Let me be clear right up front: I’m not a big Elton John fan.
That doesn’t mean that I won’t go see the man play live on his farewell tour. And after sitting through a lengthy show (which is a good thing), I concluded that I like two of his ballads, Tiny Dancer and Your Song, but I really don’t care for the rest of the slow stuff. But I do like most of the more rocking tracks. Thus, I can have a good time at the show.
I was in Florida anyway and simply dropped by Tampa to see the show. It’s what I do. As is typical with “big” acts, this show was in a hockey arena that holds about 20,000 people. It’s a new facility and pretty nice as far as hockey arenas go. The size, alas, means that “good” seats are quite a distance from the stage, and the immediate intimacy of being in a small club is kaput. However, there are seats - in fact nice cushioned seats with cup holders - and there is food and beverage galore. Given that I wasn’t planning on being up and grooving to the tunes, seats were nice.
And I have to say that this was an aging crowd of boomers and it was Florida – got the picture? – so seats were very welcome to this demographic. I don’t think that Tampa has much of a club scene, and this is the type of show that rolls into town with some frequency. That would drive me crazy since so many of the bands that I really like could never fill an arena, which means that this part of the country is pretty barren musically. It has other attributes, like fabulous weather, water everywhere you look and a boomtown culture that is infectious. But give me Philly’s rock scene any day of the week.
Elton has been at this a long time. He and Bernie Taupin have written a large songbook that is famous worldwide. Elton had the outrageous stagemanship to project himself into rock stardom with all that goes with it: the huge ride up, the grotesquely excessive and terrible lifestyle, the big drug-fueled fall, the redemption through love and sobriety, and the triumphant return to sellout crowds and critical acclaim. You’ve seen all this time and again on Behind the Music.
Still, EJ is unique. He’s not a guitar hero but rather sits behind a huge piano – his days of running all over the stage and being a physical performer are over (see more on this below). He has a good voice that hasn’t lost it’s range through the all the years and abuse. He reveled in the glam side of rock, and was known for his outrageous costumes and stage props. And the man is gay, and so he has suffered from the abuse that gay people have to endure daily.
There was no opening act. Since Elton plays almost for 3 hours, that’s cool by me. The stage is massive, backed with a huge video board that was used throughout the show. Sometimes there were videos, other times just close up shots of Elton (not many of the band – the boy doesn’t like to share the limelight too much, but they did use the dry-ice-smoke-around-the-knees-effect which I haven’t seen in decades). What’s that you say? How were the videos? Well, uh, weird mostly. Sometimes so weird that they were distracting from the song that was being played. In fairness, even the really odd ones were at least interesting. It gets a little boring to watch a little dude sit in front of a piano from a distance of 100 yards, so the video distraction was welcome.
Elton started out the show with one of my favorites, Bennie and the Jets. As soon as you hear that beginning piano refrain, you know the tune, and everyone immediately got into the show. Nothing like a well-known upbeat track to get a concert off on the right foot. And this is one of those concerts that has so many familiar songs that the lyrics are on everyone’s lips all night long.
I don’t quite know how to describe Elton and capture him aptly. He’s little, a bit pudgy with sausage fingers, but still looks pretty good for a guy in his seventh decade. Unfortunately, it appears that his mobility is limited these days. That big piano he was sitting behind was actually the world’s largest Wal-Mart scooter – it moved across the stage when it was time for EJ to depart, and it allowed him to minimize his steps. It’s sort of sad that he didn’t have the physical mobility to walk across the stage and down the steps, but that’s the reality of it. To end the show, he got on a little lift with railings he could hold onto, and it moved back through a “door” in the rear of the stage – poof! Elton is gone – but it was yet another reality check.
Elton wore some over-the-top sequined jackets and something that looked like, well, pajamas. And he would stand up after some songs and exhort the crowd to roar, which they obligingly did. At times, he would slam the key cover of his piano and shout at the crowd, sort of like Maximus screaming “are you not entertained” in Gladiator. It was surprising the first time he did it, then it was funny thereafter. Yeah, you bang those keys there, Elton! We’ll applaud for you!!
Like I said, he played lots of ballads, and I liked two of them. I was never a big Goodbye Yellow Brick Road fan, but he played it and it made me think of when I was 12 years old. Shudder. He also played I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues, Someone Save My Life Tonight, Candle In The Wind, Daniel, Sad Songs, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me. The crowd seemed to like this stuff. I didn’t. Occasionally he would kick it up a notch, but he really got going for the last ½ hour of the show, playing Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighten’, Crocodile Rock (a bit sappy, that one), The Bitch Is Back and Rocketman.
There wasn’t a lot of talking by Elton, but what there was was good. He told how he composed songs, which still seemed like a mystery to him. Taupin would give him a lyric sheet, and Elton would then go and sit in front of his piano. A tune would just pop into his head while he perused the lyrics, and voila, a song was born. How cool is that? I’m sure he’s not the only one with that innate talent, but he sure did good with what he was given.
The other memorable sidebar was a discussion about the AIDS epidemic that swept savagely through the country in the 80s. Remember that huge quilt that covered the grounds of the Washington monument? I sure do. Anyway, he lamented the loss of life, but celebrated the fact that HIV positive people can now live lengthy lives. In other words, AIDS, at least in the western world, is no longer a death sentence but a manageable illness. Elton has done a lot to combat the disease in the developing world, and hey, I think that’s pretty darn badass. You go, man!
Did we get our money’s worth? Yeah, but that would have been easy because those tickets were comped. Isn’t it cool being a rock blogger? Regardless of the price, the dude puts on a good show, plays what the crowd wants to hear, and has a tight backup band that brings it. What more can you ask for? Don’t answer that, but you get the drift. As they say on TV, a good time was had by all.
So what’s next? Another show? Oh yes, indeed, and one that brought a huge and wonderful surprise. I’ll be back with that very soon. I also need to do a book review – how diversified is this site, my god! It’s a rock book, of course, about the Replacements. I was a pretty big fan back in the day, but I have to tell you that this book didn’t make me like them more. In fact, the opposite. I’ll be sure to give you the details on that soon.
I hope you’re in good spirits, getting ready to enjoy the world’s greatest holiday (Thanksgiving) and then gearing up for the craziness that travels under the name “December.” I’ve already got tickets to see Marah’s annual Christmas show at Underground Arts that is rapidly eclipsing The Nutcracker as the most important holiday arts tradition. And can you say Low Cut Connie? I thought you could. Tantalizing, ain’t it? See you soon, hotcakes.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.