more mature country songs, like Kris Kristofferson's "For the Good Times" and Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away," imbued with a depth and profundity that their composers could have hardly imagined. His own more recent hits, like the blockbuster "Suspicious Minds," sound better than their studio incarnations, and Presley is engaged throughout in an intimate and spontaneous relationship with the 20,000 members of his audience (he was the first artist to completely sell out four consecutive shows in the Garden) in a way that distinguishes the best blues artists. In fact, one of the most effective numbers from the afternoon show is a straight-up 12-bar blues, "Reconsider Baby," by Ray Charles's mentor, Lowell Fulson; it's a deeper, more stirring rendition than Presley's youthful interpretation more than a decade earlier.

Posted by at November 11, 2012 7:48 AM

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