Monday, November 12, 2007

UCF Orlando Review


After all these years, the youthful flamboyance that Elton John once displayed on stage has mellowed into a more workmanlike approach.

Aside from introducing the band, he didn’t even do much talking between songs in a lengthy, utterly wonderful performance on Saturday at the new UCF Arena. Fortunately, that approach left more time for the singer’s formidable catalog of hits, which he delivered with the flair and enthusiasm that one might expect of a rock icon.

Taking the stage to the familiar stately chords of "Funeral for a Friend," the singer quickly sat at his piano and started pounding away. Two hours and 45 minutes later, he was still going strong.

At 60, he still looks and sounds terrific. Yet the most amazing aspect of watching him work is being reminded of the staggering number of timeless songs he has done. Hits tumble out one after another, as if an endless stream.

Accompanied by a 5-piece backing band that featured guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson, John approached his material with a mix of reverence and playful reinvention.

"Tiny Dancer" and "Levon," a pair of songs from Madman Across the Water, started as faithful reproductions and then shifted in slightly new directions. The former was injected with a heavier rhythm section in the chorus, while the latter finished with a double-time finale that bordered on gospel.

Both songs also were augmented by the tasteful, understated stage design. Half a dozen rows of brightly colored tubes were suspended high above the musicians and a pair of rectangular horizontal screens behind the band displayed tiny aqua lights that looked like stars. Giant video screens were suspended on each side of the stage that offered close-ups that even revealed the tiny "EJ" monogram on the singer’s shades.

Musically, John definitely likes the big finish, adorning songs such as "Burn Down the Mission" and "Rocket Man" with flashy finales. All the added flourishes turned "Rocket Man" into an epic, a rare moment when the band’s playing bordered on self-indulgence.

With so many high points, however, a rock star can be forgiven. On Saturday, the list of triumphs was long: spot-on versions of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," "Daniel," "Bennie and the Jets" and "Candle in the Wind," among them.

As John reminded the crowd near the end of the show, he has been doing these songs for a long time. Still, as he dedicated the closing "Your Song" to the audience, it was obvious that he still knows how to make the old hits sound new.

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