At this point it has become a literal trap to debate all that Elton John has meant to the world.
The discussion would go on and on about the high quality of his glam-rock, his seemingly effortless talent for cranking out perfect radio hits, his mastery over a voice which he has molded into a distinctive instrument, or how he has shifted his mega-celebrity into worthy causes. The dialogue would slide into overdrive once you got into how his high-profile celebrity has forced him to grow up in public: the hermetic isolation from the world, a dependence drugs and booze, a humiliating divorce, getting sober, coming out, falling in love, getting married and adopting kids. However you choose to look at him, Sir Elton John CBE is a remarkable man.
When "Your Song" hit in 1970 nobody could predict that this pudgy, gap-toothed, closeted, balding balladeer would outlast the then-current era of "important" singer/songwriters. Once John and lyricist Bernie Taupin threw their hit machine into high gear with "Crocodile Rock" in 1972, they knew the world was theirs for the takingalthough we didn't.
Detractorschief among them David Bowie and Mick Jagger ( who resented John's success )pegged him as a cipher, a mere pop star clown in million-dollar drag. Anyone who sniffed at him really did not get the point, and John laughed his way all the way to the depository as a result. Where Bowie's and Jagger's posturing and androgyny bluntly telegraphed sex, homo-sex, and danger, John was playful, decidedly un-sexual and "safe," which made him far more accessible.
The point, as John seems to delight in demonstrating, is to live well, play hard and have fun doing it. This naturally brings us to his sold-out show in Rosemont Nov. 30. Yes, there is a new album ( The Diving Board on Capitol/Mercury Records ), yes it's a hit and, no, he did not sing much from it. ( By the way, it is excellent. ) This show, dubbed "The Million Dollar Piano Tour," was really a great big Elton love-in and a fat wet rude raspberry to all the haters who have made a habit of snipping.
The concert was designed to please, to give longtime fans meaty helpings of glories and favorites from decades past with little pretense and a lot of sass. It seemed fitting that the ukranian duo 2Cellos ( Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser ) were front and center but blatantly apparent that original Elton John Band members Nigel Olsson ( on drums ) and Davey Johnstone ( guitar ) were on stage as well. Now that the three of them are past the age of 60, they had no fear in going for the jugular and ripping the place up; these guys had nothing to prove.
The sound mix and John's voice told the whole story on this evening. With his piano mixed up front, half the show was in hearing John work his keyboards like a loaded cannon. Through the rigors of this tour or from age John has lost his choirboy falsetto, singing in a deep baritone that was harder, more commanding, slightly raggedand entirely appealing. This time out the music had much more weight and punch, making some of his lightest pop sound deeper and richer.
The acoustics in the Allstate abetted and robbed the ballads in equal measure. "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" was a bore, the new "Ocean's Away" was engaged but leaden, "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" and "Don't Let the Sun go Down on Me" were both overwrought and did not sound any better to me now then they did when I was 14 ( just what the hell are those songs about, somebody please tell me... ).
But "The One" was deeply heartfelt, "Rocket Man" was otherworldly despite a new aural meatiness, and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" ( along with a computer animated film that charted John's life with wit and humor ) was incredibly lush and soared. The killersurprise, surprisewas an earthy "I Guess that's Why they call It the Blues" that tumbled into a blues-drenched duet with vocalist Jean Witherspoon.
The rockers came off much better, and John pretty much let his band go apeshit with them. "Bennie and the Jets" came early but it came hard and deliberate while "Sad Songs" was ( thankfully ) turned into, by way of John's keyboard work, a rollicking barrel house blues vamp. "Hey Ahab" was all punch, elbows and knees but was really a tease for the anticipated killer finish.
"The Bitch is Back" had the suggestion of renewed anger but "I'm Still Standing" had naked bile to spare and is clearly a song that is close to John's heart. It was hard to deny the icy sliver of anger in his voice when he snarled, "If love was just a circus, you'd be a clown by now," and the fresh piss gave the song a new lethal charge.
The insane "Your Sister Can't Twist ( but She Can Rock and Roll )" and "Saturday Nights Alright for Fighting" turned the Allstate into a melee with audience members on there feet. "Your Song" and "Crocodile Rock" finished the night out and, though the night had its hits and misses ( one big one was the inclusion of "All the Girls Love Alice" on the set list; now that Elton is happily out of the closet this snide and nasty rocker about a 16-year-old lesbian would be best forgotten ), it was the kind of breathless joyride of an experience that is at the heart of rock and roll.