Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Royal Albert Hall Review - What a Set!
Sir Elton John is often in the news. He joined the chorus of pop stars calling for a crackdown on internet file-sharing this week; before that it was his failed bid to adopt a Ukrainian orphan.
This month and next he tours Europe, including arena dates in Britain and Ireland. Last night he demonstrated his philanthropic side with a special concert to raise funds for the purchase of a new organ by the Royal Academy of Music. Not just any old organ, but a 14-tonne, Swiss-engineered monster that will cost £1.2million to install, a sizeable chunk of which will be met from the proceeds of this long, commanding and expensive performance.
Tickets in the stalls, which were £175 at face value, were changing hands outside the venue for £400. And even though there was no band to accompany him, Sir Elton was determined to provide value for money. Resplendent in a penguin suit with pink lettering down the lapels, he sat down at a black grand piano and embarked on a marathon set that incorporated songs from every nook and cranny of his repertoire.
Beginning with the title track of his 1992 album The One, he hammered the keys of the piano with the precision and authority of a classical player, while singing in his distinctively frayed tenor. At the end of the song he stood and received the first of countless standing ovations. And that was just one number. Gathering momentum, he swept through versions of Sixty Years On, The Greatest Discovery and Border from the Elton John album of 1970 and even Skyline Pigeon from his long-neglected first album, Empty Sky. He prefaced Blues Never Fade Away with a moving eulogy to his keyboard player Guy Babylon, who died this month of a heart attack at the age of 52. And he performed Your Song with a tremendous vigour.
This was Elton John not only unplugged but miraculously unvarnished, although during numbers such as The Emperor’s New Clothes and a rambling version of Rocket Man, the piano was augmented by the sound of strings for which no provenance was visible.
The percussionist Ray Cooper arrived during Funeral for a Friend and weighed into a set of six drums, hurling his mallets across the stage when he had completed his part. He then accompanied Sir Elton on a vast array of instruments: tubular bells, conga drums, timbales, wind chimes, a huge gong, and assorted cymbals, shakers and tambourines. Precise yet flamboyant, Cooper’s contributions proved the perfect foil for the rolling piano parts of numbers including Take Me to the Pilot, Daniel and Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.
After an encore of Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting Sir Elton signed a few autographs and left the stage having performed for just under three hours without written lyrics, sheet music or any other prompts. It was a hardcore and highly impressive display of the piano man’s craft.
- Times Online