Monday, July 13, 2009

Sir Elton at The Starkey Hearing Foundation Awards

Elton John has long been known for his flamboyance and outrageousness. However, when he said Sunday night in St. Paul that "I'd be here every year for these guys," he wasn't being overly dramatic. He sincerely meant it. The piano man with the rose-colored glasses cares that deeply about the Eden Prairie-based Starkey Hearing Foundation.

For the second time in six years, Sir Elton headlined Starkey's "So the World May Hear Gala" at St. Paul's RiverCentre. After effusively saluting Starkey founder and CEO Bill Austin and foundation co-founder Tani Austin as "the most generous people in my life -- ever," Elton played 50 minutes of intimate, heartfelt and uplifting favorites.

This may be the best way to hear Elton John -- in a ballroom with just his Yamaha grand piano (aided unnecessarily by synthesized strings). He was clearly moved by the occasion and delivered unforgettable renditions of "That's Why They Call It the Blues," all syncopated and funky, and "Philadelphia Freedom," all sassy with plenty of black keys. Has he been to New Orleans lately or what?

"Rocket Man" had all kinds of special echo effects (was that because astronaut Buzz Aldrin was in the audience?), and "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" was soulful and liberating as he ended it with a big smile and an arched eyebrow. Elton poured his heart into "Your Song," the adventurous "Daniel," the emphatic "Tiny Dancer" and the suitable closer, "Circle of Life," before returning to his seat in the audience.

The only thing that might have been more fitting for a finale would have been to have Gladys Knight, who'd performed earlier in the program, join Elton for their 1982 collaboration, "That's What Friends Are For." But this gala wasn't about all-star anthems; it was about raising money for Starkey missions to bring hearing aids to children around the world.

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