Because I believe in conceptual appropriateness whenever possible, I began my foray to the 2006 Elvis Invitationals on Sat., Jan. 7, across the street from EMP’s Liquid Lounge, where the event was being held. At McDonald’s, I downed one and a half bacon cheeseburgers and a milk shake just for the occasion. Sadly, they only make the latter in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, not peanut butter, honey, or banana.
Arriving a few minutes after the festivities began, I caught the second of the semipro Elvis impersonators that opened the evening, Dino Macris, performing “Viva Las Vegas” with a four-piece house band. The trim Macris sported the same white jumpsuit with red rhinestone combo favored by most of the room’s other Elvii, and he overdid the vibrato on “Can’t Help Falling in Love” so much that my friend Kate was moved to note, “He sounds like Mr. Ed.” Next up was Art Kleiner, a Bellinghamite who later handed me a business card advertising, among other things, an Elvis limo service. (Maybe next prom.) Resembling a young Jonathan Richman more than the young Elvis, with a perpetual, unforced smile, Kleiner did an easy run-through of “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Little Sister,” “Blue Hawaii,” “Teddy Bear,” and “Devil in Disguise.”
Danny Putnam had the most inventive staging: He emerged in black, singing “Crying in the Chapel” followed by a pair of brides; then all of them took off their outfits to reveal red sequined hot-cha wear and launched into “Rubberneckin’.” Finally, Pete Christie came out. A 50-ish man in a black suit and cape, he slurred “Burning Love” so incomprehensibly I wondered if his goal was to replicate the very late, out-of-it Elvis; he certainly got a good start by singing the first line into a dead mike. But as Kate noted, he also had the best moves of anyone, and he was compelling even as he turned “Love Me” into “Uuuuhhhh-um-be.” What clinched it was his finale, “Suspicious Minds.” I’m a sucker for this song anyway—it’s long been my favorite Elvis hit—but Christie lunged for it, full stop. During the second verse—”If an old friend I know/Stops by to say hello/Will I still see suspicion in your eyes?”—he put his foot on a monitor and sold each line like his next five minutes depended on it. It wasn’t the real thing, but it was still pretty thrilling.
The amateur contest afterward was good fun—the long-ponytailed, black-leather-clad Ken King, doing “Heartbreak Hotel,” was appealingly sleazy, and a shaven-headed fellow named Blue Calcutta (after a line from the movie Honeymoon in Vegas, when Nicolas Cage spies some Indian Elvis imitators) did a terrific “It’s Now or Never” that nodded to its source, “O Sole Mio.” But after a while I got tired, so I went back to my apartment across the street from EMP, took 950 milligrams of Quaalude, and passed out on the toilet.