When Elvis Presley took the stage of the newly-built Las Vegas International, “the world’s largest resort hotel,” on July 31, 1969, few predicted that a new era would start for the entertainer. Presley had been absent from the concert stage for eight years and the Vegas community still harbored memories of his poorly-received 1956 stint at the New Frontier Hotel. Despite the recent success of singles “In the Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds,” not to mention the hallowed ’68 Comeback Special, Elvis’ success was far from assured. But when the series of shows was instantly hailed as classic, defining a new image of the King as jumpsuit-clad Vegas showman, Presley’s longtime label RCA was on hand to record a number of the August 1969 sets. The first album of this material to emerge was the October 1969 release of the live/studio hybrid double LP set From Memphis to Vegas – From Vegas to Memphis (RCA LSP 6020). The live portion of that album was reissued in November 1970 under the new title Elvis – In Person (RCA LSP 4428). A subsequent stand at the International in February 1970 yielded a June release of Elvis – On Stage (RCA LSP 4362), and now, some forty years later, both the On Stage and In Person LPs have been afforded the royal treatment by Sony as a combined and expanded On Stage – Legacy Edition (RCA/Legacy 88697 63213 2).
Following in the tradition of last year’s Legacy Edition of From Elvis in Memphis (RCA/Legacy 88697 51497 2), producer and Elvis guru Ernst Mikael Jorgensen has assembled a package worthy of the King. The 22-page full color booklet includes an essay by Ken Sharp, numerous photos and full discographical and recording information. A nice, welcome touch is the presence of RCA orange labels on each disc with the period logo, and reproductions of the front and back cover art of the original LPs. Disc One represents the original On Stage album, with a set list concentrating primarily on contemporary covers such as “Release Me,” “Sweet Caroline,” “Proud Mary” and “Yesterday.” Elvis was unable to overtake the original performers in attempting these cover versions, but it’s fascinating, nonetheless, to hear his takes on such familiar hits. In the case of Joe South’s “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” though, Elvis made the song his own. The Legacy Edition expands the original track lineup with versions of “Don’t Cry, Daddy,” “Kentucky Rain” and “Long Tall Sally” from the same February 1970 shows as well as a revealing composite of attempts at “The Wonder of You” from an afternoon rehearsal. Disc Two offers the original In Person LP in expanded form. The six bonus tracks are all taken from the same August 1969 shows as the original LP. This disc finds Elvis looking back to his rock-and-roll roots as he revisits “Blue Suede Shoes,” “All Shook Up,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and “Hound Dog” with an evident joy. He also tackles his then-recent hits “In the Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds” in versions that can’t approach the pristine original singles, but compensate somewhat with a discernible rawness and ferocity. An entertaining curiosity is a somewhat bombastic cover of the Bee Gees’ “Words.”
So does this Legacy Edition represent the ultimate resource for those interested in Elvis’ first Las Vegas stands? Not quite. Elvis’ online/mail order collector’s label Follow That Dream had already released an expanded edition of In Person in 2008 as FTD 8869740721-2, which contained all of the material on the original album plus bonus tracks and the entirety of the August 22, 1969 dinner show. On Stage hasn’t yet received the FTD treatment, but the bonus tracks here have all seen previous release with the exception of the full rehearsal “Wonder of You” which had been excerpted on Platinum: a Life in Music (RCA 07863 67469 2). In a similar vein, the now out-of-print box set Live in Las Vegas (RCA 07863 69354 2) and That’s the Way It Is (various editions including a 3-disc general release and a Follow That Dream expansion) offer complete shows from these periods. It’s no small task attempting to collect all of Elvis’ recordings from these runs at the International thanks to the proliferation of FTD editions and scattered tracks released on numerous compilation LPs and CDs.
Still, the Legacy Edition offers the cream of Elvis’ first two Vegas stands in one handy, well-annotated collection at a low price. Most significantly, the tracks represent a crisp sonic upgrade from RCA’s previous CD reissues of both albums. Sony’s ace engineer Vic Anesini was recently assigned with the task of remastering every Presley track, and the fruits of his labor are being released piecemeal on Sony’s various Elvis titles via both their Legacy and Special Products divisions. The 32 tracks here are more than enough for the casual fan, while the dedicated collector will be drawn in by the fresh remastering and unique package. As so much of Presley’s original LP catalog remains unknown to the general public in favor of a multitude of compilation discs, On Stage – Legacy Edition is wholly recommended for a taste of the King conquering Sin City, in what would turn out to be one of his last genuine breakthroughs. The International lives on as the Las Vegas Hilton (Barry Manilow having most recently occupied Elvis’ showroom) and thanks to projects like this, Elvis Presley’s music lives on, as well.