For the first post of 2014 I've decided to randomly look back on an old show. One from the turn of the decade. Grand Rapids, Michigan 24th April 2010.
I've said before many times here about perspective. This show at the time may have been seen as a another in a long line of greatest hits run outs. But if you look at the setlist then...and the setlist now...you can see how much it has changed in just less than four years. A mere speck on the Elton timeline. Plus I sometimes quote 2010 as a year zero. If you listen to the Elton/Ray shows from late 2009 and then these tour shows from spring 2010 one thing jumps out at you with clarity. Elton's voice. The master’s voice had shown sign of raggedness in late '09 yet in early 2010 it had recovered to its sublime form. But not only that. If you listen to the performances...the singing, the playing, the expressions, the way the entire delivery reaches out with a sense of enhanced energy is a stunning contrast. Whatever it was, whoever it was that reached down and enabled Elton to add another string to his bow and pluck it off with such panache deserves a medal. Pure gold of course
The recording is taken from the Simfy live soundboard releases of that tour. Recordings that were far better quality than the earlier Concertlive versions. They got the audience mix interwoven much better and gave that sense 'being there' more strength. The band lineup was in the midst of change; Kim Bullard was only a new kid in town but still had knowing fingers on the pulse of Elton's music even by this time. Bob Birch was still with us. It was like he was always there. What was once taken for granted can never be for certain.
Grand Rapids. Not only is it the venue, but an apt description for the opening quarter of an hour. A 15 minute plus ride of white water rafting in music that is called FFF/LLB and Saturday Night's Alright. Next up was the great troika from Madman. The title track is a wandering journey, just like negotiating one of those cold water rapids. Extended, reinterpreted and almost recomposed. Nigel's drumming is heavy handed...both hands laying down sudden beats. Kim said at the recent Elton EXPO playing this song live with Elton was like jazz. Freeforming Elton coasts the breakers, John Mahon on percussion shadowing Elton's choppy chords. And that's just the first solo! Second solo and Elton expressing is freedom, a relentless exploration of his wander through waves and dives. Davey's acoustic guitar and Bob's bass like limpets in the water stuck to the boat's back. Elton takes the song deep into the wilderness, sudden tempo changes, stops, starts, and the song being reworked on the move. All this with another 18 month's to go in which further developments were integrated into it. I know, incredible isn’t it...
Rocket Man with its four movements is a suite of varying moods. First movement. The original song. Elton's vocal on the bridge has some unique phrasing, subtle pauses with a hint of soul. Second movement. A pot pourri mix is thrust upon us, low humming organ with a melodic bass matching each rise and fall. Then the buildup, a chiming guitar note from Davey giving way to a switch back and forth between piano and guitar. ''Rocket Man'' is Elton's mantra. It echoes and vibrates to the heavens. And all points west and east. The band slowly but surely sweeps back in for the final lift off. Third movement. Davey’s switch from acoustic to electric throws caution to the wind. The jangling of the Fender with the jaw bone from John willowing around. Bob’s bass pummels, Davey’s solo is fuzzy; blaring with glaring frankness. Distorted with an almost distressed sound as the whammy bar gives it a good throttling. The sudden stop is climatic. Fourth movement. Elton again works out on the keyboard, gets to grips with the vibe and teasing yet more from it. The final ‘’I’m A Rocket Man’’ explosions are the sound of Elton re-entering the atmosphere. A sunburst of sound and heat with a scorching surface temperature. A lot of fuses burnt out after that one…
People rejoice that Take Me To The Pilot is now missing from the setlist. Why you would not want it with its long intro which on occasions went into double figures time wise is beyond me. Each night Elton played it he virtually, actually he did in reality, compose on the spot. There and then. A unique piece as and when the mood took him. Not a dream number, but a reality. Undetermined length with effortless determination. A deft touch with an unseen weight compounding the mix. His right hand being the precision tool and the left hand giving the power and might to support it. Irrespective of whether you like the song or not, to have Elton freestyling at his work bench is surely an argument to support its retention.
You’re Never Too Old appears a full 6 months before its release. A dull song for the most part, not ideal to preview The Union. But showcasing new albums hasn’t been a strong point in recent years, has it. Something that isn’t dull is the jam on Honky Cat. Crunchy clavinet from Kim and Davey’s twanging banjo escorts Elton riffing Can I Get A Witness to Davey ‘Steptoeing’ (Readers outside of these islands may want to Google Steptoe and Son theme music!!). Without any sense of it sounding forced.
At the end of the show, Elton declares that playing venues like Grand Rapids is crucial to him. It isn’t all about playing venues like Detroit, NY or LA. And to send the good folk’s home in good spirits, an echoey Circle Of Life vibrates the hall. A great way to go and wheel home with their fortune…
One of the reasons I’m showcasing this particular show (notwithstanding the fact it’s brilliant!) is because of the review link I posted below. At the time I emailed the reviewer John Sinkevics, to thank him for such a positive piece. Because up that point some of the reviews were a bit wishy washy tp say the least, I can count on the fingers of one hand the bad ones since then. He conducted a video interview with Davey before the show too. John kindly replied at the time and this is what he said…
‘’Thanks. I definitely have a strong interest in Elton's career and his music, so it's great to hear comments like yours. I've had a chance to speak with Davey several times now and I must say, he and the entire EJ organization are topnotch, courteous and more professional than any other rock act on the road. I guess the brilliance filters through from the top down!
Another show is not another show; it’s a different show with a variation on the theme. I’ve all the shows on CD from that spring tour and they’ve all got their own little tricks up their sleeves. Or up Elton’s to be more precise!! I just picked this one at random but to also highlight how good the backstage and support people are for Elton and the band. What John said above says it all, don’t you think? Oh, and the show was good too…
Funeral For A Friend /Love Lies Bleeding
Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting
Madman Across The Water
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
Take Me To The Pilot
Something About The Way You Look Tonight
Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me
Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
Candle In The Wind
You're Never Too Old
Burn Down The Mission
Bennie And The Jets
The Bitch Is Back
I'm Still Standing
Circle Of Life