Thursday, December 15, 2011

Perth Reviews

GNARLED, weathered and occasionally shambolic rockers like Keith Richards and Bob Dylan get all the credit for being rock 'n' rolls greatest survivors, but Elton John proved last night that elder statesmen can also be slick, polished and tack-sharp.

The 64-year-old showman has recently come off a month-long string of shows as part of his residency at Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace and he’d clearly bought a ‘give ‘em what they came to hear’, juke-box like greatest hits show with him to Burswood.

A rousing opening rendition of Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting blasted away any back to work blues the Sunday night crowd might be experiencing before Elton launched into a triumphant I’m Still Standing.

Although released in 1983, the track is still a perfectly apt way to kick off a Rocket Man show. As the 64-year-old lent to the side of the piano for the first of many signature tooth-baring, mouth agape, poses you were reminded of what a miracle it is that the performer is even still with us.

The pose brings back memories of Elton at the height of his ‘70s stadium-rocking excess - when an appetite for contraband and neck injury-threatening visual aids could have derailed his career at any moment.

Yet as last night’s set list demonstrated, his extraordinary resilience has allowed for four decades of hits.

Tiny Dancer and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road reminded you what a technically-brilliant straight-up piano balladeer he is while the technicolour excess of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, The Bitch Is Back and Crocodile Rock channelled a stacked-heeled, sequin-clad king of pomp.

His love of classic American boogie woogie and blues was also on show, with Honky Cat and Hey Ahab (from last year’s collaboration with Leon Russel) allowing the surprisingly stubby-fingered pianist to indulge his inner New Orleans piano man.

While the throat problems that Elton reportedly suffered from earlier in this tour looked like they might come into play when he strained to hit notes during second number I’m Still Standing, he seemed to warm into the concert and with the help of some minor tweaks to arrangements, rarely faltered.

Elton’s long-serving band members are clearly another reason that he has been able to keep the show on the road for so long. While their lengthy jams during Madman Across The Water were on the indulgent side (even by Elton John terms) anyone who’s stuck by the performer for more than forty years (as some of them have) are more than entitled their time in the spotlight.

Dealing with a back catalogue as diverse as Elton’s also led to some inevitable dated sounds, arrangements and dance moves (from the crowd that is). The synthy, beret-era Sacrifice has not aged as well as his piano rockers nor has the schmaltzy Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me.

But these are minor gripes in what was a clinic in razzle dazzle arena entertainment from a man who has helped define this style of show.

- Perth Now

In 2008 Billboard magazine named Sir Elton John the most successful male solo artist of all-time.

Album sales of more than 250 million speak for themselves but perhaps the British legend's record can be measured by how many times the Rocket Man has visited our shores since launching his remarkable career 40-plus years ago.

Last night, Sir Elton played Perth on his 15th Australian tour, unveiling a hit-laden set including favourites such as Tiny Dancer, Candle in the Wind, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and the increasingly appropriate I'm Still Standing to around 13,000 fans at Burswood Dome.

The 64-year-old knight's current concert features suites of tracks from his 1971 classic album Madman Across the Water and The Union, last year's collaboration with fellow piano man, Leon Russell. The album is apparently his 30th studio release.

While the show leaned heavily on 70s material, Sir Elton's band also starred stalwart sidemen in guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson.

Joining the on-stage team on this tour were Croatian cellists Luke Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, who as 2Cellos performed a support slot of classical takes on pop and rock songs by AC/DC, U2, Nirvana and Michael Jackson.

Sir Elton opened with Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting), and seemed to be fighting fit after apparently contracting bronchitis earlier in the tour.

His husband David Furnish flew back to US for treatment mid-tour after also becoming ill.

The music veteran decided that the show, and the tour, must go on - following a showbiz adage as durable as his remarkable career.

The fist pump, the single point at the front rows and, of course, the double point to the back of the crowd all came out as Sir Elton John gave 13,000 fans a knight to remember at the Burswood Dome on Sunday night.

You can always tell how much the veteran entertainer has enjoyed performing one of his own hits by the post-song reaction.

There was a slight bow and a couple of points after the opening rocker Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting), the full spring to his feet after Philadelphia Freedom and - holy smoke - the portly 64-year-old traversed the entire width of the stage after an epic take on Rocket Man. He must've REALLY enjoyed that one.

By the end of the final concert on his 15th visit to Australia, Sir Elton was up on the piano for The Bitch is Back and conducting the crowd - now also on their feet - for the finale of Crocodile Rock.

What he lacks in flamboyance in 2011, he makes up with a gilt-edged set of classics drawing on more than 40 years in the music biz.

And what notes the elder statesman of pop can't reach now his voice is a blunt baritone, his crack band cover with precision. The on-stage line-up starred 40-year veterans in dapper, long-haired Scottish axe master Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson, who donned white gloves to look more like a butler than rock'n'roller.

Sunday night's performance saw Sir Elton and co. deliver selections from 1971 classic Madman Across the Water, including fan favourite Tiny Dancer and the title track, as well as three songs from 2010 release, The Union, a collaboration with his 60s hero, Leon Russell.

These were well received but the fans were out en masse to hear the classics - songs like Candle in the Wind, I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The latter saw Sir Elton leave those pesky high notes to his backing singers, which included former Sly and the Family Stone member Rose Stone and her daughter, Lisa Banks.

Sir Elton barked his way through 1972's Honky Cat before a piano boogie-woogie version of Sad Songs (Say So Much), an entree to a brace of, ahem, sad songs in Daniel and Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.

The artist formerly known as Reginald Dwight dedicated Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me to some European diehards who had followed the tour through Australia as security let fans gather at the front of the stage.

A rare outing of bluesy 1970 ripper Take Me to the Pilot was followed by his trademark Bennie and the Jets, Sir Elton's sausage-like fingers dancing across the keys as he threw in a bit of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

The band were swinging by now, with young Croatian cello duo 2Cellos clearly enjoying being in the midst of this supergroup.

The lads performed a four-song set earlier, delivering classical covers of well-known pop and rock hits, including Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal and U2's With or Without You. Sir Elton's percussionist, John Mahon, joined them on drums for AC/DC's Highway to Hell, but it was as dull as it seems on paper.

Sir Elton, on the other hand, had the crowd in raptures for 2 1/2 hours. After the main set finished with Crocodile Rock, the la-la-la-la-la-laaas still reverberating off the Dome's walls, he returned to sign autographs for lucky fans at the front before offering us another signature tune in Your Song.

In the end, it was the audience who were on their feet, fists pumping and applauding a remarkable rock legend.

- The West

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