Friday, August 30, 2013

'Fortunately Contrasted'

1970...year 0, or year -43 as it is at the time of writing. As we contemplate the forthcoming release of the new album...a return to the rollicking days of that year so we are told, lets look at two contrasting performances from that year. Think of the contrast between the Elton John album cover and the stage persona. Both almost similar sets performed by Elton. But that's where the similarity stops. And familiarity begins, both in the studio and live recreations that the two examples are representing so finely of that year.

The first in the BBC TV broadcast, recorded in May 1970. At this point, three albums recorded and two out in the UK. None as yet in the US. Primarily a showcase for the Elton John album, with as ever a new song thrown in. A showcase that ultimately ended up in the folk category in the BBC archives, which may explain why it was never wiped if you anything about the BBC's 'wiping policy' at that time. The music and lyrics are to the forefront here, it's not about Elton the owner of the stage, but merely a stage to present his and Bernie's embryonic material. Featuring many of the musicians that played on the EJ album, Barry Morgan, Madeline Bell, Leslie Duncan, Skaila Kanga and in particular Paul Buckmaster. In fact, his hands are all over this one. Not only does he bring his arrangements with him and a small orchestra, but his solo cello playing is name checked by Elton and beautifully recreated. 60 Years On is bang on the studio version. Lamenting acoustic guitar over the strings and the whispy organ. Beautiful! No flubbed lines or under rehearsal on this one, it's knitting together of Elton's piano, voice and a superb backing.The strings are delightful with a tenacity in their delivery. Elton's voice is like plate glass, fragile but strong when upright. Attitude appears too, Take Me To The Pilot ensures we see the other side too. In the next show, it's abundant the whole way through. The ending has the 'new band', Nigel and Dee raw, yet tight as if they'd been doing it all their lives. Burn Down The Mission is truncated, but still the piano riffs are in full focus, heralding the excitement of the stage Elton. Which is where we go next...

November 1970. In off the Streets Of San Francisco, Elton, Nigel and Dee are in the small yet cavernous sounding Fillmore West. This second US visit of the original, best, groundbreaking 3 piece in rock was wave crest riding on the biggest breakers they could muster, the earlier frenzy was still in full flow by this time. Word was out. The word was Elton and now the words of Bernie were becoming part of every day speak. This is Your Song indeed...the show starts with the gripping harmonies of the threesome on Honky Tonk Woman. Then thunderous drum intro from Nigel starts the song proper with Elton's piano honkying away. 60 Years On is the embodiment of the contrasts I referred to earlier, same song with altered DNA. Some altering it, the long piano intro with Dee's bass just hanging in the air, only dying off slowly. Niglel's drum work, damn could he pick the moments. Light work on the toms and cymbals to literally knocking them off their stands. Knocking the crowd over more like. Dee's bass being the perfect bassline and leader. Elton switching from the manic parts to the quieter parts is a sweet move. Can I Put You On, another new song as ever, belied the fact that Caleb Quaye's guitar is not missed. The hard rocking out has Elton is full keyboard standing pounding and punching. His vocals beyond high, beyond falsetto, beyond the stratosphere. The contrast fully accentuated. Burn Down The Mission was the punctuating moment, all points from soulful vocal in the verses to crazy twists and turns. The transition to My Baby Left Me, to do that from a song you've written yourself to someone else's is some doing. Dee's bass dances on the solo parts, it bump, bump bumps it way through the melody. Elton's vocal is plaintive on the vocal after the first solo, then the attitude kicks in again. All in the space of a few lines, but that was Elton in 1970. Contrasts. The outro showcases the stage persona. We can see it, we weren't there, but we can feel it. Elton asks us if we are, so we are feeling it. And we are there. If Elton tells us to come, we've come. Every piano style that Elton interprets in present and correct. With his own take. Nigel's high hat shuffles and sudden switch into manic backbeats. Broken rhythms in abundance, Dee's string bending standout solo truly a majestic moment. Alright Elton sings, more than alright if you ask me! A frenetic ending, frantic in extreme. But after the hostess has handed out the hot towels, an encore of Country Comfort contrasts with the preceding epic. The song contrasts the old with the new appearing, in 1970 the new appeared. And never stayed old...

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