Elvis Presley In concert

The King is dead, long live the King

Elvis Presley in Concert is a gig from beyond the grave. The King-size multimedia event unites members of Presley’s original TCB Band with a 16-piece orchestra and a video-projected Elvis. Officially sanctioned by the singer’s estate, it’s the closest we’ll get to the real article this side of reincarnation or DNA cloning. It’s also a sure sign of things to come, once Michael Jackson’s family get their mitts on the blueprint.

Presley never performed outside of North America during his lifetime, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology the legend lives again. Elvis Presley in Concert has been running on and off since 1997, touring in many of the countries Elvis didn’t visit. The show played in Belfast at the King’s Hall in 2000 and at the Odyssey Arena in 2003, and the Northern Ireland faithful are out in force again tonight.

The Odyssey is packed with men, women and children of all ages. Some are sporting wigs and shades; others are decked out in jumpsuits, with garlands of flowers hanging round their necks.

A group of women sitting behind me had seen the concert in Memphis, and they shriek with delight as the video intro kicks in. A satellite image of Earth appears onscreen. The camera zooms in on Europe… The British Isles… Ireland… Belfast… The Odyssey… A holographic Elvis gyrates across the stage, before the curtain drops to reveal a small army of musicians.

It’s Presley we have come to see, but the real stars of the show are the grizzled veterans. Guitarist James Burton – also a former sideman of Ricky Nelson, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis – maintains an authoritative presence, while Ronnie Tutt batters his drums with the energy of a man a third his age. Pianist Glen D Hardin keeps his head down, thumping out the riffs. The core trio are joined by musical director Joe Guercio and backing vocalists the Imperials and the Sweet Inspirations.

The setlist spans most of Elvis’s career, from his 1956 breakthrough ‘That’s All Right’ to 1972’s sublime ‘An American Trilogy’. ‘Hound Dog’, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Don’t Be Cruel’, ‘All Shook Up’ and dozens more are dispatched in rapid-fire fashion, the overall presentation sticking closely to Presley’s later, cabaret years.

Elvis fans aren’t the most self-conscious bunch, and the audience isn’t afraid to clap and cheer with the virtual King. He thanks them (very much), tells corny jokes and introduces the band members. It takes a while for the first fan to leave his seat and swivel his hips, but by the time ‘Suspicious Minds’ rolls around everyone is up, singing and dancing in the aisles.

Elvis Presley in Concert could be regarded as crass or tasteless, a shameless cash-in on a performer who has now been dead for nearly 33 years. But as a celebration of Presley’s music – as well as of the talents of Burton, Tutt and Hardin – the show is a fantastic night out. Elvis hasn’t quite left the building.

Andrew Johnston