Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Singapore Review

Singapore: "We're gonna rock tonight!" said Elton John when he played to a packed Singapore Indoor Stadium crowd that braved a heavy downpour to fill the stands, left, right, centre and even behind the stage.

He opened the night by pounding out "Saturday Night's Alright", and never mind that it was Sunday night!

The Piano Player then launched into "I'm Still Standing" belting it out almost like a statement he wanted to make, as he wagged his finger towards his audience who, based on looks and an unscientific age-meter, had clearly been following Elton John since the 1970s and needed no reminding.

Clearly fond of Singapore, he declared "it's good to be back" shortly after delivering his first few numbers.

Most of the 10,000-strong crowd probably felt that it was also good to have the Rocket Man back on the Singapore stage.

The first time he played in Singapore he was yet to become Sir Elton Hercules John, a knighthood he received in 1998. And when the world staggered over the 2008 financial crisis, fans of Elton John could take refuge in his music again at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

In the 2011 Greatest Hits Tour, it was not a solo presentation as before but Elton John and Band on stage.

To describe the non-stop, three hour concert as entertaining would be a mild understatement.

The jam-packed night saw Elton John delivering hit after hit from "Sacrifice" and "Sad Songs" from the 1980s, to the 1972-1976 chart-toppers such as "Honky Cat", "Daniel", "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", "Bennie and The Jets", "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" and "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word".

The opening act for the 20 November concert was 2Cellos, a duo who have made many see the mellow-toned string instrument in a totally new light.

"Who are they?" I was asked as the crowd dribbled in even at 8pm, the time stated on the ticket for the concert presented by Marina Bay Sands.

Only a smile and a cryptic "you'll find out" was the response, as some who filled the seats began asking the smartly-dressed Marina Bay Sands ushers to "tell him to come out, it's now 8.15pm … we can't wait !"

Those impatient for Elton John were soon soothed by the deep sounds of the cello at the hands of Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser who blasted their way into the Michael Jackson hit "Smooth Criminal".

The momentary surprise was followed by rapturous applause for the YouTube discoveries who soon changed the mood with a haunting rendition of U2's "With or Without You".

The pair who are as good-looking as they are talented, then launched into "Welcome to the Jungle" (Guns N' Roses) and "Smells like Teen Spirit" (Nirvana), complete with screaming guitars created through their deft finger and bow work on the cello.

While the 20-something pair may have reduced the average age of the group as Sir Elton quipped when introducing his team, there's little doubt as to why the Croatians were invited to join the world tour that has covered Canada, the US and Europe before landing in Singapore.

2Cellos who remained on stage for most of the concert, added depth to the instrumentation that had a discernable difference from earlier Singapore concerts thanks to the music veterans in Elton John's Band, including drummer Nigel Olsson, the first member of the Band.

The presence of the other long-time band member, guitarist Davey Johnstone was hard to miss too, as he switched between guitars and also the mandolin, while joining Elton John in turning the concert into a mega jam-session. This was especially spectacular when revisiting hits from "Madman Across the Water", the 1971 album where the pair first collaborated, and the 1972 standard "Rocket Man".

Staging was minimal with art work from earlier albums and 70s graphics flashing across an electronic backdrop. And why not, since it wasn't stage wizardry but the musical talent of four decades on stage that everyone had turned up to appreciate.

During the concert Elton John didn't just sit and play at the piano.

He also clambered to stand on top of the piano at one point, kicked his feet in the air and once, even offered a back-kick with both legs while playing the keyboard. The 64-year-old definitely put to shame some of his fans who would barely muster a wiggle in their seats during the concert.

While the Indoor Stadium was brought on a not unpleasant musical roller-coaster ride from the high rousing "Philadelphia Freedom" to the low hush of "Candle in the Wind", the concert also offered a certain sense of intimacy.

Throughout the night, Elton John would acknowledge the audience at each corner, and at one point called out to friends in the audience like stage and screen actor Kevin Spacey who gamely waved to the crowds as those sitting around him gaped in surprise.

While seeming to pick at dust on his shiny Yamaha piano, Captain Fantastic also took the effort to introduce songs like "Holiday Inn" written while touring the US where as he recalled "all the rooms appeared the same", and also share his thoughts on latest work with Leon Russell before rolling out three songs from the album.

"Hey Ahab" from 2010 album "The Union" had the teenager next to me cheering and rocking, an amazing reminder of the musical reach and longevity that is Elton John.

And after the dancing in the aisles to "The Bitch is Back", the teenager asked about the other song that had many at the Indoor Stadium lah-lah-lah-lah-lah-lah-ing and dancing away.

"Crocodile Rock" suddenly seemed oddly poignant, offering a reminder that I had heard the infectious hit when at almost the same age as the teen asking about it.

The concert closed with two encores including "Your Song" which Elton John dedicated to his audience and probably left quite a few misty-eyed, and "Lion King" hits "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" and "The Circle of Life".

All rather apt, at least in my concert experience, having shared the night's musical journey with my teen who left the concert a fan of "Crocodile Rock" - speaking volumes of the enduring musical genius of Elton John.

- Channel News Asia

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