I can’t say I was never a big Elvis fan.
Back in Grade 3, my teacher was a nun. (Separate school system, natch.) Over lunch, she’d play music. Some French stuff (it was also a French school). Some religious stuff. And an Elvis album.
Now, Elvis (I’ve since learned) has done a lot of gospel, but that’s not what she played. She played his rock’n’roll stuff. I didn’t find it odd at the time, but thinking back on it now, it does seem a bit odd. But says something about his mass appeal.
Anyway, of all the music she played, this was the only bit I really cottoned to. I liked me some Elvis. I started bugging my parents to get me one of his albums. Eventually they did—one of the greatest hits things, I guess. I would play it, studiously looking over the cover art, the song list.
But not that long after, I moved on to my next musical love, the Bay City Rollers. (Eight-year-olds are so flighty.) And I never really got back to Elvis. I did and do appreciate that he’s a very influential figure in music history. I watched Jonathan Rhys in the really good Elvis miniseries, and thought that was a very poignant story. But I don’t really listen to him much, and can’t really call myself a fan.
So I had no particular expectations walking into the latest Electric Thursdays concert, Elvis: The Way It Was. But the few I had were immediately shattered when the band walked out to join the KW Symphony. Hey, where’s Peter Brennan? Where’s the Jean’s’Classics band?
Turns out that this was to be the first-ever Electric Thursdays concert to not be scored by Brennan. Instead, conductor Daniel Warren took the honours. In fact, the whole thing was his idea.
The part of “Elvis” was played Stephen Kabakos. In look and sound, he was a reasonable facsimile of “The King.” But he didn’t pretend to be Elvis, instead referring to himself as Stephen, just playing tribute to his favorite singer.
The show was structured according various famous Elvis appearances. The Hawaii concert. The movies. The Ed Sullivan Show. Vegas. The comeback show in ’68 (hey, I remember that one from the Jonathan Rhys movie!). This required a certain number of costume changes, and you could definitely feel the energy drop when Kabakos wasn’t on stage. But it was fun to get kind of a “tour” of his career highlights.
The sound mix was a bit dodgy at first—we couldn’t hear the backup singers at all, and could just barely hear “Elvis”, but fortunately that was quickly resolved. I can’t really comment on the quality of the orchestration, as it really felt like it was taking a backseat to the whole Elvis show most of the time. But certainly the arrangement of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” stood out as particularly beautiful and effective.
Kabakos was in good voice, and was charismatic and funny. “Know why Elvis walked the way he did? To get the hair bounce just right,” he said, demonstrating a “normal” walk with no bounce, and the Elvis swagger, with bounce.
“Why do I always end up sitting in front of a guy?” He asked, during the “sit down at the edge of the stage and sing right into the audience” portion of “Love Me Tender”.
“The men are always dragged kicking and screaming to an Elvis show. The women are like, ‘We’re going to be late’! But guys… The suits are available for rent. Totally worth it.”
To an audience shout that he “take it off” when he commented that the leather outfit was very warm, “You have no idea how long it took to put it on!”
All in all, a fun night out, and a worthy tribute.