More than once in a while Elton puts on a performance that because of it's timing, location and eventual legacy makes it even more special than it was at the time. At the time it was very special for me, I consider this one of the all time great Elton live moments. Very short, not even 10 minutes, but more energy, excitement and exuberance packed into two songs than some artists could fit into a whole residency. Let's kick off this one...
I have to thank Sky Sports for pushing this back to my minds front. All week they've been banging on about the NFL kick off this weekend. Which has absolutely no interest to me. I've never understood American Football, people dressed like Stormtroopers trying to take each other out whilst a rugby ball flies around aimlessly in a another direction. I'm more of an association man myself. However, Elton is a big fan of the sport and the New England Patriots is his team. So with that connection it makes sense that he would be added to what was a stellar lineup on the night (Destiny's Child, Lenny Kravitz) to start the new season. But Elton had his own season to start aswell.
It's Autumn now and this time of the year certainly for the last decade and a half I always associate with a new Elton album. Mostly good, one bad. Autumn 2004 (when this clip was filmed) was Peachtree Roads birth time and is definitely in the very good category. The lead single in the US was Answer In The Sky so where better to promote it than a stadium full of folks and a TV audience of viewers. But some extra hands and voices pitched up to make this unique and ultimately quite incredible performance something to cherish.
I remember back in the early 80's watching on RTE2 The Boston Pops TV show with the legendary Arthur Fiedler. Every week an artist of the day would join him and the orchestra for some hits and covers. Whilst Fiedler is no longer with us the legacy of the Boston Pops lives on. For this special event the same orchestra backed Elton and the band with the addition of a wonderfully attired choir. Which sounded as smart as the looked.
The first thing to say about Answer In The Sky is how the wonderful Guy Babylon arrangement was expanded. Listen to those powerful French horns, the flutes and oboes daintily dancing. His original string arrangement flourishes with great vigour throughout the performance; the angular parts being sharp in contrast to the easy flow of the more smoother lines . When Nigel's drums kick in they kick in hard, the heavy foot beat and the heavy thud on the snare echoing around the arena. Just like Elton's vocals, whether it was intentional or otherwise they sounded even more grandiose than usual. Definitely leaked outside I'd suspect. The choirs massed youthful enthusiasm spills out without turning the chorus into something like a Billy Graham get together. It's non denominational and answers everyone and anyone's prayers. Davey's signature slide guitar licks on the middle eight are ethereal and brooding. Elton does a fine job on this one, a new song in front of massed ranks of strangers can be a challenge. But he pulled it off. The sign of a good song also. The song was neither rabble rousing nor triumphalist but an expression of belief and hope. The best live version of this song by far.
Once you've got the new one out of the way you can then give the baying masses something familiar to chew on. As it's a stadium then give them a stadium song. Saturday Night's Alright fits those boots perfectly. A past blast with James Newton Howard's classy original arrangement intro to it puts the synth example into perspective here. One has body, the other is a bit thin on the bone. Working it's way outwards, bassoons and oboes and then glockenspiel develop the song's riff into something broader until the brass and strings rise up and give it full life. The handle is dropped when the rhythm sections boots in, Bob's neat tickle of the bassline summons Elton's vocal. The hand claps of the choir add further encouragement towards the line. The (cleverly) added cheers of the crowds in the mix gives it yet more energetic dynamism. Man made smoke and natures wind combine to add a further ambiance of the dramatic arts. A gale force that band, orchestra and choir do their up most to defend against. Elton at the front line feels the full force of the breeze. All of it. Hair raising in the extreme...this edited version touches down quicker than one would have hoped for, but not before Elton lets out a run on the keyboard for a terrific solo run. The battle riff at the end touches down between the posts with a winning score. Whistle blown, Elton has won again!!
I remember getting this on DVD not long after it was broadcast and put it on the surround sound. To say it blew my mind would be wrong. My ears more like! It's a tremendous energetic performance, the pace is unrelenting and the impact of it was palpable in the stadium. When you gauge a moment right, as Elton frequently does, the resulting performance is deemed a success. Because there's no doubt this lived long in the annals of NFL kick offs. A new song and a classic going down side by side as winners.