Those of you who are new to Las Vegas–or perhaps too young to remember the late Elvis Presley (1935-1977)–may have heard that the city has its fair share of Elvis impersonators. You might wonder why, after all these years. Not only did he star in the movie “Viva Las Vegas,” but Elvis had a hugely successful seven-year residency in Las Vegas (at the Las Vegas International Hotel, now the Westgate), so his life and music are as much a part of the fabric of this city as the Rat Pack.
It feels like a rite of passage to see an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas, as much as seeing a magic show or Cirque du Soleil or even playing a slot machine just to say you did. I’ve seen two Elvis impersonators in the past: One guy who was just an okay singer but very funny; and Steve Connolly, who is fantastic and can be seen Downtown at the Four Queens in his “Spirit of the King” show.
But perhaps the most legendary Elvis tribute artist in Las Vegas is Peter “Big Elvis” Vallee, who has performed on the Strip for many years (formerly at the Barbary Coast/Bill’s and now at Harrahs Piano Bar). He is known as “Big Elvis” because he is a very big guy. For one reason or another, I have never made it to his show until my trip this January. It has taken me over a decade of visits to Las Vegas to see him perform. Shame on me.
Big Elvis performs 3 shows during the afternoons, and they are free. You can’t beat that, folks. I arrived during his first show, and it was packed. There wasn’t even room to stand in the doorways. I went away and came back shortly before his second show. This time, there was plenty of seating, so I grabbed a barstool, ordered a drink, and waited.
Mine was not a great vantage point for photos or videos. (Both of which he encouraged people to take, which is a refreshing change from most shows in Vegas.) In order to see Big Elvis while he performed, I had to sit with my back to the bar. Except when he stood, only his head was visible above the two pianos that take center stage in the Piano Bar (he was on the other side). For this reason, I would probably try to arrive even earlier next time and secure a seat along the rail around the pianos with a better view. There are also tables, but as a solo, I usually try to leave those for couples and groups of friends.
By the time he started his second show, the bar filled up completely. There were obviously people in the crowd who had seen him before, probably many times. He is well-loved, and it’s easy to see why. He has an amazing voice! The minute he started singing, he just blew me away.
Of the more well-known Elvis songs he performed, my favorite was “Suspicious Minds”; he sounded so much like Elvis in that one. He also sang some more obscure Elvis songs such as “In the Ghetto.” The casual Elvis fan might not know this song, but I did because we had the record in my house when I was growing up, and I heard it many times. He also sang a song he said Elvis never finished recording because he came down with the flu at the time. I didn’t catch the name of it.
Big Elvis took a couple of requests from military men in the audience. He clearly has a great deal of respect for those who have served their country. At one point, he held a contest where volunteers could come up and play air guitar during his song (“Viva Las Vegas,” of course) and whoever was the best would win a CD or something. That was hilarious. A couple of guys really got into it, even sliding across the floor. The things people will do for a free CD.
After his set, Big Elvis stayed around for photos and to sign autographs and such. He is a really nice guy, very generous with his time. If you find yourself looking for a great afternoon show, I can’t think of a better one–especially since it’s free. (Although you’re expected to buy a drink or two if you’re sitting in the bar during the show.)
He performs Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons at 2pm, 3:30pm, and 5pm in the Piano Bar at Harrahs.