I Spent the Night with Elton John
I spent the night with Elton John, but he never knew it. I admired his attitude, wondered at his skill, applauded his performance, but he was unaware. After each song, the legend turned from the piano and acknowledged the cheers of the crowd. He pointed to first one and then another section of the arena; it was a motion that at once acknowledged the fans in attendance, yet made clear that he was in total charge of the evening. He never pointed to my section. Later I realized that, cloaked by darkness and distance, my section was hidden from his view.
He missed quite a sight. We were a lively group at the back of Mohegan Sun arena, on our feet and dancing. We had the fever last Friday night as we sang along to “Levon”, “Take Me to the Pilot”, and “Tiny Dancer”. It wasn’t until Elton introduced “Crocodile Rock” and announced that this was a song suitable for an audience sing-along that I realized our earlier efforts probably (thankfully) hadn’t reached his ears.
It was a three hour and ten minute show. No hesitation, no breaks, no mercy. Aside from brief pauses for song introductions and applause, the music rained continuously until the concert was half done. Then Elton stepped around the piano and walked to the opposite side of the stage. He commented that the songs from his new album “The Union” just didn’t feel right without his writing/singing partner, and he welcomed Mr. Leon Russell to the stage. I opened and closed my mouth, stifling an elated scream that ended as a gurgle in the back of my throat. I had hoped, but not expected, that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee would perform. He did not disappoint; his voice was full of character and proved a perfect complement to Elton’s smoother tone.
Most of the arena, however, had a more subdued response to Mr. Russell’s appearance. They didn’t know his name. They weren’t familiar with the new songs. The young woman next to me turned and said, “I don’t want to hear this stuff. I want to hear the old songs!” And then it struck me that even Elton John faces challenges. Introducing new music is difficult; most prefer to hear what they already know through repetition and rote.
Those older songs were delivered in a strong, clear voice that belied Mr. John’s 63 years. His vocals covered the songs’ middle and lower ranges; the high notes were handled by four female back-up singers who added depth and richness to the performance. One of those women, Rosie Stone, is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Sly and the Family Stone). The band was tight and the band members enthusiastic, none more so than drummer Nigel Olsson who has been with Mr. John since 1969.
At my first Elton John concert, I was most impressed by his skill at the piano. He played an extended solo during the performance of “Rocket Man”, and the video feed showed his hands on the big screens. His fingers were perfectly flexed, held perpendicular to the keys in a posture that would have made the most demanding teacher proud. Those fingers flew, and the sound was brilliant.
Elton told us that he was happy to perform for us, and he truly looked happy. He assured us that after four decades of performing, he still feels a rush when he comes on stage, and that it’s just getting better. The audience felt the same way about the evening’s entertainment- happy, and it couldn’t have been better. Three hours passed as one. Many were heard to say “We certainly got our money’s worth!”, and at ticket prices up to $250, that’s a pretty strong endorsement.
Photographs of Elton John and band are from an earlier performance, and kindly provided by Anna Kim. For more of Anna’s professional photography: http://www.annakimphotography.com/