20 February 2005
Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, NV
All the credit to my brother for his appreciation of Elton John, which began in the early 1970s, affecting my appreciation for the English-born megastar, now 30+ years strong.
I had a chance, but missed out on the opportunity, to see E.J. on his 1984 Breaking Hearts tour. So, like many shows I've seen recently, this event was long overdue.
I told a friend recently why I like Elton John--only he knows how to make obnoxiousness likeable. And, though Elton has long since canned the colorful hair dyes, wigs, and totally expensive costumes, he makes up for this change with his often controversial press comments. Too many to list here, but one recent example involved him labeling some reporters as "vile pigs".
Elton has a contract with Caesar's Palace, to perform between Celene Dion's stays at the Colosseum, and the $100-$250 ticket base prices ensure that E.J. continues to roll in the bucks.
The stage for this so-called Red Piano show is monstrous, and required a significant amount of time for Elton to walk over to his work desk. Flashing lights accompanied the opener, "Bennie And The Jets".
The full length of the curved wall behind the vast stage acted as what has to be the largest, highest resolution video projection system ever constructed. The accompanying video to "Philiadelphia Freedom" featured well-choreographed clips of Billie Jean King, countless topless women, and other images painting a historical picture of the times when this song hit #1, some 30 years ago.
Almost ungraciously, Elton jokingly ragged on Celene Dion (or the "owner" of the Colusseum), as being too thin, saying "If she had to sit on a piano bench night after night, she'd be as big as me." He regarded his bookings at this venue as him "filling her slot", and even went so far as to say, "To be perfectly honest, I f*@#ing hate her."
In Storyteller fashion, Elton mentioned how many people have not understood what the song "Daniel" is about, and explained how, when lyricist Bernie Taupin provided lyrics to the song, Elton edited out the last verse, and as a result turned the song into an enigma. Tonight's video accompaniment left no doubt about how this song, when it hit #1 in 1973, proved perfect for the times, right as the world experienced a painful end to the Vietnam conflict.
He told another story about how, when MCA records was planning to release the third single off of his 1973 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album, the record company informed Elton that "Bennie And The Jets" was #1 in Chicago, and anticipated that the song could also hit #1 nationwide (and it did). The result however, was that the studio version of "Candle In The Wind" didn't hit the stores as a single. Of course, the live version hit in the late 1980s, off of an album containing performances with an orchestra. Ironically, the live "Candle In The Wind" employed only Elton's vocals and piano. Tonight's performance resembled the original studio version.
From his vast popular music catalog, Elton drew only two tracks from the last 20 years, namely "Believe", from Made In England, for which Elton commented that, amidst all the craziness in life, he believes how love can eventually make this world a better place, and the recent "I Want Love". During these songs, stagehands inflated several balloons in shapes of roses, in the beginnings of a barrage of inflatables for this Colosseum show.
With "The Bitch Is Back", monster-sized inflated breasts appeared stage left, hanging from the ceiling. "Tiny Dancer" featured a video of Pamela Anderson pole dancing, and monster-sized legs in the backdrop. "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" brought out inflated bananas, hot dogs, and cherries.
Spending almost the whole time behind the keyboard, Elton seemed to select his finest works, from a melodic and lyrical standpoint. And, no complaints from me in that regard, when his set inlcludes "I'm Still Standin'", "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues", and "Rocket Man".
The stage set illuminated with dozens of neon lights reading "Tattoos" "Live Shows" "Pawn Shop", and other depictions of downtown Las Vegas, during Elton and band's performance of Pete Townshend's classic, "Pinball Wizard".
"Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" backed a video of two physically aggressive dancers in a room presumably at a tropical resort, with a live video feed of Elton singing, on the room's console television.
A solo, acoustic piano "Your Song" obliged the encore.
Musically, it was great to see long-time guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson with the band. A bass player, percussionist, and additional keyboard player filled out the ensemble. Sonically, the band didn't always perfectly re-create the magic of the studio sound, and Elton's voice range isn't what it used to be. But, the show's quality was excellent nonetheless.
A set of 50 of his songs wouldn't come close to reflecting his career. What can you say, the man was, and is, a virtual hit factory.
[****] - Steven T.
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