Disc 1, the “midnight show” of Aug. 21, has you thinking you might be. The TCB band, the Bobby Morris orchestra, and the Sweet Inspirations (not so much the undermiked Imperials) sizzle, all but forcing Presley to deliver even when it seems as if he’d rather not. The singing on his surest crowd-pleasers (and those of the Beatles, Ray Charles, Del Shannon, and the Bee Gees) isn’t exactly slipshod, but he does give the impression of wanting to get through them as fast as possible. Only the recently chart-topping “In the Ghetto” and the soon-to-be-chart-topping “Suspicious Minds” consistently engage his full attention.
On the other hand, you can’t help noticing his complete investment in the faux-yokel, double-entendre-studded stand-up routines that comprise his extensive ’tween-song patter. He repeats them nearly verbatim during every show, enabling you by Disc 4 (earlier if you’re a quick study) to joke along in tandem and causing you to wonder whether Presley might’ve been incubating dreams of a comedy career. You particularly treasure the rare improvisations (the two shows, for example, in which Presley likens the parched sensation that singers experience in Sin City to feeling “like Bob Dylan [had] slept in your mouth”).
One thing’s for sure: By Discs 6 and 7, the scriptedness of practically every second of each show has you feeling like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day and questioning the wisdom of your vow to see the project through to the end.
But stick with it you do. And midway through the final disc you’re glad that you have, for it’s there that you encounter the famous “laughing version” of “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” wherein Presley sings “Do you look at your bald head and wish you had hair?” then hilariously loses his composure for the rest of the number. Never again would he seem so in the moment or so human.
And although you may never plow through all 11 discs again, you know that you’ll cue up that Disc 11 cut whenever you need cheering up—and that it will always do the trick.