Review by Gary 'pigboy' Swartz
Photography by Rodney Gitzel
Like some people think they should be able to lift photographs from on-line sources, books, magazines, etc., and use them as they will, provided they don't make any money. Sometimes even if they do. In fact, SOCAN, one of the sponsors of this show, exists to collect royalty payments on behalf of lyricists, composers and music publishing companies. Add the acumen of sponsors like the Canada Council and Vancouver New Music, plus the various performers who on their own hold copyrights and someone should have known better earlier. Why blame the lawyers? Or the ghost of Elvis? If someone got there first with an intellectual property, it's theirs.
But what the hey. The show went on. Godzilla-like. Described as a "satirical look at modern pop culture," the production threw baroque, punk, bebop, performance art, serialism, electro-acoustic, lounge jazz and the new music kitchen sink at some of Elvis' classic songs, and theatrical devices at the persona of the King himself. On the surface a promising concept, but at times it seemed more like an exercise in competitive self-indulgence than anything else. Some dozen or so arranger/composers sharing a half dozen new musical ideas, bombast being the most popular.
Which was a shame. With a talented 28-piece orchestra of horns and strings and three experienced vocalists, the potential for a wider range of interpretation and experimentation was obvious. The ability and willingness of the instrumentalists to be conducted into trying almost anything was not in doubt. Individual performances ranked high for enthusiasm and competence. Yet the whole was less than the sum of the parts.
Maybe there's no going back. Maybe the first time around the best stuff was used up. The background material was unclear as to how much of what was performed this time was from last year's (and in all fairness) well-received Elvis Cantata. Maybe it was time to throw the same resources at a different concept. Dylan. The Stones. There's no shortage of icons or potential for copyright infringement.
This is not to say there weren't highlights. "Jailhouse Hora," a Yiddish version of the Elvis classic with a similar name worked well, as did the operatic interpretation of "Return to Sender," both offered by soprano Rosalind Beale-Dala. The evening wasn't without humour.
Local punk rocker Joe Keithley's portion of the show, and particularly his rendition of "Devil in Disguise," brought together the various elements of the whole show -- instrumental, vocal, visual and dramatic -- exceptionally well. The lyrics were 'devilishly' rendered into their literal context by the accompanying slide show of mediaeval images of Satan and friends (no copyright problem there). Elvis wasn't without his dark side.
Actor/singer Ian Ross McDonald's monologue about his relationship with Elvis, his 'inner Elvis,' showcased the man's impressive talent while at the same time emphasizing the event's underlying flaw.
Like Elvis, the production was fatally self-indulged. The show was less about Elvis and more about Elvis as an excuse to do your own thing. In the world of advertising, this tactic of flagging a known entity to flog an unknown product is called borrowed interest.
Once again, art imitates life. And Elvis never made it to the building.
Considering copying some of the images from this story?
Please read this first. Thanks.