Sunday, March 13, 2011

Leon Russell Joins Elton at Mohegan Sun

Nobody mentioned a special guest.

What started as an evening with Elton John and his band Friday at Mohegan Sun turned into a rare opportunity to see John share the stage with Leon Russell, the singer, songwriter and pianist. The two last year recorded an album together, "The Union," and John, 63, introduced Russell, 68, as one of his biggest influences.

Their eight-song interlude interrupted the steady flow of hits from John, which an unfortunate number of people in the packed arena took as an opportunity to wander around or top off their beers. In a way, though, the set within a set was the most interesting part of the show, which stretched to just shy of 3 hours.

Sure, the John-Russell collaboration is less familiar than, say, everything else on Elton's set list, from "Love Lies Bleeding" at the start of the show through favorites including "Levon," "Tiny Dancer," "Rocketman," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," "Bennie & the Jets," "Candle in the Wind" and "Crocodile Rock" — a dazzling roster of hits. But the obvious reverence that John showed for Russell, and the way he clearly cherished having Russell perform with him, transcended even a back catalog as deep as John's.

"One of the reasons I wanted to get hold of Leon again was to make people realize how brilliant his career has been," John said. Indeed, Russell, who played with everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Frank Sinatra to George Harrison to the Byrds, gets inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Monday.

Playing on facing pianos, the pair traded verses and piano fills on the smoky roadhouse number "If It Wasn't for Bad" and the up-tempo boogie "Monkey Suit." Russell, white hair cascading over his shoulders from beneath a white cowboy hat, took the lead in a craggy voice on the ballad "Gone to Shiloh," and he anchored the gospel shouter "Dream Come True."

With that, Russell departed and John resumed the hit parade, performing every song with an abundance of energy and looking as if he had never enjoyed himself more. He got up from the piano to play air drums during the breaks on "Take Me to the Pilot" and frequently pointed at people in the crowd between songs.

He performed mostly with a band including longtime drummer Nigel Olsson and guitarist Davey Johnstone and a quartet of backup singers, though he took a solo-piano turn on "Candle in the Wind."

John ended the main set with "Crocodile Rock," egging the crowd into singing along, before returning to play "Your Song" for the encore.


Elton and band
Funeral for a Friend
Love Lies Bleeding
Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)
Madman Across the Water
Tiny Dancer
Philadelphia Freedom
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Rocket Man
I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues

Elton and band with Leon
If It Wasn’t For Bad
Hey Ahab
Best Part of the Day
Gone To Shiloh
When Love Is Dying
Monkey Suit
Never Too Old
Dream Come True

Elton and band
Sad Songs Say So Much
Intro/Take Me To The Pilot
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
Candle in the Wind
Burn Down the Mission
Bennie and the Jets
Bitch is Back
Crocodile Rock
Your Song

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