Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Kitchener & Sudbury Review

Some 40 years after releasing his first album, British pop singer-songwriter-pianist Elton John finally made his debut at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex -- or The Aud, as it's known locally.

The occasion was one of only two Canadian stops on his 2008 Rocket Man Tour, the other unlikely one being Sudbury Arena on Sunday night.

Apparently, the 60-year-old John -- who last played the Toronto area in 2006 at the Air Canada Centre -- wanted to play in markets he never had before after already booking a private gig on Saturday night in Ontario.

"It's great to come to these places," said John to huge cheers. "Too many people don't come to these places -- people deserve entertainment."

The 6,000 odd tickets available in Kitchener sold out in under a half-hour and while the 50-year-plus-old venue has hosted the likes of The Who and Led Zeppelin in the past, John's visit is by far the biggest in recent years. (Hilary Duff and Michael Buble have also made stops.)

Last night, John -- decked out in a black sequined jacket with tails, an electric blue shirt, black pants with the same blue piping down the sides, blue tinted glasses, and a large diamond encrusted cross necklace -- kept things intimate, playing alone on a stripped-down stage, seated at a black Yamaha piano, although he frequently got up to take a bow, wave at the audience or take a sip of water between songs.

The strategy worked.

The show opener, Your Song, got the first of many standing ovations from the crowd.

"It's great to be here, that song was the breakthrough for me as an artist in 1970, it came from an album called Elton John," said the singer, who followed up with Sixty Years On, The Greatest Discovery, I Need You to Turn To, and Border Song, also from that classic disc.

The minimum flash -- slick lighting and images, synthesized strings and the occasional vocal reverb aside -- showed off just how good a piano player he really is and how strong his voice remains.

The keyboard flourish he displayed on Honky Cat, Philadelphia Freedom -- the first song to produce an actual clapalong (the second one was the later standout Bennie and the Jets) -- I Guess That's Why They Call it The Blues, Levon and Tonight were particular highlights as were his slowly-building vocals on Rocket Man.

After an incredibly strong opening dedicated to his breakthrough disc, he jumped around his 40-year-career, moving into Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes from 2001's Songs From the West Coast; Daniel from 1973's Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player; Honky Cat, Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters from 1972's Honky Chateau; Tiny Dancer from 1971's Madman Across the Water, and so on.

He even dedicated Sacrifice to his "extended family" in the crowd, that would be the Furnish clan related to his longtime partner and Canadian husband David Furnish, who he wed in a civil ceremony in England in December 2005, and later reminded the audience that Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word was written and recorded in Toronto in 1976.

And while there were hits aplenty during the two-hour-and-40-minute show, John also pulled out such live rarities as Nikita, Ticking, and Roy Rogers just to keep things really interesting.

The crowd finally rushed the stage for Bennie and the Jets, which John spiced up with a snippet of In the Mood, and remained there for Crocodile Rock, and the encore numbers I'm Still Standing and Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me.

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