Saturday, October 30, 2010

Duluth MN, October 1976: Elvis sang...and they just loved him

by Jim Heffernan
The following review originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on October 17, 1976

(Note: Thirty-four years ago this month, Elvis made his first appearance in Duluth. He entertained Duluthians one more time the following April, just prior to his death in August of 1977. The following review was my first of two reviews of Elvis in concert in Duluth for the Duluth News Tribune. This concert–reviewed below–took place in the Duluth Arena on October 16, 1976. I reprinted my second review of his April 29, 1977 Duluth appearance in honor of the anniversary of his death on this blog last year– Click HERE . Those of you who are true Elvis fans may also want to check out a  memory piece I included in my book, Cooler Near the Lake, about Elvis in Duluth titled "Elvis Didn't Look Like a God During Duluth Visit." That writing first appeared in my Duluth News Tribune column on Sunday, January 30, 1994. Elvis lives...)

Elvis Presley delivered. He kept a full Duluth Arena waiting for more than an hour Saturday night while his "people" performed, but when he came on, he delivered. And the crowd went wild. Women screamed, flashbulbs - thousands of them - popped, fans tried to climb the stage and were repelled by police, and Elvis sang.

The more he sang, the more they loved him. They loved him most when he began passing perspiration-soaked silk scarves from around his neck to the few adoring fans who made it to the edge of the stage.
He performed for exactly one hour, then he was gone, a good $100,000 richer - before expenses and taxes.

At 41, Presley is amazingly well preserved. He's a little huskier now, but still trim. His white suit trimmed in gold brocaide makes him look like something not of this earth, and in some ways, he isn't. One of the few entertainers who has managed to stay popular long enough to take advantage of his own nostalgia, Elvis drew a mixed crowd of young, older and even oldish. Mainly, though, the crowd consisted of people now in their 30s who were his fans when Heartbreak Hotel forever changed the course of popular music.

He didn't sing Heartbreak Hotel Saturday night, but he managed to get in just about every other hit that's made him a millionaire several times over. But Elvis Presley is more than just Elvis Presley. He's a dozen-piece orchestra, 10 backup singers, and who knows how many people backstage, pilot fish for this unique person who somehow has managed to capture the dreams of so many people.

Soft-spoken when he addressed the audience, he mainly just introduced his music and his people and sang Love Me (Treat Me Like a Fool), Jailhouse Rock, All Shook Up, Teddy Bear, Don't Be Cruel, Hound Dog, even Blue Christmas, probably put in the act after he saw snowflakes from the window of one of the three floors of hotel rooms he's rented at the Radisson.

The show began promptly at 8.30 but not with Elvis. First his band played. Then his gospel quartet sang. Then his comedian entertained (with some pretty funny material). Then his female trio, not unlike the Supremes, sang. That took an hour, and then came intermission. After a good 15 minutes of opportunity for fans to buy Elvis memorabilia, the lights went down again and to the stirring strains of Richard Strauss' "Also Sparch Zarathustra," sometimes known as the "Space Odyssey Song," Elvis materialized in a blaze of light.

His voice is very much intact. A little raspy at first, it mellowed as he went on, soaking his vocal chords every few minutes with drinks of water provided by an on stage valet who also provided the scarves he threw into the audience. The drama of his act - his gyrations and rubbery leg movements that are his trademark - set the audience to screaming whenever he moved.

And after an hour during which he killed at least 10 minutes introducing each member of his troupe and giving them chance to solo, he led into his final number. I Just Can't Help Loving You are the lead words, if not the title, he said "If you want us back, just ask for us." The crowd again went wild with screaming, applauding and stomping and Elvis passed out a few more scarves, bowed to all four sides of his audience (the seats behind the stage were filled too), and left.

That was it. As the audience filed from its seats, a voice on the public address system said "Elvis has left the Arena." That's all there was, there wasn't any more.


Unknown said...

I just came across this blog, and I was at this concert in 1976. I was not impressed as many I guess, as he did forget some of his lyrics and he looked quite hefty to me. I had a chance to go to this second concert here, but I opted not to go.
I wish I could have seen him in his prime singing days instead, but I did get to see the "King"!! So atleast I can say, "Hey I saw Elvis in Concert"! I still have the ticket!

Jim Heffernan said...

Carole: Sorry for the late response. I just found your comment on the blog today. I covered both Elvis appearances in Duluth for the News Tribune, and even got within a few feet of him when he arrived at the Radisson Hotel for the first one, but he didn't say anything as he made his way from a back entrance to the freight elevator. I was doing this as a reporter/concert reviewer, not a fan. But it was a memorable assignment. I regret that in one of the reviews I stated that he looked pretty healthy, or fit, which wasn't really the case. As you point out, in Duluth he wasn't the person he'd been 15-20 years before. Of course he was dead abut four months after the final Duluth concert. Thanks for writing. -- Jim