Elton John's All the Hits Tour
American Airlines Arena, Miami
Friday, March 6, 2015
Better Than: This is Elton John -- you decide!
It's no secret that South Florida has always held a certain lure for senior citizens. The warm weather, abundance of recreational activities, and popularity of early-bird specials make our environs a natural refuge for those who find winter to be an unnecessary nuisance.
Likewise, it's no wonder that many age-old rock stars opt to take their tours to SoFla during the nastiest, snowiest time of the year. The last couple of months alone have seen visits from Bob Seger and Billy Joel, with Fleetwood Mac and the Who on the near horizon. It's the equivalent of the snowbirds making their annual seasonal pilgrimage, the sun-tan oil and games of mahjong notwithstanding.
Elton John is the latest venerable entertainer to make the journey to South Florida.
Over the weekend, he brought his All the Hits tour to the American Airlines Arena in downtown Miami. He performed with his compact, tight-knit band: 44-year veteran Davey Johnstone (guitar, mandolin, backing vocals), original EJ band member Nigel Olsson (drums, backing vocals), Matt Bissonette (bass, backing vocals), Kim Bullard (keyboards, backing vocals) and John Mahon (percussion, vocals).
Sir Elton clearly enjoyed himself, grinning at the crowd and standing up after every -- yes, every -- song to coax more applause from the fans, who, in turn, gave a standing ovation after every -- yes, every -- number he performed.
The band seemed just as enthused as Elton, particularly Johnstone and Bissonette, who mugged among themselves, adjusting one another's ties and even fingering the strings on the one another's instruments.
But the most remarkable stagecraft of the night was how such a small combo could recreate the often elaborate sounds from the original recorded arrangements of timeless Elton John songs, delivering perfect renditions of those full-blown radio anthems -- epic tunes like "Funeral for a Friend," "Candle in the Wind," and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" -- that have become so familiar to his fans over the past 45 years or so.
On this particular tour, Elton and company lean more towards archival offerings, putting heavy emphasis on deeper tracks, especially from the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Madman Across the Water albums.
That yields lots of hits, of course, but it's even more refreshing to hear songs like "Levon," "Daniel," "Tiny Dancer," "Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters," and "Holiday Inn," which transported the crowd back in time to when those seminal songs were still fresh and less heard.
Thankfully then, the show was more than merely a rote replay of greatest hits. Not that there's wasn't an ample stock of those as well, given that "Rocket Man," "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" and "Philadelphia Freedom" all figured prominently in the set.
Most striking about All the Hits was that nearly nothing newer than a decade old was represented. The only exception being "Hey Ahab" from 2010's Union album, Elton's much-heralded collaboration with Leon Russell. Yet even that set of songs doesn't figure to be so new anymore.
"Hey Ahab" did provide EJ the opportunity for some stage chatter. He described his initial meeting with Russell when he and his band first came to the States in 1970. Russell became his mentor, he explained, and so the opportunity to record together was an inspiring occasion, one that drew a surprising amount of modesty and humility from a man generally considering one of the world's greatest superstars.
Similarly, John's narrative about the origins of "Your Song," one of his earliest efforts with longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin, offered insight ("We were so poor we were both living with my parents in North London," EJ revealed) and given the fact that it became their first bona fide classic, the backstory was all the more touching.
On the whole, however, Elton didn't do a lot of schmoozing with the fans, other than to bask in applause, slap a few hands, and sign some autographs just prior to the encore. In one of the few personal asides, he did remark that he was a satisfied man who enjoyed performing now more than ever, because of a wonderful partner, two beautiful children, and the fact that "I feel comfortable in my own skin," an apparent allusion to the world's greater acceptance of gay artists. It was a touching remark and one to which many in the crowd could relate.
Still, for a two and a half hour show so wholly devoted to his back catalog, it might have been nice to hear more anecdotes from Elton about his own back pages. A couple of the many animated backdrops did provide some historical context, one with cartoonish figures representing some of the highlights of Elton's storied life, and another which showed him in some of many costumed personas. Yet, aside from a bright blue jacket with colorful peacock-like sparkles and a red untucked shirt that matched his red tinted sunglasses, there was no sign of the flamboyant Elton of old. No kick jumps from the piano bench, no actual acrobatics. He merely shuffled around the stage to take his countless bows, propping himself upon the piano at one point, and then sitting back down to go about his business.
Nevertheless, that was fine. His piano playing was especially impressive, and on many of the songs, he added elaborate flourishes that proved his considerable prowess. It's nice to see that these days the polish overshadows the posing, and that 48 years on, this Rocket Man soars just as high as ever.
Personal Bias: I loved hearing those old songs, especially the tracks from the early albums. Memories...
By the Way: The ginormous chandelier that hung over the stage with its ever-changing lights and spaceship-like aura was a wonder to watch in itself.
Elton John's Setlist:
-"Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding"
-"Bennie and the Jets"
-"Candle in the Wind"
-"All the Girls Love Alice"
-"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"
-"Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long, Long Time)"
-"I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues"
-"Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters"
-"Burn Down the Mission"
-"Sad Songs (Say So Much)"
-"Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word"
-"Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"
-"The Bitch Is Back"
-"I'm Still Standing"
-"Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'n' Roll)"
-"Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting"
-"Circle of Life/Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" Medley
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