Elton John At Air Canada Centre
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By Nick Krewen
If great music is indeed food for the soul, Sir Elton John has provided his fans with enough heavenly meals to service a 24-7 restaurant.
Consider this: When you attend a three-hour performance by one of pop music's all-time greats, and you realize that all the hits he didn't play could probably fill another three or four hours of your time, well, that's impressive. And when you realize that at nearly 67, the multiple GRAMMY winner is as intense an entertainer today as he was when he started more than 40 years ago, it's even more impressive. Here's even better news: his current tour is commemorating the 40th anniversary of his seminal 1973 GRAMMY Hall Of Fame-inducted album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, so a good chunk of the evening's selections were taken from that memorable collection.
Taking his seat at the center stage grand piano at Air Canada Centre on Feb. 6, John kicked the night off with his immortal "Funeral For A Friend (Loves Lie Bleeding)" followed by, in rapid succession, "Bennie & The Jets," the GRAMMY-winning "Candle In The Wind" (the Marilyn Monroe version) and "Grey Seal." John — with a five-piece band that included 44-year associate Nigel Olsson on drums and 41-year associate Davey Johnstone on guitar, mandolin and various other stringed instruments — set the celebratory mood early.
He followed the quartet with another trio of '70s favorites from 1971's brilliant Madman Across The Water, including "Levon," "Tiny Dancer" and a rare aural delivery of "Holiday Inn." It was during this mini-set that John took the occasion to freshen up "Levon," turning it into a rollicking gospel number with his hands dancing across the keyboard with barrelhouse-tinged panache. John didn't ignore his more recent music, either. A solemn rendition of "Oceans Away" (from 2013's The Diving Board) and his performance of "Hey Ahab" from 2010's The Union, the collaborative album he recorded with Leon Russell, reflected his current direction, but it was clear the fans were here for the nostalgic songs that served to underscore their lives. And they were likely pleased when John delivered the tender and passionate "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word," an epic rendition of "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" and the rollicking anthems "I'm Still Standing," "The B**** Is Back" and, from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the one-two knockout wallop of "Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'N' Roll)" and "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)."
John also threw in another surprise — a beautiful piano passage that focused on the upper keys and sounded like falling stars as it melted into a fabulous performance of "Rocket Man." His delivery of "All The Girls Love Alice" was aggressive with just the right amount of soot.
The evening proved that Elton John does not mail it in. Every song is played as passionately as the one before, and sound as timeless as they did when he and lyricist Bernie Taupin first committed them to manuscript and note paper. The songs so clearly continue to stand the test of time and John himself is, fortunately, still standing.
"Funeral For A Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)"
"Bennie & The Jets"
"Candle In The Wind"
"Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters"
"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"
"I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues"
"Someone Saved My Life Tonight"
"Sad Songs (Say So Much)"
"All The Girls Love Alice"
"Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word"
"Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me"
"I'm Still Standing"
"The B**** Is Back"
"Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'N' Roll)"
"Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)"
To catch Elton John in a city near you, click here for tour dates.
(Nick Krewen is the Toronto-based co-author of Music from Far and Wide: Celebrating Forty Years of the JUNO Awards, a contributor to The Routledge Film Music Sourcebook and has written for The Toronto Star, TV Guide, Billboard, Country Music. He was a consultant for the National Film Board's music industry documentary Dream Machine.)