Of all the rock stars of the last 50 years, why is Elvis Presley the most impersonated?
At least part of the reason is that the artist wasn't much more than an act himself -- even though his contributions to music are undeniably important, Elvis was still a carefully packaged, strategically marketed pop star. His looks, moves and mannerisms were as crucial to his success as his musical talent, which was fairly anemic when compared with true rock originators like Chuck Berry and Little Richard.
But no matter what you think about The King, a talented Elvis impersonator can be a good time. And on Saturday night in the University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts, a pair of excellent King apers pretty much brought the house down.
The first half of the night belonged to Scot Bruce, a California singer/songwriter and part-time soap opera actor who has turned his more-than-passing resemblance to Presley into a lucrative career. Bruce hit the stage in full 1950s Elvis garb -- blood-red jacket, black button-down shirt, white tie and shiny, two-tone shoes. And from the opening tune, the Carl Perkins classic "Blue Suede Shoes," it was clear that his vocal mimicry was going to be even more convincing than his looks.
On "Shoes" and subsequent hits like "All Shook Up," "Love Me Tender" and "Devil in Disguise," Bruce delivered every word in Presley's honeyed tenor, trembling at just the right moments and never getting cartoonish. And the man knew the moves, gyrating his hips and shaking his entire frame into spasms in that classically controversial fashion.
A crowd full of Elvis buffs drank it all in, reacting with equal fervor to the expected hits and lesser-known cuts like "Blue Moon of Kentucky," "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care" and the beautiful gospel nugget "Peace in the Valley." "Can't Help Falling in Love" was given a warm, loving treatment, and throughout it all, Bruce showed nothing but reverence to Presley's legacy. Rock historians might argue his claim that "That's All Right (Mama)" was a "brand-new sound" that fused R&B, country and gospel, something that Ray Charles had been doing for years, but his act was just too much fun to be a stuffy naysayer.
And if Bruce's performance was a loving homage, the second Elvis -- Mike Albert of Columbus, Ohio -- was undiluted entertainment.
Albert's re-creation of a 1970s Presley camp-fest was truly hilarious in a way that remained reverent to The King, combining the overblown arrangements of his later-period concerts with lots of audience interaction. Albert was decked out in a patently ridiculous white and gold jumpsuit, complete with two giant, rhinestone-encrusted suns on either side, and plenty of room to see the gold chains resting on a tangle of chest hair. His performance of songs like "I Got a Woman," "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" and "It's Now or Never" was just as flamboyant, embracing Elvis' total lack of vocal subtlety with tender loving care.
Albert proved himself to be a bit of a comedian as well -- while singing "Tryin' To Get To You," the singer pulled a woman out of her seat and serenaded her. After the woman embraced and kissed him with unexpected fervor for the rest of the tune, Albert presented her with an autographed silk scarf and gently reminded her, "I am an impersonator. This is 2009."
Love Me Tender: The Ultimate Elvis Bash
With Mike Albert and Scot Bruce on Saturday night in the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts, Amherst.