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An almost sold out Orpheum Theatre in Memphis witnessed the new "Elvis Live 2011" show last evening. This show - "Elvis Presley Live" was announced as the musical highlight of EW '11 and the answer to "How can we take the Elvis Magic to the next level."
All that we knew before the show started, was that "it would be different from anything we had seen". We had talked to several musicians of the show earlier this week and from what we heard, we were in for a treat. This concert would blow us off our socks.
Different from the well-known video shows with the spotlight shared by Elvis and his Musicians, one gigantic screen filled the entire stage from left to right and from ceiling to floor. The new assembled live band played behind a see-through screen so that the audience could watch Elvis on the big screen and see the new musicians play live behind him at the same time.
When drummer and musical director Paul Leim kicked off the vamp for 2001, there was magic in the air. The combination of the see-through screen and the Elvis projection worked: for a moment it looked as if Elvis was placed in the middle of his entirely new band. Elvis in a 3D-like show - now, this would revolutionize the post 1977 Elvis shows as we know them.
The concept for this show was indeed nothing but fabulous. Elvis is very much 'up front' and his voice blends in with the live music that is both refreshingly new and yet loyal to the original seventies TCB sound.
However... as overwhelming as the first songs were, it soon became clear that the '3D Magic' didn't last the entire show. After two or three songs, we still hadn't figured out where to look first: One second Elvis was projected on the left upper corner of the stage filling screen and the next in the right bottom corner. Problem of course is that the footage - all taken from That's The Way It is - was 'unedited'.
Instead of blackening out the background with just Elvis left, the screen showed the songs as they were released on video and DVD: with the Sweets, the rhythm section, the orchestra. Pretty confusing, and at one point we saw two backing vocal groups on the same screen (the Sweets next to Elvis and the new backings behind the see-through screen), two rhythm sections (the original TCB Band on the original footage and the new live band that Paul Leim had put together) AND two Elvis images (as the original footage shows Elvis twice).
Had the background of the Elvis-footage been blacked out, the effect would have been completely different. I know it's like cursing in church, but IF the music for the new 2011 'Elvis Live' show is brought by a young band, at least the thought of erasing the original musicians from the footage needs some consideration.
Seeing James play the solo of 'The Wonder Of You' and hearing another guitarist with a different sound, is unusual to say the least - and it really doesn't add to the wow-effect of this show. There's no two ways about it. Either you go for a 100% new approach or you stick to the older musicians: the combination of TCB/Sweets/Imperials on the screen and a different band with a 2011 sound on the stage right behind the see-through screen doesn't work. At that point, with too much to see on the screen, the show pretty much lost a bit of magic for us.
And here's another problem that producer Stig Edgren needs to find a solution to: Elvis is constantly shrimping and growing from 3 to 15 feet and back, while the live band on stage obviously remains at place. It is a huge challenge, but IF Elvis - with help of the latest modern technology - would be projected between his new live band, 'life size', now THAT would really take the Elvis experience to the next level. Imagine the King on stage, not shrimping or growing, backed by live musicians as if they were actually beside him - that would be the ultimate 2011 experience. If nothing is done about the footage, chances are that the audience experiences the evening as a great live movie with improved/modern sound - but a movie may not be what the world is waiting for.
Of course, all this is easier said than done. First of all: IS it technically possible to black out everything/everybody except Elvis - given a 'yes' to the question if it's historically right to erase the original musicians from the footage?
Secondly: can the zoom-ins and zoom-outs of the original film be reversed so that he gets his spot between the live musicians?
And thirdly: because there's just not enough original footage that shows Elvis from head to toe, a lot of creativity is needed here to keep the magic of the opening songs going for the rest of the show. In other words: this show brought a Touch of Magic, though it needs more brilliant ideas - but then again: producer Stig Edgren overcame bigger problems in the past.
A word about the band: this was one rockin' hot band that would make Elvis proud. Power, dynamite,the sound of twenty-first-century rock n' roll: it was all there and sound-wise it cannot get any better than this. Musical Director Paul Leim brought together THE absolute best musicians in the field. The vibe that came from the stage behind the curtain was just - wow! No wonder that the band got a standing ovation. Too bad that this concept - at this stage - doesn't allow them to be more up front visually.
Fans in the audience left the Orpheum with mixed feelings.... One group said they had the night of their lives, others had expected more. What we saw, was a very promising concept that still needs a lot of work and creativity before it is ready to go overseas to smaller theaters (1500 - 5000 seaters). Master of Ceremony Joe Guercio hinted at the possibility to take this show on the road and that would be great IF the concept is improved. Let's just say that it would be a serious risk to do this very same show to Europe or other parts of the world. It's great for die hard fans, but for a more general, somewhat spoiled audience there's just not enough magic to it. It was a wonderful evening, but let's be honest: how could it not be - this was The Man Himself during Elvis Week in a Memphis Theatre with Elvis fans from all over the world.
Do the same show in any European country at any given date and the raw footage of Elvis on a see-through screen would probably fail to generate the excitement that 'Elvis 2011' deserves. Knowing how critical the overseas press is and how difficult it is to introduce Elvis to new audiences with footage that was shot over 40 years ago, with this show - I would not take that risk