A comfortable Sunday evening in the City of Angels. Off to see the "Pope of Pop" on the Lord's Day. With just three days separating this evening from the celebration of Saint Patrick's Day, it seemed the Luck of the Irish was to be with us a wee bit early. My wife Mildred and I were the proud possessors of two fourth row center scats at the intimate Royce Hall.
We knew these were prized seats as we entered the hall and passed Jackson Browne, T-Bone Burnett, Sam Phillips, Jamie Lee Curtis and others on our way to the stalls. The place was literally buzzing in anticipation. The crowd looked older than that of the LA-Area shows in support of Mighty Like A Rose nearly two years ago. Certainly, the bulk of attendees were in their 30's. They all probably felt like they had aged an additional ten years waiting for the show to begin. But, 14 minutes after the scheduled 8 PM starting time, the lights dimmed and out sauntered the Great One. A three day growth of beard defined his elf-like countenance. Black trousers, burgundy-coloured slip on monk shoes, black shirt buttoned at the collar and over-sized navy blue jacket completed the ensemble.
With his arms at his sides, the sleeves dropped past the knuckles on each hand. The crowd hushed in reverential silence as the BQ launched into "Deliver Us." Since the sequence of the songs and the comments in between them have been well documented elsewhere, I will only comment on the absolute highlights.
Elvis showed himself the consummate actor this night. Not content with merely singing these songs — he became these songs. EC was the crazy aunt in "I Almost Had A Weakness." With pained expression, effeminate stance and flair for waving a handkerchief during "Weakness," there was no mistaking what we would be in for this night the single best tour de force of Mr. MacManus's career. Never has the singing been more passionate (Yes, even more so than the 1982 Imperial Bedroom and 1984 Solo Acoustic tours), Never has the voice been stronger or more assured, Never has the ability to break the fourth wall and reach an audience been more in force. This was — without question — the greatest, most inspiring performance he's ever given! It was sheer blissful unadulterated total entertainment!
Our faces actually hurt from being in a perpetual Cheshire Grin for the entire show. If one had to pick the pinnacle, it had to be "Damnation's Cellar." Especially when, at the end, EC sang "Stop press, they've just decided to destroy it" in a Nick-Lowe-Bo-Bo-Ska-Diddle-Carnival-Barker's growl out of the side of his mouth before reaching down to bellow "The major and the minor ..." at the top of his range. People were quite literally amazed and speechless with delight. All you could do was shake your head and say: Is there anyone alive today who can touch an audience like this? It is all the more incredible when you consider that just 18 months ago the same man was in town behind a beard, a mane, and a pair of shades doing lacklustre shows that couldn't reach the most ardent fan. Somehow, EC can turn it on and off like a switch at will. Tonight it was on — and we had to tell him so!
Backstage, a Warner Brothers Industry reception was in full swing when Mildred and I ran into Jack Riviera and recalled old war stories together. We asked Jake: "Where's Elvis?" Jake replied: "He and T-Bone are in the dressing room talking." I asked: "What about?" Jake Replied: "G.K. Chesterton — You know, they're putting the world to right. They may never come out!" he said with a grin and a chuckle. The BQ had been out making the rounds and I must agree with Clive Williams — you won't meet a more affable and modest bunch in your life. Paul Cassidy in particular was just a charmer! Ian Belton discussed the next BQ release Death of a Maiden and it's cycle of life-death-judgement and Heaven or Hell and who it compared to the last three songs on The Juliet Letters.
At long last EC appeared. Now in a multi-colored wool jacket with patches of Green, Yellow, Purple and Navy Blue. I asked him if he got in on loan from Colin Baker (a former Doctor Who). Elvis also had a wonderful necktie that had drawings of little animals on ir. He looked like a cartoon! I've never seen him so relaxed and friendly. He was obviously moved by the response he received this night. In the past when you would talk to EC backstage he would look down and avoid eye-contact. Not this night. He looked right at you and engaged in conversation rather than just listen to the flood of compliments. When Mildred commented on how great the acting was this night, he joked: "I'd like to thank the academy for this award...." When questioned about the frenetic activity with his hands during the show, he commented: "Well, without a guitar, I've got to do something with my hands!" He compared "Lost In The Stars" to the famous psalm "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" and was having fun mingling with the crowd for over 30 minutes until from a door walked in Cait O'Riordan with sweatshirt, blue jeans and Doc Marten Boots. From across the room she caught his eye, pointed to him, crooked her finger in a "come-here-it's-time-to-go" manner, and EC broke off his conversation in mid-sentence, excused himself and walked straight out of the room as if there was a roller pin waiting for him on the other side of the door.
One thing is for sure. The thundering applause and reception he received that night will be ringing in his ears longer than any complaints he might have received from his better half for staying up past his bedtime.