A King in the Desert
Elvis Presley began a demanding Las Vegas concert schedule over fifty years ago — two shows a night, seven days a week — that resulted in 636 sold-out shows at the International Hotel (now Westgate). Those shows were enormously popular because he was one of the most famous celebs in Vegas. He brought rock ‘n’ roll to the big Vegas stage for the first time. Even in the trendiest locations on the Strip, today’s performers wouldn’t consider committing to such a protracted concert schedule.
He revolutionized concert venues by substituting intimate, club-like venues with the stadium experience half a century ago. It was a massive rock extravaganza. Elvis was synonymous with Las Vegas. So many performers in this area would not have had the opportunity to do what they do if it weren’t for him.
With this in mind, we thought it would be a great idea to relive some of Presley’s most iconic moments in Las Vegas that have stood the test of time.
International Hotel – July 31st, 1969
Elvis Presley was in the best shape of his life: well-rehearsed, supported by top-notch musicians, and backed by the most extensive publicity campaign in Vegas history. However, Elvis hadn’t performed in years and did not know modern sound systems and other technical issues. In addition, the showroom was intimidating: it was twice the size of any other venue in Vegas, with seating for 2,000 people. Hollywood stars, Vegas artists, other high rollers, and rock critics and entertainment writers from across the country packed the audience on opening night.
The audience exploded in applause as he sang “Blue Suede Shoes.” It was the old Elvis, rocking as hard as he’d ever rocked on a classic tune they hadn’t heard him sing in more than a decade. He was dressed in a dark blue two-piece karate uniform with flared pants and a sash-like belt that whirled as he moved. His high-collared shirt was unbuttoned almost to his navel, and he wore a scarf around his neck loosely knotted. Elvis let the applause wash over him as he concluded his first song.
New Frontier Hotel and Casino – April 23rd, 1956
Elvis Presley first played in Las Vegas in 1956. On April 23rd, 1956, Elvis began a two-week stint at the New Frontier Hotel and Casino, riding high on the success of his song “Heartbreak Hotel.” While staying at the hotel, at 21 years old, Elvis Presley performed in the hotel’s famous Venus Room on the Las Vegas Strip. Elvis Presley was a hit with America’s youth, and he was billed as an atomic-powered performance.
International Hotel – January 26th, 1971
He comes on even stronger than before, bolstered by his experience at the International. The programming is excellent, with more goldies spaced out well, interspersed with contemporary stuff, and a pair of his gospel classics in a stroke of genius. Unsurprisingly, his trump melody sends the curtain down with a thunderous round of applause. But, after more than an hour of belting and tremendous physical exertion, his subjective treatment of ‘Impossible Dream’ wins the year’s surprise sweepstakes for a Vegas performance.
Back then, Las Vegas was a very different place, it was smaller, with much less glamour and the city did not have nearly as many full-time residents or all the facilities it has today. So for people seeing this show, the only word that would have come to mind to describe Elvis’ performances would have been, spectacular.
Elvis Presley had performed more than 600 — possibly even more than 800 — sold-out gigs there by the time he died in 1977. The events cover a pivotal period in Elvis’ career, including the strong performance following his acclaimed 1968 “comeback spectacular” and the latter years of Elvis’ life, when popular opinion held that he had devolved into a caricature of his former performing self.
Elvis Presley left an indelible mark on the city of Las Vegas, and it was one of his most essential stops during his career. As a result, Elvis Presley’s bond with Las Vegas is significant and long-lasting. Even after his death, Las Vegas remains an Elvis-centric community, with daily Elvis concerts, an army of impersonators, and individuals traveling worldwide to get married by an Elvis Presley impersonator.