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A PIONEERING EVENT IN ITS DAY...
on 26 March 2013
Elvis Presley's January 14th, 1973 concert from Honolulu in Hawaii was seen by some 1.5 billion people and was the first time that a rock concert had been presented in this way, using what was then revolutionary technology. Often considered to be the last great high of Presley's career, the show was captured on the double-album ALOHA FROM HAWAII VIA SATELLITE for posterity. But did the spectacle of the show itself overshadow the music that was performed?
Well, compared to his previous live album, which had been recorded at New York's Madison Square Garden in 1972 (also as available as a Legacy Edition), the mix of the ALOHA FROM HAWAII album is noticeably superior, although the sound of one of the brass musicians does come through a little intrusively at times, particularly during Presley's rendition of The Beatles' 'Something', during which the singer also sounds rather bored. As usual by this stage in his career, The King was rattling through his oldies like 'Hound Dog' and 'Blue Suede Shoes' with an almost perfunctory abandon (although 'A Big Hunk O' Love' is given a fuller and far more committed work-out towards the close of the show), and it is with the ballads where Presley gives more dedication. 'You Gave Me A Mountain', 'My Way', 'What Now My Love' and 'American Trilogy' are notable highlights, while 'Burning Love' - a song that Presley infamously didn't particularly like - and 'Steamroller Blues' are arguably the best of the harder-edged selections on offer.
Maybe it was nerves on the big night, but The King's voice does actually sound in better shape on the accompanying ALTERNATE ALOHA concert featured on disc two, where a rehearsal performance from January 12th was recorded for safety reasons in case the money ran out of the satellite's meter at the wrong moment. In fact, this listener enjoyed the "alternate" concert rather more than the "official" show, not least for the inclusion of the five after-hours songs; one of these, a truly lovely take on Gordon Lightfoot's 'Early Morning Rain', is quite possibly the highlight of the entire album: here Presley sounds thoroughly relaxed and his delivery of the song is beautifully poised. These extra selections - four of which are songs from Presley's BLUE HAWAII movie - were taped for inclusion in ALOHA's American broadcast, which didn't occur until April of 1973.
Needless to say, ALOHA FROM HAWAII VIA SATELLITE was a huge success upon its release, giving The King his first American chart-topping album since the relatively forgettable ROUSTABOUT soundtrack in 1964. Originally released to standard in quadraphonic sound (but compatible with conventional stereo systems, apparently), it would have been nice if Sony could have released this reissue as a dual layer Super Audio CD, so that those with the right equipment could listen to the album as it was originally intended (a surround mix might help that brass player blend in better with the band too!).
All in all, then, ALOHA FROM HAWAII VIA SATELLITE remains a key event in Elvis Presley's career, but it doesn't represent the best live Elvis. His first two concert albums, ELVIS IN PERSON and ON STAGE, FEBRUARY 1970, are rather superior to this. However, that beguiling version of 'Early Morning Rain' is something I could listen to again and again.