All about the tunes for John
Great songbook the focus as legendary rocker brings party to townhttp://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/music/all-about-the-tunes-for-john-121460379.html
The British musical legend isn't fighting anymore, though: These days he's spending his Saturday nights delivering hit after hit to devoted fans around the world.
Last night, Sir Elton was at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg as part of his aptly named Greatest Hits Live tour thrilling a sold-out crowd of 13,000 to more than four decades of iconic material during a non-stop 24-song career-spanning show that ran 165 minutes without an intermission.
John -- wearing a black suit adorned by flowers and a sparkling cross, a red shirt and red sunglasses -- took the stage to a standing ovation, sat down behind his black grand piano and immediately launched into regular show-opener Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding, the 11-minute epic that opens his 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
He stepped out from behind the piano to urge the crowd to stand up before he and his five-piece band truly got the party started with the rollicking classic Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting as animated graphics of skulls flew by on a giant video screen behind the stage.
The 64-year-old left his piano bench often throughout the night to acknowledge audience members on both sides of the stage and in the front rows. He even signed some autographs when he came out for the encore.
John made a name for himself as a flamboyant star but other than a mood-appropriate light show, the video screen and two other screens that showed close-ups of John, his fingers on the piano and his bandmates, there was nothing overtly flashy or over-the-top about the stage show. With so many hits in his catalogue he doesn't need to razzle-dazzle people with anything other than the songs, which haven't lost any of their emotional impact.
"It's great to be back. We're going to continue, this is a song from one of my favourite old albums called Madman Across the Water," he said before launching into a spirited version of Levon with the help of four female backup vocalists that had the crowd singing and swaying.
Most of the songs got standing ovations and just watching the crowd reactions to the material was almost as enjoyable, at times, as the action on stage. Who knew John's music could make people contort their bodies so many different ways?
The first third of the show was filled with some of his best-known material: the joyous Philadelphia Freedom; the melancholy soft-rockers Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Daniel; an extended version of Rocket Man -- which received two standing ovations when the crowd thought it was over -- and the bittersweet I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues all made it into the strong first half of the set.
John was last here for two shows at the same venue in 2008, and much of the set was similar, but this time he delved into some songs off his new album, Union, a collaboration with Leon Russell that John said he was very proud of while apologizing for playing them.
"You've been listening to songs you know, now comes the hard part -- the new ones," he said. "I know it's hard... but if I don't play them I'm going to go nuts."
The crowd had nothing to worry about since the songs fit perfectly into the John canon. Hey Ahab and Monkey Suit were blasts of old-school rock in the vein of Club at the End of the Street; while Best Part of the Day and Gone to Shiloh were ballads that sounded like they could have been written at any part of John's career.
The final slow number -- When Love is Dying -- might have been a bit too much, but just when the show felt like it was losing some momentum he switched gears and offered up Sad Songs (Say So Much) given a bit of a soulful makeover thanks to the backup vocalists.
After a lengthy piano solo at the two-hour mark to mark the intro to a reworked version of Take Me to the Pilot -- this guy has a serious amount of stamina -- and three tear-jerkers in a row: Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word, the Marilyn Monroe tribute Candle in the Wind and the anthem, Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me.
The crowd helped out with vocals on Bennie and the Jets and Crocodile Rock, which featured John stepping to the front of the stage to lead the crowd like a maestro.
There were numerous songs he could have ended the evening off with, but for the encore he chose just one, Your Song, leaving the crowd wanting more, even after nearly three hours.
This will probably be John's last visit to town in the foreseeable future. In September he begins a three-year-residency at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas performing a new show, The Million Dollar Piano.
May 7, 2011
HHHH (FOUR) out of HHHHH
MTS Centre, Winnipeg - May 7, 2011
Elton better than all rightBy Darryl Sterdan, QMI Agency
Concert Review: Elton John
MTS Centre, Winnipeg - May 7, 2011
Elton better than all right
By Darryl Sterdan, QMI Agency
Elton crocodile-rocked it for the relaxed-fit jeans set.
Elton John is a liar. Thankfully.
The piano-rocker’s latest tour — which stopped at a sold-out MTS Centre on Saturday night — was billed as All Hits, All Night. But it wasn’t. It was much more than that. And much better.
Oh sure, there were hits aplenty during the epic 160-minute show. Everything from his 1970 breakthrough Your Song to eternal radio staples like Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, Candle in the Wind, Bennie and the Jets, The Bitch is Back, Crocodile Rock and more (see the set list for the whole lineup). But that was no surprise; at this point in his career, John has more hits than he could possibly play in one sitting. And clearly, he was more than content to deliver them for the zillionth time to an arena full of relaxed-fit jeans and corrective lenses (of which I have both, so zip it).
But just as clearly, the 64-year-old singer-pianist was not content simply to go on autopilot and churn out note-for-note oldies like some musical Xerox. So the flamboyant rocker — sporting red-lensed shades and decked out in a Nudie-meets-goth-meets-Mariachi black coat decorated with a glittery skull, cross and red, white and pink flowers — led his five-man band (featuring veteran drummer Nigel Olsson and guitarist Davey Johnstone, along with a bassist, keyboardist and percussionist) and his four female vocalists (including Rose Stone of Sly & the Family Stone) through a set that sprinkled new material and arrangements in with the familiar favourites.
John’s creative intentions were clear almost from the beginning. After opening with the one-two punch of Funeral for a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding (whose lengthy instrumental beginning not only built some tension, but allowed stragglers to get to their seats) and a raucous Saturday Night's Alright, John switched into the earthy Levon, stretching it out with an extended gospel segment at the end. The title cut from Madman Across the Water — which wasn’t even a single, never mind a hit — also boasted an expanded arrangement. Both it and the opening to Take Me to the Pilot served as showcases for John’s impressive and often underappreciated playing, which seamlessly melded elements of classical, jazz, blues and honky-tonk (he might have the best right hand in rock, as documented on the video screens by his piano-mounted camera). But the real eye-opener was Rocket Man, which has evolved into a massive multi-stage piece that brought the Winnipeg crowd to its feet more than once. (Of course, that was chiefly because the song just kept going on and on — seriously, it lasted longer than it takes light from the Sun to reach the Earth. But still, pretty majestic.)
Along with the major overhauls and updates, there were plenty of smaller touches sprinkled throughout the set — a differently phrased lyric here, a slightly tweaked melody there, a gently tinkered arrangement now and then. (Some changes were obviously of necessity; John can’t slip into falsetto as easily as he did back in the day, though his voice has a deeper power and resonance than it used to.) Nothing was too drastic; it was all just enough to keep the songs sounding fresh instead of slavish.
Speaking of fresh, John tossed in a handful of tunes from his most recent album, last year’s superior Leon Russell collaboration The Union. “Now comes the hard part — the new songs,” he admitted. “I know it’s difficult to listen to these, but if I don’t play them, I’ll go nuts.” He needn’t have apologized; rockers like Hey Ahab and Monkey Suit went over surprisingly well with the crowd, earning him more standing ovations (honestly, if the audience had been a couple of decades younger, they probably would have just stayed on their feet for the whole concert, but what the hey, it made them seem appreciative). It’s just too bad Russell wasn’t there to share the moment.
Ultimately, of course, the night was about entertaining the fans, and Elton didn’t fall short. While he’s not quite as spry as when I first saw him in 1976, he was still fairly active, leaping to his feet to coax applause out of the audience, standing up to bang away on his grand piano now and then, and and even climbing onto the instrument and carefully jumping down a couple of times. He also made a point of connecting with the Winnipeg audience, dedicating Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me to family and friends of his locally born chiropractor (and former rock drummer) Trev Henuset. Later he thanked fans for their decades of loyalty, and even spent a few minutes signing autographs near the end of the show.
Could it have been better? Sure. Despite the changes, the performance felt a little rote now and then — no surprise, given that John and some of his band have played many of these songs literally thousands of times. There might have been one too many new ballads in that Union section. And sure, a little more zip or a slightly bigger show — the requisite video screens and cornucopia of swirling, twirling lights were the extent of the production — wouldn’t have hurt.
But so what if it was just probably another night for Elton? Nothing wrong with that. His average show still tops the best a lot of artists can do. Ultimately, the fans got their money’s worth. In fact, they got more than they bargained for.
To say anything else would make me a liar.
Funeral for a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding
Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting
Madman Across the Water
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues
The Best Part of the Day
Gone to Shiloh
When Love is Dying
Sad Songs (Say So Much)
Take Me to the Pilot
Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
Candle in the Wind
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me
Bennie and the Jets
The Bitch is Back