Elton John offsets predictability with professionalism during hit-stacked concert at Blossom Music Center
Published: Friday, September 09, 2011, 11:35 AM Updated: Friday, September 09, 2011, 12:08 PMYou might expect Sir Elton John to stick with tried-and-true hits in concert.
And you would be right. For the most part.
Surprises were hard to come by when this Rock and Roll Hall of Famer essentially reiterated the bullet points on his résumé Thursday night in front of 14,000-plus fans at Blossom Music Center. What the show lacked in terms of imagination, though, it made up for with sheer professionalism.
It was a chilly evening, with patches of fog hanging in the damp air.
“We’re going to warm you up,” John, 64, promised early on.
Resplendent in a lavishly decorated long coat, the ivory-tickling superstar briefly pumped up the crowd before settling in behind his piano and getting down to business with “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.”
Halfway through his 2½-hour performance, John put the hit parade on hold long enough for three well-received selections from his latest album, “The Union,” a collaboration with mentor Leon Russell. The best of the bunch was “Gone to Shiloh,” a Civil War-inspired ballad with a haunting melody and drums that evoked distant cannon fire.
John also threw a couple of curve balls to the tune of “Holiday Inn” and “Hercules,” lesser-known numbers from his deep catalog.
Yet the emphasis was squarely on popular blasts from the past. The vast majority could be traced back to John’s 1970s heyday, including “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” “Bennie and the Jets” and the show-closing “Your Song.”
For a seasoned pro like John, the trick is playing the same old songs instead of letting them play you.
He was up to the challenge. Instead of merely going through the motions for, say, “Rocket Man,” he sent the song into orbit with a bluesy extended coda, kneading the piano keys like a masseuse.
By the time he belted out “The Bitch Is Back” toward the end of the night, John was clearly enjoying himself. He wagged a finger in the air. He stood on his bench and struck a Napoleonic pose, with one foot atop his piano. And he got back down in his usual manner -- with a dramatic handstand.
His voice was strong from start to finish, especially during “Tiny Dancer,” which John delivered with a smile and eyebrows arched above his tinted glasses.
True, he generally avoided high notes, but percussionist and backing singer John Mahon (a Canton native) capably picked up the slack. John returned the favor with a shout-out in the middle of “Crocodile Rock,” when he sang: “I remember when rock was young / Me and Mahon had so much fun. . . .”
John’s polished band also included longtime associates Nigel Olsson on drums and Davey Johnstone on guitar, mandolin and banjo, as well as Rose Stone of Sly & the Family Stone and daughter Lisa Stone on backing vocals.
Cellists Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser of the fun duo 2Cellos sat in with John, too, after winning over the audience with a short but sweet set of their own. Their classical-crossover covers of material by the likes of Michael Jackson and Nirvana rocked harder than Mantovani ever did.
Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting
I’m Still Standing
Madman Across the Water
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues
Gone to Shiloh
Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
Take Me to the Pilot
Bennie and the Jets
The Bitch Is Back
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
Elton John performs Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011, at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. (John Soeder / The Plain Dealer)