I’m not exactly sure when it was, just sometime during late childhood while rummaging through some of Mom’s things that I happened upon the baby book she’d made for me. Flipping through the pages revealed a lock of white/blonde hair from my first cut, the date when I began “officially” walking which was scribbled down next to the ONE song (Jolene by Dolly Parton) that I crooned constantly as a toddler. In spite of those wonderfully cute things, when I thumbed to age four, there wasn’t anything written. In fact, the only thing in that section was a folded up, yellowed newspaper with the headline that read “Elvis Presley-Dead at 42”. I figure since he died a month before my fourth birthday, Mom was still grieving too hard to keep up with it. It should also be noted that there was never another entry added to the pages after that. Could’ve simply been that five year olds are no longer considered babies or possibly and most likely, when she opened the book to the reminder of the shocking reality that so many people could not bear, it was just too depressing to fool with anymore. Whatever the reasoning, that sad piece of journalism also became a funeral for the cataloguing of my early development.
That moment of realization always stuck with me as I grew older, watching his movies at my grandparents, listening to his music and seeing his legend continuously pulse and explode with each passing year. He may have physically been gone long before I even knew who he was but his memory, his legacy, was kept and held so bright by his devoted fans that he was impossible to ignore. Whether people swore they saw him eating a Big Mac at Mcdonalds or were sold on the theory that he’d been kidnapped by aliens, many folks just couldn’t accept the truth so they made up their own. I’d be lying if I said that after watching countless biopics on his life, spinning his Christmas album every year and seeing so many impersonators who couldn’t possibly match up, that I didn’t hope those crazy idiots were right.
That’s also why after being told about Big Mike’s Elvis Royale show at King Sized Christmas (which ruled!!) last month, I’d been hoping against hope that I’d get sent to cover it. After hearing just a taste when he sang “Blue Christmas” and also going by the throngs of attendees at the show who told me they lived for the bi-annual event now in its sixteenth year, I was confident that it would be phenomenal. Plus, like the Christmas show, it would also be at The Variety Playhouse which has become one of my favorite venues. There’s just something so comfortable about walking under that old timey Marquee into the warmhearted, inviting vibe of their lobby. Feels like you’ve come home for a visit and mom and dad haven’t turned your bedroom into an office yet. All of the posters are still pinned to the wall and the sheets are just as soft as they ever were.
The first sight as soon as I entered this time were groups of excited show goers lining up to have their pictures taken with the Trivino brothers and as he’s known for this particular production, Lil’ E. I tried to wait patiently till the last woman was finished talking with them but became concerned that if I didn’t get a shot of them soon, I’d miss out on being front row center.
“Ummmm…can I get a photo of you guys?”
Ann, the lady who they were talking to and whom I interrupted like a big Buttinski, refused to allow it.
“Oh no Missy, you’re getting in there with them. Here, take my glasses. It’ll be the photo of your life!”
Oy, how I tried to get out of it as I hate having my picture taken but Ann would not be denied.
“Get in there you!”
She was right, the picture of my life. Ann was there with a friend, a man wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt with Presley’s silhouette emblazoned across the front and when asked his name it was (of course) Elvis. Elvis had been coming to Big Mike’s show for about the last five years and claimed there to be nothing like it. He was just as much a fan of Mike’s as he was of The King himself and promised much more than any dull impersonation. When asked his favorite song by the “other” Elvis, his response was “Kentucky Rain”. Mental fist bumps on that one as it’s been at the top of my list for ages. They were mental fist bumps as he was a bit long in the tooth and I just assumed he’s not accustomed to such nonsense. I also don’t high five….EVER. I’d prefer to be flipped off if given the choice. We laughed and people watched some more before I finally broke away and headed for the stage.
I got up super close, claiming the best vantage point possible before turning to the crowd slowly filling the pit behind me. It was total family reunion time as each person who arrived would spot a friend they hadn’t seen since the last show, they’d hug, clink beer bottles and expel about their excitement of the nights entertainment. Heck, I’d only been to the Christmas show and even I recognized people. Second time around though, I’ve picked up that Big Mike’s audience are actually an extension of him, gloriously positive and in love with the moment. It’s the complete opposite of a “mob” mentality but every bit as strong and seductive. That’s also what makes them so easy for a somewhat shy person to engage and interview.
There was a little bit of “everyone” in attendance. Yuppies, college kids, baby boomers, bikers, gay, straight….EVERYONE. Jerry, Jamie and Carrie sidled up near me and were cool as hell. Proudly declaring he’d been coming to see Big Mike since the Star Room, Jerry said he wasn’t actually a fan of Elvis Presley he just loved any sort of King Sized show. His actual words were “It’s ALL about Big Mike and the Dames Aflame”. Jamie had been coming with Jerry for the last few years but this was Carrie’s first time. We laughed about how we were both “virgins” and Jerry couldn’t say enough about how our proverbial doors were about to be blown from the hinges.
I wandered away for a moment when a sparkle caught my eye and found two Elvis’ ripe for the pickin’.
Upon returning to base camp, Carrie spoke about how she was a struggling actress and music composer while Jamie (an anthropologist) gave me tips on how to decipher when a person is open and willing to talk. She also suggested I have my pen and pad out of my pockets at all times as to not give the impression that I’m just some weird girl who goes places alone looking to glom on. Jamie was awesome.
“You see that chick over there? See how she’s dressed kinda over the top? She wants to be noticed and she’d love for anyone to ask her opinion on anything.”
“But she’s texting” I protested.
“Nooo…she’s just pretending cause her man went to the bathroom and she doesn’t want to look as though she has nothing to do”.
She was right!
Karen WAS more than willing to talk but before we could do more than exchange pleasantries, all 13 pieces of the King Sized Orchestra began playing softly as the curtain squeaked open.
Coming to an “Elvis” show you kind of expect the opening music to be pretty Presleyfied, what you don’t expect, or at least I didn’t, was for them to kick it off with an instrumental of “Hot For Teacher” by Van Halen. Excuse me, I meant a freaking wicked hot shredding instrumental. If Eddie can’t do it anymore, then there’s a hell of a guitarist from Asheville, N.C. that can easily imbue his essence.
I should be bashed in the head with a mallet for having seen two shows now with this amazingly talented dude on lead ax and still not getting his name. Even googling six pages deep in an attempt to avoid having to come clean proved unsuccessful.
When it was time for Big Mike and the gorgeous Dames Aflame to finally make their appearance, the band and choir switched to C.C. Rider as his rich voice heeded the call and embodied the room with auditory happiness. NOTICE: While there was a NEW camera in my stocking, I’m still learning the settings so some of the pics are still not exactly killer.
Got caught up in the fun for a second and forgot I was actually there to do a job so I didn’t pay attention and write down what the next couple of songs were. Doh!
LOVED the ring that he claimed his sister had made for him.
The house lights came down for “In the Ghetto” which was just as touching and haunting as the original.
Make no mistake, Mike Geier is not impersonating anyone. He’s a brilliant performer in his own right who performs unique covers. That fact was never more apparent than when “In The Ghetto” transformed into “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson. Totally his OWN version of that song and sang equally as heartfelt as the King of pop. If I weren’t so apathetic, I may actually have tried to “make that change” after hearing it.
The first of a series of appearances by Lil E. as he bestowed scarves on some of the ladies in the audience.
Big Mike let us in on the fact that earlier in the evening, as he attempted a shower in his dressing room, Lil E. kept flushing the toilet, leaving him to be blasted with ice cold water. After each assault, he’d pop his head in the door and say “Uhhhh…. thank you very much.” So yeah, Mike wanted everybody to know that Lil E. is also a lil weird. Ha!
A “Stranger In the Crowd” came up to dance and they were strangers no more.
“I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” brought Big Mike down into the audience where he slow jammed with a couple of lucky ladies.
“Kentucky Rain” rocked my socks off which is impressive being that it’s on a disc my friend’s dad made for me and I jam out to it on the regular. Without a doubt, one of Elvis’ all time greatest tunes penned by Eddie Rabbit while having the incomparable Ronnie Milsap on piano for the original. STILL, Geier and his orchestra OWNED it. Psychedelic Dames Aflame didn’t hurt!
Then a fearless performance of “Bossa Nova Baby” where Mike and drag queen Fabrizia (hope I’m spelling right) Lopes tore up the stage. Was it a long way from “Fun in Acapulco”? Sure, but that’s what made it fresh. The change up towards the end to “Touch Me” by The Doors was yet another excellent surprise.
Big Mike stopped to address us once more to say that this was a birthday party and that we should all be celebrating it as such. After that, it was time for our premier entertainer to become a Reverend as he took us all to church with a medley from the “68” comeback tour.
Tracy (in the Sweet Potato Choir) started off “Where Could I Go But To the Lord” in such a spiritual fashion that it inspired flash backs of altar call.
The Dames Aflame got all covered up so they could witness and testify.
“Saved” was such white hot, gospel thumpery that I half expected Jake and Elwood to come rocking down the aisle ready for baptism.
Intermission came and the girl I met just before showtime (Karen) had been rejoined by her husband Lonnie. Both were dancing their collective behinds off throughout the whole first part of the show. Even though money is pretty tight for them right now, they said there was no way they were missing this show. Karen had made it her business to come for the last three years. Very sweet people and crazy about each other. I asked if they’d been married long and NOT surprisingly, the answer was no.
We were ALL dancing to the Jail house Rock as soon as the curtain re-opened.
“Ya Know the great thing about living in the South?” It was obviously a rhetorical question being proposed by Big Mike so everyone kept quiet. “It’s that you can just be driving in your Cadillac, see sumthin’ on the side of road, pull over, pick it and cook it up.” What a great lead in to “Polk Salad Annie”.
The dancing was done with such thick freakness, Tina Turner would have been awed.
“Let Yourself Go” is one I’d never heard before but I completely dug it.
Lil E. came out with more scarves as well as a towel to dab the sweat from his liege.
“Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water” that made Simon and Garfunkel’s sound like two amateurs at open mike night.
The Trivino brothers busted out on the scene for “A Hunk of Burning Love”.
It was so full of energy, everyone on the floor went crazy! Including Lonnie and Karen.
“A Little Less Conversation” seemed to be the right way to go when it comes handling their leader.
At Long LAST and quite unexpectedly, Lil E. returned to the stage with only one scarf this time and placed it around MY neck. TOO COOL!
Before I even had a chance to recover from the vapors, Big Mike sang my favorite Elvis tune of all time “Suspicious Minds” and I was left swooning once more. Especially when he did a Seventies style Elvis-white jumpsuit kick that showed off his flaming red socks.
A couple more and it was time for his oil and polish session.
VIVA Valdosta! I mean Las Vegas!
A cavalcade of Elvis’ would have been a fitting way to end the show.
But certainly not a KING sized way to go out. After much hooping, chanting, and down right demanding an Encore was born! O.k., so they had it planned all along but half the joy when seeing a live show is being made to feel that you’re a part of it’s greatness in some way. Speaking of greatness, way to curve ball the whole thing and end with David Bowie’s “Rock “N” Roll With Me”.
And just when you may have hoped that it would go on for at least three more songs, Big Mike and his crew left the crowd as they should.Wanting MORE.
Luckily if you missed it, you’ll have another chance in August when they do it all again to commemorate the death of The King. Reviews aside, it’s just something a person has to experience for themselves to fully grasp what an undeniable good time it is. I am now a legitimate rabid follower and will most likely be running into Ann, Jamie, Karen, Lonnie etc… at some point in the future. Pretty sure when I do, we’ll all have big smiles on our faces as we receive what has become a necessary dose of King Sized awesomeness. Thanks to Big Mike, The Dames Aflame and the King Sized Orchestra for the best time I’ve had since the last time I saw them.