MSN Music Blog - Reverb

Elton John hits the road with the hits

He showcases tracks from 'The Diving Board' in splashy career retrospective tour

By MSN Music Partners Nov 11, 2013 2:49PM

By James Sullivan
Rolling Stone


For a minute there, Elton John was worried. "I'm freaking out up here," he said midway through his tour-opening set on Friday in Bridgeport, Connecticut. "I'm losing my voice." 


But you wouldn't know it by the show he put on, or the number of bows he took in his amazing golden-spangled dreamcoat. As he sat down for a two-song encore after signing records and T-shirts for some front-row fans, he mentioned again that he'd thought he was losing his voice. The crowd, he said, brought it back for him.


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The truth was, the piano pounder's expert band propped up that voice for him, with percussionist John Mahon hitting the falsetto notes, longtime sidemen Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnstone lustily belting those famous backup lines ("don't let the su-u-un . . . ") and a wrecking crew of backup singers, including Tata Vega and Rose Stone (Sly's sister), doing their best to bring church service to the arena.


Noting that he opened the venue with a show nine years ago, Sir Elton brought a state-of-the-art stage design, with a mesmerizing high-tech chandelier twinkling overhead. A digital display embedded in the semicircular, cantilevered back half of the stage changed from an image of a gently waving American flag during "Philadelphia Freedom" to somber rows of crosses on the new ode to fallen soldiers, "Oceans Away."


John's new album, "The Diving Board," a collection of piano ballads and would-be pop songs too stripped down to be hits, is his second in a row (following his collaboration with Leon Russell) to consciously avoid flourishes aimed at radio. (Roots champion T Bone Burnett produced both albums.) "It's the most adult record I can make at my age," John said earlier this year.


But in a concert aimed straight for the heart of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's majority of fans -- he played 28 songs, half of which hit the Top 40 -- the handful of new songs he slipped in held up well.  "Voyeur," in particular, built to the full, lush orchestral sound the singer has made his trademark.


If he's content at this point to make intimate records that please himself, Elton John knows better than most which side his bread is buttered on. "It's an amazing life I lead," he said before introducing his band. "I love it so much, the connection between both of us." In that relationship, the "other" is his collective audience, and he loves to love them, and to be loved.


Also from Rolling Stone: Elton John: My Life in 20 Songs


The show began with the complete first side of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," from the epic "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" to "Candle in the Wind" and "Bennie and the Jets," with the latter drawing a huge roar after one chord. On the next song, "Grey Seal," from the same album, the singer playfully stuck out his tongue as Johnstone hit a hard lick on his Les Paul.


Two enthusiastic electric cellists, Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, helped bring "Levon" to a serious gallop. The bandleader plucked the players from Croatia, he explained later: "They're both very cute, I think."


Deep cuts and notable wild cards included "Holiday Inn," from the album "Madman Across the Water," written on John's first tour of the U.S., and "Hey Ahab," from the Leon Russell album. But it was the biggest hits, of course, that drew the biggest grins. During a late-set run through "I'm Still Standing," "The Bitch Is Back" and "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," John took a moment from the keys to climb on top of his piano and show off his gold shoes.


The tour crosses the country before returning to the east coast for two dates at Madison Square Garden on December 3rd and 4th. "This is a song about New York City," Elton said, introducing "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters." Released all the way back in 1972, the song celebrates life's freaks and also-rans: "I thank the lawd there's people out there like you," he sang. His audience doesn't include many of them anymore, but as long as the seats are full, he's a happy man.

More from Rolling Stone:
See What Number Elton John is on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Artists List
See Where ‘Your Song’ Ranks on Rolling Stone’s List of Greatest Songs
See Where Elton John Ranks on Rolling Stone’s List of Greatest Singers
Rolling Stone Readers Choose the 10 Best Elton John Albums of All Time

Nov 16, 2013 10:41AM
too bad he pissed away all that money and has to go back to work.
Nov 16, 2013 9:56AM
I saw him in 1978.  What a great show he put on.  Some musicians come and go and he's been able to stay on top for a reason.  Even with a voice that might be fading a little, I'm sure the show will be as wonderful as ever.  A true showman.
Nov 16, 2013 9:22AM
Elton John has been performing live since the late 1960s, and never disappoints.  A greatest hits tour should have something on the bill to please everyone because he's a consummate showman.  Yet, I'm going to miss those wild costumes and glasses from his 1970s era shows.  Ahhhh, the Rocket Man rocks on and on and on!!!
Nov 16, 2013 9:01AM
Ya know, saw him Thurs at Verizon in DC, was 7th time seeing him in concert & was not disappointed.  This man is pure musical genius.  He will forever be my favorite artist.
Nov 12, 2013 1:42PM

I saw him in Providence on Saturday and he was great - his voice was in very good form, the band was tight and he played a very ample set and covered 90% of hi**** (as opposed to just pushing the new album and recent stuff).  His soundmen let him down a bit on one or two songs - feedback - but that did not significantly detract from the set.


I was never a huge Elton John fan, but I live half a mile from Dunkin Donuts Arena so I took the opportunity to see a legend, and I left feeling glad I went and with new respect for this iconic artist.

Nov 12, 2013 12:53PM

Give me a break, isn't it time to pack it in his voice sucks big time at this age.

Nov 12, 2013 12:36PM
A great guy and a great musician. El Rushbo's a fan, you know.
Nov 12, 2013 12:24PM
I had tickets to a show in 1975 at the old Schaefer Stadium which is now Gillette Stadium home of the N.E. Patriots. I sold them and I always regretted it missing that concert it was in his heyday. But I finally saw him and it was great I am a big fan of Sir Elton John!!!!
Nov 12, 2013 12:19PM
I saw him on this past Saturday night at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island. He played for almost 3 hrs. straight and put on an AWESOME performance. I videotaped the entire concert and it came out great! He was very happy to perform here and he loves his fans and plays a very long time for his fans. He is just an amazing musician and wonderful human being with a BIG HEART! His band is made up of well known musicians and they sounded great! It was a great concert I would go again and again ELTON!!! I have the video WOO HOO!!!!!!
Nov 12, 2013 11:33AM
Boston tonight!!!! 4th time seeing Sir Elton= the best!!!
Nov 12, 2013 11:08AM
Love Elton but his voice is kinda losing it. 
Nov 12, 2013 10:57AM
It looks like he's about to give that microphone a vicious snarlin'.  Old Elton,.. always on the 'job'.

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