Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review of Elton & Leon in NYC

Perfect Union: Veteran singer/songwriter/pianists Elton John and Leon Russell celebrate the release of their critically acclaimed new duets album, The Union, with a joint concert Tuesday night before a sold-out audience at New York's Beacon Theatre.

Behind the music: John and his longtime hero Russell, who met 40 years ago, reunited in 2009, after an emotional rediscovery of Russell's music prompted John to call him. For Union, they also enlisted John's longtime collaborator, lyricist Bernie Taupin, and uber-producer T Bone Burnett.

The crowd: For veteran fan Richard Georgeou, 66, of Hudson, N.H., it's the 82nd time he's seen John in concert. "In Boston in 1970, they announced him as Elton James." Pal Claude Bernardin, 53, co-author of the encyclopedia Rocket Man: Elton John From A-Z, loves the new album. "I will probably cry tonight."

MORE: John, Russell form an artistic 'Union'
The start: John, elegant in a long black coat, describes the night as the "culmination of a remarkable journey ... (Leon) was my idol, he was my mentor, he was everything I wanted to be as a singer/songwriter and piano player."

A grand greeting: Collaborator Russell enters to a standing ovation, goes to the piano and sings Tight Rope, Prince of Peace and A Song for You (his modern standard that's been covered by Ray Charles and Donny Hathaway), the early highlight. He switches on the boogie for Delta Lady and Stranger in a Strange Land. Pronounces John: "They love you, Leon."

Piano men: The two sit at facing pianos to play The Union more-or-less straight through, starting with If It Wasn't for Bad, featuring muscular piano and horns. They segue from Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes (a classic John-Taupin soaring ballad) into the fervid boogie stomp of Hey Ahab.

Elton's pick: John introduces the richly plaintive Gone to Shiloh as one of his favorites, a song about the Civil War. Neil Young appears on the album version, but "you're going to have to put up with me." Twangy Jimmie Rodgers' Dream is followed by the darkly soulful There's No Tomorrow.

Can you feel the love tonight: While John offers a few quips between tunes, both remain seated and express themselves through dynamic, passionate performances.

Old souls: "This is a song that might apply to Leon and myself," John jokes, introducing the stately, spirited Never Too Old (To Hold Somebody). Russell performs the gospel-flavored song that concludes the album, his In the Hands of Angels.

John's solo turn: It's just Elton and the band, singing and playing a glorious Burn Down the Mission (the crowd goes wild), Levon and Tiny Dancer— just three of John's classics on which Russell's soulful influence is clearer. It's like he's paying homage to his idol through the music.

Happy anniversary: Noting that it's the 40th anniversary of his arrival in America, John launches into a string of songs from his eponymous 1970 album, starting with Your Song and Take Me to the Pilot.

The tribute plays on: John revisits post-'70s hits I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues and Sad Songs (Say So Much), both with a little extra kick for the occasion, bringing the crowd to its feet.

New to you: Thanking the crowd for its "time and patience" in listening to 14 new songs, John performs an exuberant The Bitch Is Back. "We haven't rehearsed an encore," he says as Russell returns to the stage, "so we're going to have to play something we played before," Hey Ahab.

Next stops: The pair's upcoming U.S. dates include Los Angeles (Nov. 3), Phoenix (Nov. 6) and Tulsa (Nov. 12).

- USA Today

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