The Essential Aloha? Michael Metzger Separates the Elvis Wheat from the Elvis Chaff.

Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii
Elvis Presley. Directed by Marty Pasetta. Aspect ratio: 4:3 (full-screen). Dolby Digital 5.1. 72 minutes. 1973. Warner Bros. A54086-2. NR. $24.99.

Elvis: The Alternate Aloha Concert
Elvis Presley. Directed by Marty Pasetta. Aspect ratio: 4:3 (full-screen). Dolby Digital 5.1. 57 minutes. 1997. Warner Bros. A54087-2. NR. $24.99.

When Elvis Presley performed his Aloha from Hawaii concert in 1973, he had been a robot for some time, touring and doing week-long stands in Las Vegas in which every note and movement was orchestrated and rehearsed to a soul-numbing sameness. The Sun Records Elvis and the '68 "Comeback Special" Elvis were both locked away by E's manager, Col. Tom Parker, the man who pushed the buttons on America's favorite musical automaton. In the live Aloha broadcast, what more than a billion viewers worldwide saw was a man devoid of most of the unaffected charisma, artistic instincts, and innovation that had initially made him so riveting.

Aloha begins with E doing a lackluster "See See Rider" and ends with an equally uninspired "Can't Help Falling in Love" (from his Blue Hawaii movie). In between, the man in the ridiculous white jumpsuit engages in pathetic self-parody: for instance, his faked guitar-playing and the karate poses struck at the end of virtually every song. Many Elvis imitators can do a more credible Elvis than we see in this concert. As evidenced by his machine-like versions of "Burning Love," "Something," "My Way," "What Now, My Love," "Welcome to My World," and 12 other songs, by 1973 there was no fire left in the man.

There are a couple of moments, however, when the '68 "Comeback" E shines through—that Elvis wore skintight black leather (against the Col.'s wishes) and rediscovered his passion for singing live while doing a TV show. That program, actually titled Elvis (TV Special), was aired five years before Aloha. When E sings James Taylor's "Steamroller Blues," you can hear a bit of passion push its way into his voice (James Burton's blistering guitar solo is another highlight); and during "Fever," that famous sly smile creeps across his face as the sultry song gives him a chance to bump a bit—a move met by "Ooohs" from women in the audience. He also sounds great in Mickey Newbury's "American Trilogy" (a braiding of "Dixie," "All My Trials," and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"), singing the opening verse of "Dixie" with quiet sincerity and closing with a thunderous "Battle Hymn."

In fact, Elvis's voice is in fine shape throughout the show, and, except for the suit, he looks wonderful: trim and healthy, and it's obvious he hadn't been sampling Dr. Nick's wares. The remastered sound is excellent: E's voice is crystalline and resonant, and the annoying orchestra playing behind him is sharp and detailed. The transfer has also been kind to the visuals; there are no digital artifacts, and the colors are as good as one can reasonably expect from a videotape master.

The Alternate Aloha Concert is simply the rehearsal, taped two nights before the live broadcast and originally released on VHS in 1997. Many critics insist that the alternate concert is hot and loose, but that's just wishful thinking—none of these performances is superior to the broadcast version, though E is slightly less precise in his posings and interactions with the audience.

Aloha from Hawaii contains several bonus songs: "Blue Hawaii," "Hawaiian Wedding Song," "Ku-Ku-I-Po," "Early Morning Rain," and "No More," all taped on stage after the concert to be used as inserts for later broadcasts of the show. The Alternate DVD contains no extras.

If you're a diehard E fan, of course, you'll want both discs. If you just want to get your hands on something Elvis, I recommend renting the "Comeback Special" rather than either of these. But if you must see one Aloha, skip the Alternate version.