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Live at home/Concert à la maison : the beginnings

What a strange idea when you think about it: to record a live album and then testify to the intensity of the concert to those who have not experienced it!

Mission impossible, a task doomed to failure!

To give back to a simple listener sitting in his armchair, with a drink in his hand, the strength of a performance recorded in front of an audience as hot as fire, dancing at the foot of the stage and shouting the lyrics in an approximate tone, the said performance delivered by a gang ready to burn the stage, to sell his manager to the devil and to pogo until the early morning...

Jazz had set an example over the decades: from Erroll Garner's "Concert By The Sea" to Duke Ellington's "Newport 1962", from "Jazz At Massey Hall" to "Bill Evans in Paris", from "Ella in Berlin" to Sydney Bechet's "Le soir où on cassa l'Olympia" (The Night We Broke the Olympia), historic concerts had been recorded on LP.

But these recordings remained rare because they required important and uncommon equipment at the time. And the conditions in which the musicians played were rarely satisfactory: undersized amplification, too large a stage, puny returns...

Studio recording was still the rule. Jazzmen often worked under live conditions during studio album sessions. One or two takes maximum and the matter was in the box.

For a long time, the history of rock music has almost ignored recorded concerts: the conditions were too complex to manage for a good recording. Jerry Lee Lewis at the Star-Club or the Rolling Stones, in 1966, with "Got Live If You Want It" were pioneers. Soul artists were more daring: James Brown's "Live At The Apollo" in 1961 or Otis Redding's "Live In Europe" (1967) had shown the way.

But to all honor, Elvis Presley was going to find his crown two years later thanks to an exceptional live: the " 68 Comeback TV Special " recorded for the American television channel NBC.

Because in 1968, Elvis is at the bottom of the popularity hole. If his 60's discography contains some nuggets scattered here and there, his public image is a disaster. He made film after film on the advice of Colonel Parker, his cunning old-school manager, who only thought of "short-term gains". Even in the United States, the King had been made fun of by the British Invasion and the hippy movement that emerged in California at the end of 1966 put a layer on. Initially planned to be a Christmas show, the show became a real melting pot of everything Elvis knew how to do during rehearsals and improvisations!

In a moment of exceptional lucidity, Elvis decides to regain his stripes by calling his acolytes of the Sun Records period: Scotty Moore and his sharp guitar and D.J. Fontana, skin slapper, for the more rock and intimate part. A selected and complicit audience surrounds the musicians. But above all Elvis appears all dressed in black leather, jet hair, drooping wick and cool walk. The first piece is a medley played with big band accompaniment: if Elvis wished to restore his reputation, the colonel succeeded in making it sparkle in the background.

"Trouble" is a thuggish, gang leader song, all in menacing breaks, the stuff to make the Bible Belt shudder! Unfortunately, Elvis only sings a verse and a chorus, but what a punchy introduction, far from his Hollywood image! The segue to "Guitar Man", a more fluid song, led here in an irresistible swing by a fine horn section, is reminiscent of the great variety shows of the 50's presented by the Rat Pack, but Elvis' voice is imperious, bubbling with soul and rock behind the western swing dressing.

Elvis then joined the stage where his "old" accomplices were waiting for him. The atmosphere is more relaxed and the jokes will fly between the pieces. Listening to the show, one sometimes has the impression of attending a rehearsal from the backstage: a privileged moment! Elvis, armed with an electro-acoustic guitar, plays "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" which he swings with his rough voice. A voice that brings him to his beginnings in Memphis, when he tried to reproduce the style of black rhythm'n'blues singers.

He follows up with a blues standard, "Baby What You Want Me To Do," whose intro and guitar riff he executes with impressive ease and snappiness. He gives life to this slow tempo saw often conducive to bogging down.

Then he puts down his guitar, stands up, signs that the big band is going to enter the game and throws a raging "Heartbreak Hotel" followed by a "Hound Dog" where his voice plays the sandpaper. The tone of this voice, we guess the wiggles of the black figure, confirmed by the screams of young women in the audience. "All Shook Up" and its irresistible breaks slow down the tempo a bit before he settles down for a languorous ballad, "Can't Help Falling In Love", an obligatory exercise in any recital of the King. A "Jailhouse Rock" with sharp brass riffs breaks the torpor, before "Love Me Tender" comes back to calm the game.

Elvis then takes the stage to talk about how much the music business has changed since he started: better studios, more professional musicians and a new wave of musicians including the Beatles and all these new black music trends. All of this smells of sweet understatement. We think that Elvis is going to surprise us with a more modern piece and there, total counterpole: the King reminds us that in all these new currents and in particular the soul and the rhythm'n'blues flows an older music which has always inspired him: the gospel. Small slackening to be followed since the medley which follows is not strictly speaking a pure gospel, engrossed that it is in an arrangement for orchestra a little pompier...

This is followed by a medley of two Christmas songs, including "Blue Christmas", which is certainly superbly sung but a little unexpected. Finally, the whole thing is followed by a bit of promotion with the last Elvis' title, "Memories", a ballad with a banal melody and a suitable arrangement. We say to ourselves that we have lost Elvis once again, that the straitjacket of Colonel Parker is decidedly too strong or that Elvis is the slave of his tastes too varied for the rock public to follow him at all times. But it is then that Elvis unleashes the medley that knocks everyone out. Accompanied by the band and the big band, he goes through "Nothingville", "Big Boss Man", "Guitar Man", "Little Egypt" before repeating the beginning sequence of "Trouble" and "Guitar Man", that is to say a whole repertoire of titles stamped with the seal of the rebel and magnified by a mature and feverish voice at the same time.

It only remains to raise the arm to avoid a last promotional title, "If I Can Dream" which will not remain in the history of the American popular music. Sung in a white entertainer's suit as opposed to the black leather of the first titles. A costume imposed by the good colonel on the cover of the album where an Elvis in full action stands out in front of his name illuminated with red bulbs. Like a diabolical sign. The image of the man in leather appears only in small thumbnails at the back of the cover.

So, you may say, this live show is not so unheard of. It's true, but it's the perfect portrait, in its ups and downs, of the man who set fire to music and to American society in the middle of the 50s. Sometimes against his will. A bit like Dylan a decade later, trying to escape a messianic image too big for him. The imperfections of this album are the imperfections of the artist and the man. It is therefore a perfect and honest portrait. Even in his mistakes. Elvis without make-up. For the best...

All these lives are to be found, of course and almost exclusively on vinyl. Often composed of 2, 3 or even 4 or 5 records, they give a complete satisfaction of listening with the continuous listening mode of your modern Jukebox !

Soon, more "Live at home" reviews to be found on your favorite blog.

In the meantime, keep spinning !

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