Sunday, September 14, 2008

Calgary Review

CALGARY - Normally at the Saddledome, shows pretty much run like clockwork, rarely starting as far behind as 15 minutes late.

And given the chaos rock and roll is reputed for, 15 minutes is nothing except on a night like last night.

With the rain driving 17,500 Elton John fans into cabs and cars, the journey to the show meant one long, slow-moving lineup from well up Macleod Tr., all the way to their seats.

By 8:05 p.m., you could see panic in some longtime fans' eyes and you could hardly blame them.

With more than 200-million records sold, more than 50 Top-40 hits under his belt, seven consecutive U.S. No.-1 albums, five Grammy awards and an Oscar to boot, there is a lot to be anticipated when you're attending an Elton John concert.

Fortunately, most of the sold-out stadium had made its way into the show, and those already in on time didn't have to wait to long when the lights dimmed at 8:15 p.m.

Quiet bits of synthesizer permeated the air and low, rolling cymbal percussion lent some atmospherics to the darkened room.

The lights came up, the crowd leapt to its feet and there, bowing to the crowd, was Sir Elton John, better known to his mom as Reginald Kenneth Dwight.

His trademark elaborate sunglasses have been scaled back to blue-tinted Beatle-esque shades and he wore blue-embroidered tails that, alas, made the portly 61-year old look like he was auditioning for a role as the Penguin across from Christian Bale in the next Batman movie.

But, hey -- he didn't show up to shoot an episode of What Not to Wear, he came to play the hits.

And that's just what he did, for a long show, no opening act to get in the way.

He sat down behind his shiny, black Yamaha grand piano and, taking his time to work the crowd up, meandered into the piano-heavy Funeral for a Friend which eventually segued into Love Lies Bleeding.

Altogether, it was a gigantic opus, the crowd cheering at its end.

Elton stood up on his piano bench, one foot on the keyboard and invited more applause.

Not exactly like his 1970 American debut at The Troubadour in L.A., where he did handstands on the piano and truly began his reign as one of rock s most enduring performers, but it looked cool nonetheless.

Within seconds, the opening guitar chords of The Bitch is Back, off his 1974 Caribou album, echoed through the 'Dome, building to the first, one of many, ripping piano solos from Elton that night.

Next up was a trio of songs from his 1971 Madman Across the Water album, the title track, Tiny Dancer and then Levon.

Carefully paced and emotive, these songs were obviously chosen for a slow burner of concert, one where Elton parsed out the bigger hits carefully.

But they did come and the show just got better.

Within an hour, songs such as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Rocket Man, Crocodile Rock and Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting) had come down the pike and the audience already seemed well satisfied, some even playing air-piano.

If there was a snag, it was in the singing. Most critics agree Elton did get a fine singing voice back after his throat surgery in 1986, but last night, good as he was, he didn't have the range he demonstrated in the studio during the oh-so-many hits he has recorded. Those hits that are still circulating the airwaves in heavy rotation, otherwise this comparison would be hard to pin down. But the foundation of a great concert is and will always be great songs.

And there are few artists who have as many as Elton John, meaning there are few who could lay down a performance like last night's.

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