Elton John was bad last night in ways I have never seen a musician be bad before. It was a mixture of arrogance and hard work, and an inability to respect his craft for what it is. Yeah, I wrote that and I meant it about Elton’s 2011 “Greatest Hits” show at Madison Square Garden. But this is about a performance of John’s “The Million Dollar Piano” at Caesar’s Palace last night and so let’s start again: Elton has finally found the perfect vehicle to present his catalog of hit singles: a multi media dream boat stage production with Blossom (the name of the piano in question, getting second billing) over a two hour span of hard rocking 70s glam party with the histrionics that have hurt his live performances dissipated.
I hate describing stuff and I suck at it so here is Kristine McKenzie of Vegas.com to unwittingly do it for me:
“The show’s namesake instrument, created by Elton and Yamaha, is an engineering marvel that took nearly four years to make and weighs 3,200 pounds. The piano features more than 68 LED video screens on the side of it, which create the perfect accompaniment to Elton’s greatest hits, displaying imagery that complements the songs and sometimes mirroring what’s being projected on the mammoth screen behind the Colosseum stage. Besides the eye-catching piano, the rest of Elton’s show is visually stunning as well. The set features large golden scrolls decorated with piano keys on either side of the stage, a huge golden dog standing guard on one side, large golden Roman-inspired columns and rocket ships flying through the air. The designer, Mark Fisher, is known for his design of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and his work designing the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.”
The effect is beautiful, a complement to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is an animated feature that seems to cover everything on stage as it trips through Elton’s history, a reminder have how far he’s gone and for how long he has gone there. Like most Elton stories it derails by the mid-80s but for what it is worth, the getting there is immensely satisfying. There is no internal logic to the bluer than blue changing color of the stage except Elton guessing why they call this the blues. Elton’s greatest moment as a live entertainer occurred last night and the sheer joy of seeing John Lennon on a grainy video join Elton on stage at MSG after losing a wager (Elton bet Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” would go to number one) was untouchable. The song itself, “Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)” has one of Bernie Taupin’s finest lyrics:, heralding Johnny Lennon back to the Garden they had played in together (the “Dear Prudence” reference is inspired)
“And I’ve been knocking but no one answers
And I’ve been knocking most all the day
Oh and I’ve been calling oh hey hey Johnny
Can’t you come out to play…”
Elton’s memories of his only two year friendship with Lennon (cut short by Lennon’s murder) was both slight and important, “we behaved extremely badly,” he noted, as well as noting that a meeting backstage after the MSG gig set up by Elton ended Lennon’s lost weekend and reunited the first couple of peace. By the end of the song the poignancy is almost too much to bear…. in the middle of a Vegas show. Nearly as poignant and tough to bear was a dramatic, impassioned take on “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” with a picture of George Michael’s behind him. Before “Mona Lisa’s And Mad Hatters,” discussed performing it during the Concert For New York (the 9-11 benefit concert. New York should have got, hmm, tenth billing for the night. The band, featuring old time Elton John band members like drummer Nigel Olsen and rock god guitarist Davey Johnson, taking solos mid stage here and there! Ray Cooper is an excellent percussionist, he shined on “Indian Sunset”.
So what’s not to like, right? The same thing as always, Elton John pounds his million bucks worth through “Rocket Man” one more time and he so overdoes it, it is like putting a jackhammer to a toothache. The song is interminable and those extended jam like codas never work. The stage floats you into outer space, it is beautiful indeed, and the first time we begin to grasp what the stage is capable of doing, but it is just a self-indulgent bore. And it happens too often, maybe five songs get the treatment, there is not excuse for that headache inducing “Levon” and an overblown “Tiny Dancer”.
But otherwise, Elton reclaims his career for a set that plays very well to his greatest skill: that as a past member of the glam rock Hall Of Fame, and he can return to it with the greatest of ease even without a Mickey Mouse costume. Before the encore (a meh “Circle Of Life”, he invites the first couple of rows up on stage for a stomping “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”. It is a very cool meeting of man and fan and a thrill to be there (see below)
Elton ran with it in the 70s and did more than skate through the 80s, but by the 90s the drugs caught up with him. Elton sobered up and recorded some terrific albums, Peachtree Road (2004), The Diving Board (2013), and Wonderful Crazy Night (2016) all deserved a wider audience and Wonderful Crazy Night proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the problem wasn’t Elton’s but an audience who weren’t paying attention. Live it made me think think he was making me pay for his flops, but not last night. Last night it was a Colosseum and not a Garden, even less a mausoleum , and Elton came out to play.
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