The King’s Final Bow: Elvis’ Last Concert in Indianapolis
By Justin Clark
Market Square Arena, Indianapolis, June 26, 1977.
Elvis Presley, known around the world as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, thrilled audiences for decades with his legendary swagger, good looks, and unique vocal stylings. Among his many concerts over the years, the one that garners much historical attention is the final one, at Indianapolis’s Market Square Arena on June 26, 1977.
His final performance, to a crowd of nearly 18,000 people, inspired copious press attention. An article in the Indianapolis News on June 25 listed it as a requisite event for music fans. The Indianapolis Star noted playfully “If you admire Elvis Presley’s back you still can buy $15 seats behind the stage for his concert at the Market Square Arena tomorrow night.”
The concert began at 8:30 p.m., but Elvis didn’t perform until 10 p.m.; warm-up acts of brass bands, soul singers, and a comedian filled time before the King. Then for about 80 minutes, Elvis sang both his classic tunes like “Jailhouse Rock” and “Hound Dog,” and his more somber numbers, like “Hurt” and a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water.” He closed the concert with “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” one of his most poignant ballads. He reportedly told the audience “We’ll meet you again, God bless, adios” as he left the stage. Based on filmed footage, the crowd appeared enthusiastic about the performance; the local press, however, was a bit skeptical.
The Indianapolis press seemed divided on the quality of his performance. Rita Rose’s piece in the Indianapolis Star provided a sympathetic take of the show, even as it criticized his appearance. Rose wrote comically:
The big question was, of course, had he lost weight? His last concert here, nearly 2 years ago, found Elvis overweight, sick and prone to give a lethargic performance. As the lights in the Arena was turned down after intermission, you could feel a silent plea rippling through the audience: Please, Elvis, don’t be fat.
She assuaged readers, writing “At 42, Elvis is still carrying around some excess baggage on his midsection, but it doesn’t stop him from giving a performance in true Presley style.” She noted glowingly how well he sang some songs, including “It’s Now or Never,” and “This Time You Gave Me a Mountain.” Rose’s piece emphasized the better elements of the concert and the excitement of the crowd.
Conversely, critic Zach Dunkin’s piece in the Indianapolis News was the consummate bad review:
“Elvis Presley led another crowd of screamers in banana land last night during his concert at Market Square Area and the question is why,” wrote Dunkin at the start of his piece. He added, “He obviously doesn’t need the money. He apparently doesn’t care about the way his concerts are packaged either.”
Dunkin went on to call Elvis’s mix of opening acts and his performance a “sideshow,” writing:
“It’s like waiting through the sword-swallower and the fire-eater before seeing the REAL attraction in the back room.” He also heavily criticized the “hawking” of souvenirs by vendors, who he said “came on the P.A. three times and urged the crowd to visit the souvenir stand. He even listed the prices.”
However, Dunkin’s strongest criticism was of the King himself, who he said could “sing when he tries.” His best numbers, in Dunkin’s view, were his renditions of “Hurt” and “Bridge over Troubled Water,” even though Elvis “for some reason had to read the lyrics from a sheet.” Dunkin’s lackluster impression of the King ended with this final take:
“It’s time ardent Presley fans quit protecting their idol and start demanding more. They know ‘the King’ can do better.”
Sadly, Presley never got the chance to do better, for his show in Indianapolis was his last. After the concert at Market Square Arena, Elvis took a break from touring and returned home to Graceland. Nearly six weeks after his Indianapolis concert, Elvis died in his home on August 16, 1977.
Fans line up outside Market Square Arena to purchase tickets for Elvis Presley's 1977 show at the venue, which proved to be his final public performance
Elvis performs in true Presley style before 18,000
By Rita Rose The Indianapolis Star:
Elvis looks great and Elvis sounds great!" exclaimed comedian Jackie Kahane to 18,000 enthusiastic, sweaty-palmed fans at Market Square Arena last night. And Indianapolis once again prepared to great royalty-the hip-swiveling singer who has been called the King of rock 'n' roll since the Mid-1950s. Elvis. His name was everywhere: on posters, buttons, souvenir books, T-shirts, hats, and homemade clothes that proclaimed with personal touches, admiration for a man idolized by millions.
The big question was, of course, had he lost weight? His last concert here, nearly 2 years ago, found Elvis overweight, sick and prone to give a lethargic performance. As the lights in the Arena was turned down after intermission, you could feel a silent plea rippling through the audience: Please, Elvis, don't be fat. And then he appeared, in a gold and white jumpsuit and white boots, bounding onstage with energy that was a relief to everyone. At 42, Elvis is still carrying around some excess baggage on his mid-section, but it didn't stop him from giving a performance in true Presley style.
His opening number, the audience-grabbing “C.C. Rider," got his portion of the show off to a flash-bulb-popping, hand-clapping start. His Amen," in which he encouraged everyone to lap and sing along, seemed to bring everyone together, as did "Jailhouse Rock" and "I got a woman."
His older numbers seemed to draw more applause, although just about everything he did created mass hysteria, especially his "leg jerks." (In case you have never seen Elvis, this particular maneuver consist of one singer, standing perfectly still with his legs apart, then making his legs ripple like jelly, completing the action with moving first one leg and then the other abruptly to each side.)
Elvis has limited his karate movements, but the stances he takes with his guitar generated screams and shrieks from delighted fans. One of his best numbers, we feel, was "It's Now Or Never," followed by a medley of his hits. He also offered "This Time You Gave Me A Mountain," and "Fairytale," plus several others. He also did his famous "I uh, we uh, well, well, well, well, well, well" monologue, which seems to turn dyed-in-the-rood Elvis fans on. He coveted scarves, tossed into the audience after gracing the singer's neck, caused mad scrambles by the stage as he got rid of them just about as fast as they were put around his neck.
The fans were well-behaved, considering the usual impedes that take place at rock concerts. The first half of the show consisted of the usual stuff - the Stamps singing, Jackie Kahane with his Elvis jokes, and The Sweet Inspirations in song. But we'll mention them only briefly, since most fans just want read about the King.
The packed Arena was indication enough that Elvis is still as popular as ever. Well, well, well, well!
The setlist was as follows:
Also Spake Zarathustra (opening)
See See Rider
I Got A Woman/Amen
You Gave Me A Mountain
O Sole Mio/It's Now Or Never
Teddy Bear/Don't Be Cruel
I Can't Stop Loving You
Bridge Over Troubled Water
Early Morning Rain
What'd I Say
Johnny B. Goode
(solos by band members Larrie Londin: drums,
Jerry Scheff: bass, Tony Brown: piano)
I Really Don't Want To Know
(solo by the backing Joe Guercio Orchestra)
(Elvis introduces various people from the stage)
Can't Help Falling In Love