I first laid eyes on Elvis Presley in 1970, and let me tell you, it wasn’t through a screen or a magazine. I saw him live, in the flesh, in the same building as me. Back then, I was a bright-eyed 21-year-old, starting my senior year at the University of Washington in Seattle. One day, a fraternity brother excitedly told me that Elvis was coming to our city. Considering my room was constantly filled with Elvis music, my friend thought I’d be interested. And he was right!
Within minutes of receiving that news, I hopped in my car and raced downtown to buy a ticket. The thought of actually seeing and hearing Elvis live was surreal. I had become an Elvis fan at the tender age of 13 in 1962. Since then, I had always imagined that the closest I would ever get to him was a front-row seat at a movie theater. Even when he started playing in Las Vegas in 1969, I never once thought that he would embark on a nationwide tour. But he was coming to Seattle, and it felt like a dream come true.
On the evening of November 12, 1970, I found myself sitting in the Seattle Coliseum, second level, close to the stage on the right side. Fast forward forty years, and I can barely remember the opening acts. According to the press, Sammy Shore did his comedy routine, and “The Sweet Inspirations” and “The Imperials” performed a few songs. However, those acts have faded from my memory. What has remained etched in my mind is the image of Elvis dressed in all white, his voice strong and clear.
I do recall one specific song from that unforgettable night. Elvis stood still, his back to the audience, before swiftly turning around and belting out “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” That moment is crystal clear in my mind, but apart from that, the details of the show are a bit hazy.
Curious to revive more memories of that night, I recently dug out the Seattle newspapers’ reviews from the following day. The first review I came across was by Janine Gressel in The Seattle Times. She had this to say:
“All the conditions for a smash hit were in place for Elvis Presley’s concert at The Coliseum last night. The concert was sold out, and the audience was buzzing with anticipation. However, despite Elvis’ personal magnetism and immense popularity, the show left much to be desired. His performance was short, lasting only about 40 minutes, although it felt even shorter. He sang just 14 songs, and only six of them were his original hits.”
Janine went on to mention how Elvis spent a significant amount of time horsing around on stage, engaging in gimmicks, and jokingly putting down other artists. In her view, the concert relied too heavily on theatrics rather than delivering what the audience had truly come for—Elvis’ music.
Stephanie Miller from The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, on the other hand, had a different perspective:
“The houselights dimmed, the flashbulbs popped, and there swaggered Elvis Presley onto the Coliseum stage. He wore slinky white bell-bottoms, white buck shoes, with western fringe hanging down his laced-up shirt and a Kelly green sash swaying from his legendary hips. The show lasted a mere 40 minutes, yet it was undeniably unforgettable. He let the songs roll off one after the other, captivating the crowd with his sultry, down-in-the-throat voice.”
Stephanie described Elvis as a musician who still possessed the charisma that made him famous. He interacted with the band and the audience, cracking jokes and charming fans of all ages. She noted that his voice had matured since his early days, becoming mellower and more refined.
From my seat in the audience, I would say that the truth lies somewhere between the two perspectives. Elvis may not have been at the absolute peak of his game that evening, but for me and countless other devoted fans, just the opportunity to see him perform live felt like a reward. It was a chance to witness the mystical and spiritual presence that Elvis had become in our lives.
Years later, in 1976, I had the privilege of seeing Elvis’s show once again in Spokane. By then, he was nearing the end of his career, but the experience was still cherished. Both the Seattle and Spokane concerts hold a special place in my heart. Elvis will forever be “The Greatest.”