I don’t know how he did it. I’m not sure Elton John does either. On the eve of a big trip to Russia for a series of shows, Sir Elton played the second of two three hour extravaganzas last night at Madison Square Garden. His fairly compact band of vets (they’ve been with him a long time) make a big sound that filled the completely sold out, renovated room of 19 thousand, give or take.
As a nod to its upcoming 40th anniversary release, Sir Elton played quite a bit of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” Look at it from my perspective: I was there in 1974 when he played it at MSG the first time. Thirty nine years later the songs not only stand up but stand out, sounding fresher than ever. From the opening of “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” to the rocking “All the Young Girls Love Alice” that album is more alive than anything we heard in 2013.
Of course, it’s not 1974 so Elton is not jumping from one set to another in gigantic platform shoes or wearing a series of outrageous outfits. (Kids, you shoulda been there.) He runs the band and the stage from his piano, stage right, wearing one glittering coat with his initials embroidered along the back. The show emphasizes his musicianship now– same as it was in 1974, except now the artifice is removed. Back then you weren’t paying so much attention because there were too many diversions. At 66, Elton doesn’t have to do anything except be an artist.
It was so nice to hear an old old song, “Holiday Inn,” about his early touring days. The big set pieces– “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”– are like mini operas now with gorgeous melodies and crescendo’s. “Levon,” “Tiny Dancer,” and “Rocket Man” are performed economically to get the most punch from Bernie Taupin’s lyrics. “The One,” a hit from the late 80s, shows the depth of the John/Taupin catalog. In a three hour show, there isn’t a dud in the bunch.
My peeve: I could have heard more from “The Diving Board,” his new album. And the camera man should show more of the keyboard from that point of view. Otherwise, as satisfying a night as you could get from a real rock star. Bravo!
(PS I paid for three tickets last night and made a donation to the Elton John AIDS Foundation. It’s one of the top charities, and a must for the end of the year list. www.ejaf.org)