Tuesday, July 15, 2014

'Standing Here For All The World To See'

Anyone of this fair isle, unless they've been in a coma for the last two weeks or back from their holidays on Mars, can't fail to have noticed the continuing saga (thankfully now over) of the on/off 5 night stand. Those who luckily were oblivious to all the mind numbing shenanigans just Google Garth Brooks, Croke Park and Dublin City Council. Best of luck on that one.

The reason I broached that subject and quickly sent you on your way elsewhere for more information was for a few relevant reasons. This time 20 years ago the very first Face To Face shows started in the US. During that run they did a 5 nighter at the Giants Stadium in New Jersey. With a licence to thrill, both legally and artistically. I bet they passed off without a hitch...thankfully I was lucky enough to see this style of show in Croke Park in 1998 when they did two dates there. Again hitchless. The other reason being, at this is the most crucial one, the whole fiasco is beyond words from me at this point. And has very little to do with this blog.

Anyway, from that tour I had on the (only) soundboard recording that recently became available. The Philadelphia show from early on is of impeccable quality.

The band lineup Elton had at the time...

Charlie Morgan - drums
Bob Birch -bass
Guy Babylon - keyboards
Ray Cooper  - percussion
Davey Johnstone - guitars

...is one of the best ever. They were real tight as the newer men (at the time) had really settled into their roles. The live sound was starting to come back to it's full glory after some very dodgy years. The Roland toy had been dumped...into a very deep hole I hope...and the backing singers who at times were too flashy and showy had also been bid farewell. Elton using the Yamaha for the first time on a band show sounded like a man set free. It sounded right to the audience and no doubt Elton was finding he finally had an 88 that matched his demands. His voice at this time is one of my favourite era's He still had the light and airiness (when he looked for it) of pre-operation with the newer lower register than was still perfectly balanced. 

I don't want to do a complete review of the 3 CD set...non-Billy fans will be reaching for the off button...but I'll list some of the highlights from Elton's set.

Levon - An extremely tight and vibrant version. The outro is devoid of the sped up technique used for the last dozen years or so. Instead we have a more steady jam, one where Bob increases the weight but resists the temptation to really kick on. That potenntially unfilling but ultimately satisfying lingering right to the end being a critical key. You can just imagine Charlie wanting to kick on, but Elton holds firm!

Rocket Man - An incredibly breezy version, it just flows out of Elton like a gentle running tap. The outro is pure improv, both from Elton and the band. There's a part on it where Elton does a funky little riff that develops with Davey (having already done his acoustic to electric switch) suddenly ramps it up with one his most aggressive lines that results in bursting point. An terrific moment.

Simple Life/The One - Charlie's regimented drumming is beautifully complimented the by the loose tambourine ryhthms that Ray flips out. The One is almost standstill, a freeze frame of sound that still ticks along withoiut you realising your moving. An incredible 10 minutes or so of fluctuating vibrancy. Not the last of course during Elton's set of that duration or freedom of exclamation.

New York State Of Mind - When Elton covers most other people songs they work great. But this isn't great, it's grandiose in the extreme. He nails the phrasing, one of the highlights of the song, perfectly. Guy gets the arrangement spot on and Davey's guitar solo, replacing the sax solo on the original, is immaculate. It's gritty, determined with no lack of melody 

Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding - If ever a case study was needed to prove why the Roland was junk and had to be replaced, then the intro here would make the open and shut case watertight. The versions with said toy sounded tinny and hollow. Whereas here in 1994 we had a live version where the proper depth to that brilliant intro is fully realised. The full majesty of it restored. Even Davey on the Steinberger, a guitar for me that has less good moments than bad, sounds great. The grinding sound of it carrying the message perfectly. Ray on the timpani is obscene...he beats them into submission. Guy plays all the proper synth parts and the great balance of the soundboard recording means all contributions are pitch perfect. The outro is it's usual combination of speed and design.

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