Review by Brian Wise.
Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas – Wednesday October 19, 2016.
You can’t always get what you want. So it came to pass that when the Rolling Stones cancelled their show at the T-Mobile Arena because Mick Jagger had contracted laryngitis – most likely contracted at the outdoor Desert Trip the weekend earlier – I managed to get a bargain-priced ticket to Elton John’s Million Dollar Piano show at Caesar’s Palace. There was no way I was going to be in Vegas and not be at a show! After all, that is why I came here.
This was a no brainer. The other choices were Olivia Newton John (she did donate to the local NPR station – a point in her favour), the Australian Bee Gees show, Wayne Newton (he supports Trump) or Britney Spears (I don’t think so). A friend who had come to see the Stones with 7 mates for his 50th birthday was so devastated and obviously so dazed that he went to see Britney! I had seen Elton here a decade ago so I knew it would be good. In the end it was great.
The show started exactly as the Presidential Debate between Hillary and Donald across town finished (I was following it on the iPhone). If that event across town was bitter and left a scowl this show was designed to make you walk out with a smile on your face (and that was not because you were laughing at Donald Trump!).
Elton John entered with a glittering cape that was carefully removed from him James Brown style by his helpers. Then he sat at his Million Dollar Piano and launched into ‘The Bitch Is Back’ (was there a message there?) and then an epic version of ‘Bennie & The Jets’, during which there were some classical flourishes on the piano but maybe I was the only one to notice these. (I came to enjoy the way he extended some songs, changed them slightly to make them more interesting and allowed his talented band some room to move).
Suddenly, without any introductions, John walked to the rear of the piano and spent a minute with his back to the audience. When he returned to his seat he explained that he had a blood nose prior to the show and it had returned. “I can see the headline now,” he said, “Elton John’s back on drugs!”
My immediate thought was that anyone else might have cancelled the show and that John was either going to take an extended break or abbreviate the show. Instead, he ploughed ahead like a true showman – a musician who spent years in pubs and clubs before he became successful. The voice was a little affected on a few of the early songs but, despite a few short breaks to wipe the blood away, John prevailed.
‘Rocket Man’ started a bit shakily with John’s voice understandably struggling but he powered through it. Having a crack band with some fine backing vocals no doubt helped disguise the problems. The huge video screen with its ever-changing images also added some distraction.
John then noted that it was 50 years since he and Bernie Taupin started to work together. He explained the song writing process never involved he and Taupin sitting together to write: Bernie would hand him the lyrics and he would go into another room and write the music. So it was, he added, that when he received the lyrics to ‘Your Song’ from the 18 year-old Taupin he knew he needed to write something special. It was the perfect lead in to the song and just one of the engaging stories throughout the night.
One of the features of the evening was the way in which John engaged the audience with his stories. It is one of the charming aspects of the superstar that really makes his show special. Later, he spent some time thanking the audience for their continued support and saying how it allowed him to continue performing. (How could you possibly dislike him after that?)
Prior to ‘Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)’ he told of his friendship with John Lennon and showed a brief clip of Lennon appearing with him at Madison Square Garden after ‘Whatever Gets You Through The Night’ made No.1. ‘Empty Garden’ was played against a backdrop of photos of John and Yoko.
The latter part of the show continued to prove that, apart from Paul McCartney, Elton John must have one of the deepest catalogues of pop hits in history for any male songwriter.
‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,’ and ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ were followed by a band introduction in which john paid tribute toe the musicians who have been with him for decades – guitarist Davey Johnstone, percussionist Ray Cooper and drummer Nigel Olsson (augmented by bassist Matt Bissonette and keyboardist Kim Bullard). John dedicated ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’ to friends including Jane Rose (‘she has looked after Keith Richards for many years’). He noted that the Stones had had to cancel their show and said he hoped they would reschedule on a night that he could go and see them. Nice touch.
‘Philadelphia Freedom,’ ‘I’m Still Standing’ (there’s a message there), ‘Crocodile Rock’ and ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’ completed an up tempo bracket that got the audience on its feet. Amazingly, on the final song members of the audience were allowed to join John on stage and gathered around his piano. A surprise in this age of paranoia about security.
The encore of ‘Circle of Life’ from The Lion King was a low key closer but featured some spectacular video footage. (I would have preferred ‘Saturday Night’ or ‘Crocodile Rock’ but that’s nit picking).
So, in the end I didn’t get to see the Rolling Stones but Elton John was certainly an outstanding substitute. Everyone left happy, smiling and raving about the show and admiring the fact that John overcame his initial problems to give what I felt was almost the perfect show. (There are a of musicians who should go and see this show to find out about the craft).
You can’t always get what you want but sometimes you do get what you need!
ELTON JOHN SET LIST
- The Bitch Is Back
- Bennie and the Jets
- Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)
- Tiny Dancer
- Your Song
- Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
- Better Off Dead
- Indian Sunset
- Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)
- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
- I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues
- Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
- Philadelphia Freedom
- Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On You
- I’m Still Standing
- Crocodile Rock
- Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting
- Circle of Life (Encore)