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POP AND JAZZ REVIEWS : Memphis' Elvis Tribute a Feast Not Fit for the King

October 10, 1994|CHRIS WILLMAN

Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis is so far out of the building it isn't funny.

It was evident a week or two ago that Saturday's live pay-per-view event, "Elvis: The Tribute" (cablecast direct from the Pyramid Arena in Memphis) would be short on the superstar talent originally projected. No Bruce Springsteen and no U2? No problem. Michael and Lisa Marie Jackson will just be doing the Queen Mum wave again, not singing? So be it.

But the lineup of nearly 30 wanna-be Elvises here--commencing with Sammy Hagar, climaxing with Melissa Etheridge, and featuring folks like Marty Stuart, Michael Hutchence, Faith Hill, Bryan Adams and Michael Bolton doing one song each--ultimately looked more a low-grade Farm Aid bill than a feast fit for a King.

The all-star finale had no less inspirational a figure than Billy Ray Cyrus doing lead vocals (and, ulp, gospel gyrations) on a group sing of "Amazing Grace." As he belted out the line, "When we've been there 10,000 years," it felt less like the hope of glory deferred than a description of the preceding 2 1/2 hours.

Though home viewers didn't get a single electrifying moment for their $25, a decent handful of performers at least acquitted themselves: Dwight Yoakam, more swivel-ankled than swivel-hipped this night, definitely had a little Elvis in him on "Mystery Train," though twangy guitar pardner Pete Anderson's was the flashier stage presence.

Chris Isaak was an obviously good choice for an understated "Blue Moon," accompanied by members of Elvis' original combo plus a churning organ swell. Chet Atkins, weak of voice and strong of fret, charmed as always. John Cale claimed the closest thing to a substantial reinterpretation with a semi-successful, drowsily psychodramatic reading of "Heartbreak Hotel," the perversity of which clearly left the Memphis audience either stunned or asleep.

Among those less successfully rounding out this hunka hunka burnin' flab: Iggy Pop failing to "Rip It Up," Tanya Tucker badly vamping "Teddy Bear," Jerry Lee Lewis' perfunctory "C.C. Rider," Tony Bennett looking cheerfully lost on "Love Me Tender," co-host Kris Kristofferson's attempt at carrying the tune of "That's All Right," and a head-scratcher duet between Eddie Rabbitt and Mavis Staples on "Suspicious Minds," two singers in two styles trying too hard.

Cyrus' achy-breaky "One Night With You" or Bolton's bolt-out-of-your-seat "Jailhouse Rock," you don't even want to know about.

Hosting the telecast were Kristofferson and MTV's Karen Duffy, whose mismatched cross-generational banter (Karen to Kris: "I wasn't around when Elvis was conquering the world--what was it like?") resembled a log and a chipmunk trying to relate.

Three bands provided decent support: one a younger crew led by the concert's musical director Don Was, another featuring original Elvis cohorts Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, and NRBQ as the third (and least utilized) backup.

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