Sunday, November 16, 2014

'Pillars Of Hercules'

Davey can never be accused of standing in the shadows and the spotlight frequently hit him over the years as he weathered all changes in music styles, fads and retroisms. But the spotlight is about to shine the light a bit brighter...and the temperature will soar well above ninety five.

Davey...Fantastic Captain of the EJ Band.
Anybody who has been following Davey's 'official' Facebook page (not the doppelganger one) will have been kept up to speed on one of the most exciting projects to emanate from the Elton world is recent times. If not here's a quick recap.

Davey's son Tam has taken on the labour...10 rolled into one you could make a documentary about the rise of Elton at the start of the 70's. Not for the first time that's been attempted of course but the first from the angle he's approaching it from. This time it's from the band outwards. In particular the troika of Davey, Dee and Nigel. An inside look that will undoubtedly finally confirm on them the due recognition they deserve.*

'The Pillars'

And like another well known film series that recently got the title of it's next installment this project has also been name stamped. 'Pillars Of Hercules' will feature new interviews and previously unseen footage and photographs. If the anticipation is too much then this video teaser will sooth your torment. I did an item a while back on Sick City and Davey gives some great insights into it that only he can recant. The force is strong with this one.

Side by side...somewhere in Europe, November 2014.
And what a raconteur he is. He speaks in such a way that even non musicians like ourselves will never be mystified. His good humour and general insight-fullness makes him the ideal 'spokesperson' for Elton's music. I've said this before but he's a tremendous ambassador for both Elton and his music. Read his blog of the last three years and it's nothing but positivism.

The appetite for this documentary is ravenous. Not just in the Elton world but outside it too. The recent Oscar winning film '20 Feet From Stardom' which featured another Elton cohort the wonderful Tata Vega is testament enough. A lofty template but it's success dispels any notion that there is no market for these films. In fact as I speak another project called 'Hired Gun - Music's Unsung Heroes' featuring Billy Joel's drummer Liberty Devitto is currently in the pipeline. We all know the great artists are exactly that, great. But at the same time they too recognise that without the great pillars of talent behind them the labour is a ten thousand times harder.

*Since going to upload I've been informed by Tam that the project has been expanded to include the design team, crew and management from that time period. So it's going to be a pretty full on experience.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

'This Could Be Anywhere Or Rotterdam'

This a treat. Anybody not familiar with my gateway into this Madness well here's a gentle reminder. Live In Australia was my first Elton album so that whole era/tour is kind of special. Those that have the album may not be familiar with the whole story of it, this doc gives great insight into it. Something else that may have become swamped with time passing is how the culmination of a year's touring was generated and developed. The Tour De Force didn't appear under a rock, Ayers or otherwise nor under a bush...not including tucker man either. The World Tour 85/86 began in late 1985 and wormed it's way through the UK, Ireland and eventually Europe before Leather Jackets was put to disc. Resuming in North America during summer 1986 it encountered some challenging moments. Elton's much discussed vocal problems that dogged him till the last night in Australia. However on the European leg of the tour no such troubles were encountered and it's this point of the tour we're going to look at here.

Whatever his state of the mind at the time...mental, medicated or otherwise...there's no doubt these were marquee shows. Both from the diversity of mood swings and the tremendous unrelenting energy. And the fact he had one of the best band lineups ever. I've this said this before on the blog but it's worth repeating. The Morgan/Paton combo is the best rhythm section outside any that contained Olsson and Murray together or both separately. How do I know? Because I can hear it. I hear melodic descriptiveness and thub thumping rocking at any given moment. With that great building block, the empire of Elton at that time had a grand palace built upon it. The Tour De Force had Elton resurrecting some old numbers at the time, Burn Down The Mission and Tonight appearing in the band setlist early on to begin a gestation period that lasted a year. Other songs had similar period of incubation in front of audiences. 

I'm going to look at some of the outstanding movements from the Rotterdam show on the 24th April 1986. This 'enhanced' recording only came to light recently due to the work of little beavers behind the scene's. These little trojans belong to one of the best groups on Facebook, a group of young enthusiastic fans that have only one goal in life. Assemble as many live recordings of Elton in one place. So expect a man from Guinness and a clipboard to be standing next to them any time soon. Seriously though, they've realised the value of the music rather than the price of it and taken the appreciation of Elton's live work to another dimension. As we've had 3D already I suppose the best way to describe it is 4D. Anyway thanks to those involved...they know who they lets cut through and weed out the best bits.

Highlander is it's usual expectant self. Slowly dilating then cries of joy as the synth parties like an excited child let out into the world. Segueing into Tonight as if attached with an invisible cord and chord. This piece here gives some detail as to what Tonight sounded like at this time. That invisible lively cord/chord appears again as One Horse Town creeps in. Oriental sounding synths from Fred being lambasted by marching warrior drums (Jody on timpani). Brass on the ramparts echoes Charlie's fills on the toms, firepower of might and glory. David on the bass crosses over (frequently) into various lands of lead, rhythm and most importantly of all, bass. Tubular bells are a call to pause, but it's only for a couple of brief periods. Davey's solo is frantic, fiery and fulfilling on all levels. Elton's vocal is strong, phrasing is familiar. The barometer of his vocal condition has been measured and the reading is exemplary.

Better Off Dead live has caught out many a musician in the past. Both vocally and musically. No such failings here. The timpani and drums are angular with pumped up muscle. The backing vocals refer to the original arrangement with no loss of style. The gradual build up of 'oohhs' march out as 'lalalas' with 'aahhs' finally triumphing. Rocket Man is another one in the growing stage. But no pains here. Or ceremony standing as Elton goes straight in for the kill. The bassline has all of it's sharpness and varying tones. Davey on the flying 'V', a pleasure cruelly denied to us to a great extent after this tour, on this song is perfectly poised to step in when gaps appear. When Elton's vocal is silent it pops in and sings with equal emotion. When Elton does sing he throws in some alternate phrasing...just for the heck of it. The coolest coda ever in rock means we're not done yet. The brass herald up another phase of piano pounding. Elton's vocal and Davey's guitar have always been key ingredients on stage for a satisfying banquet. Again during the jam they play off each other like seasoned sparring partners. One calls, the other responds. Simmering slow burning attitude starts to win over, the rhythm section kicks back in to tell us Elton is indeed back home. 

Burn Down The Mission like it's aforementioned relative is also discovering new life. Before it grew up and gained an orchestra, it had a life as a rowdy youth. Rustling cymbals at the start, the two drummers bang on the beat. Davey fires off his guitar like a chain gun with an unlimited clip. Extraordinary bass playing here from David. If it were isloated it would be exhibit number one in bass playing court. Fullsome licks that are vital to the transition from verse to chorus. Someone Saved My Life Tonight has an 80's style influence; Fred on the keyboards at the start with it's glassy waves. Slow drumming is present and correct (good) backing vocals are at full power and full arrangement (good, good). David's heavy bassline is a terrific counterpoint to the low guitar from Davey for much of the time. That is until the solo boots in. The whammy bar is never strangled, Davey just handles it to maximum effect. Elton's piano playing never shirks the heavy parts nor does his vocal. His range still able to summon up high. 

The Bitch Is Back has a witty vocal from Elton, the deep sax (I said sax!) equally as fun. Fred's guitar solo is a case study of twisted and tormented vibes being wrung out of six strings. The ride cymbals hunt in clusters, Shirley Lewis's end interjection is interrupted by chainsaws being switched off. The ultimate rock massacre. Restless...or Relentless....has zany keyboard work from Fred. It's aggressive, opinionated rock throughout. The shouting brass being more opinionated than most. Davey's solo is sleazy, egged on to even more depraved twist and twirl throwing by equally mean drums.

What of the piano I hear some cry? The white Steinway was never underused on this tour. Ask Bennie And The Jets for instance. She'll tell you how hard she got banged every night...anyway, a funky boogie woogie line is omnipresent. And I Mean This Most Sincerely Folks...Opportunity Knocks for Elton when he's let loose here. Borderline comedy threatens to spill over into farce as the solo progresses Straight (not New Faces) faces are restored. But then all hell breaks loose. As it always did on the outro to this manic jam. This is what I'm talkin' 'bout...sudden accelerations with the riff freezing everyone on stage with its hard notes repeatedly hammering over and over. Expressive keyboards playing alongside pummeling piano playing. Never too much...and not too soon.

Polarising Bennie is Cry To Heaven. No faces of clowns here, they've been wiped clean to lay bare emotions of the lyric to the maximum. A wall of synth, solid yet opaque enough to let through majestic tubular bells from Jody. Davey's wailing guitar is simplicity in itself, the perfect response to the earlier craziness. When Elton says 'tease' Fred teases us with an equally unexpected line. A fulfilling climax with ghostly echoes fades from earshot...that later awakens with a brisk I'm Still Standing. Lyrically heavy but vocally light. A no nonsense solo with mood calming piano to beckon an extended finish. Dangling bass with guitar always poised to take over. Which it does, a heady mix of evolution and revolution. A rockasm has been achieved by the end of this one.

That's what we're going to close with. A revolutionary yet evolving version of a classic. When Elton does the 'hybrid' song...a mix of the original and then other newer elements it's usually a triumph. Tonight on this tour being a case in point, Sixty Years On at the birthday show in 2007 another. Song For Guy is one of the highlights of the show and Elton's live repertoire. Encapsulating perfection, all contributors are to be congratulated. Crucial original elements like the drum machine and backing synth are retained. But with added nutrition. Conga's and tambourine are more than organic, they are vital to the songs diet. Piano lines are critically unaltered, the sweeping synth is like an unseen wind shaking the chimes. As the buildup to the end is commenced, Elton hits some high notes that summons up those chills without corny spills. A closing payoff with added encouragement from Davey on guitar. Mimicking the lead line with a sense of pathos. When Eton's vocals come in we stay on the edge yet tip over into something mesmeric, spellbinding and stretching out into oblivion. For life...and everything.

'Hallowed Halls'

My Elton MOJO is rising...and so is this month's issue of said music magazine. From which inspiration for this item is taken from.

In one of their buried treasure style articles they dug out this overlooked but important missing links in the train of both parties who comprise the album makeup. But it's from the Elton angle we'll be approaching as the link back to the house of John is more than tenuous.

Picture the're with Elton about to go out on stage for the last show of the 7 night run in Madison Square Garden in August 1976. Only to be told by the manager of the day that he was to retire from the road and the band was to be dismantled. Not to be put in cold storage but to be fragmented permanently. Cue offshoots heading in various directions. Blue Moves splitting up in two with sitars, mandolins and cutting edge MIDI keyboards heading to the Orient so to speak and the bluesy guitars and no nonsense drumming popping up in Philadelphia. Davey, James and Roger conjured up China and produced the excellent self titled album. Roger along with Kenny and Caleb pitched up later in 1977 as Hall And Oates' touring band. It was the latter three's involvement with Daryl Hall that led to what could have been a groundbreaking album on a grand scale in a far larger scheme of affairs if it had been released at the right time but the missed boat never returned to port.

Sacred Songs was recorded in 1977 but didn't see the light of day until 1980. The reason being Hall's record bosses were uneasy of his solo enterprise distracting from the main attraction of the partnership with John Oates. The exact reason being the presence of Robert Fripp on the project. As producer, songwriter and instrumentalist. But as we'll see when it's looked at further it wasn't as great a foray into uncharted territory that might have been expected. If anything it took a nod from one of 1977's better musical message's...New Wave..and thankfully steered clear of the new low fibre diet that was being dished out at the same time...disco. Frippertronics were present and correct but not dominating. If the premise of his influence from the arty side of Prog was considered off putting then that false fear is allayed. It's wider accessibility was never realised due to the delayed release date. A shame unfortunately. Considering it was almost the last hurrah together of the three Eltonites together and in some of their cases permanently in the rock business.

Before I did this item I referred to Dale Berryhill's excellent biography written in conjunction with Caleb Quaye. In it he (Quaye) makes no secret that the Hall And Oates gig was a means to an end. One of the ends being large helpings of Satan's sugar. His belief in or buying into the musci was minute. Unlike his purchases of the Devil's sherbert dip. In saying that however any lack of desire doesn't really come across here, both himself and the other two were surprisingly more in tune with the material than I had expected. I'll briefly go through the songs that feature all three and the albums high points, paying attention in detail to the Elton alumni contributions.

The title track finds our people in familiar territory...a piano led mid tempo rocker that has familiar elements from both Rock Of The Westies and Blue Moves. Roger's concert tom fills off the latter and Caleb's rhythm riffs lifted off the former. His solo is a coarse affair, the grit of it leaves deep embedded lines. Something In 4/4 Time has a familiar Hall And Oates sound of electric piano dominating at the start with Kenny on driving bass. Babs And Babs is probably one of the more experimental tracks, a mid paced big number with the Frippertronics lurking beneath the waves hiding out until it reels itself in and swamps us with endless loops. The fade out is pure eeriness...the spooky sound reminiscent of Dr. Who a la Jon Pertwee era. You could just visualise the Brigadier ordering a soldier in a tin hat to fire a few rounds at a winged creature as this plays behind it.

NYCNY has the rhythm section (electric guitar included) in heavy handed beat mode. An unrelenting groove that forms the back beat throughout. Vocals are word heavy, drenched by distorted guitars from both Caleb and Fripp. Don't Leave Me Alone With Her is guitar led charge with Caleb seizing power on centre stage and maintaining a tight grip on power from start to finish. Fripp formates on the solo to create something almost flammable. Kenny's bass playing is surprisingly adventurous here, more than what I expected from him. Fake fade out notwithstanding either. Because one of the better habits they picked up on the road is put to good use here. The outro is like a jam from the '75-'76 live Elton era though mercifully shorter and tightness being a key element. Survive is a funky affair, a bluesy guitar solo driven home by steady, weighty drumming.

I've highlighted some outstanding parts from the three folks we're all familiar with. Caleb showed some great grooves here, his distinctive style that was to the fore on the Gibson's he used at the time is uptempo and more importantly up front. Something he himself bemoaned was lacking on Blue Moves in particular. Roger proves here again that his best work was in the studio, his heavy hand suited to the drive of the songs. Kenny showed some interesting parts but his overall contribution was functional rather than groundbreaking. Hall And Oates are a favourite of mine so listening to this album is no challenge to me. But when you've got some points of reference...Elton pointers...then it's easier to delve in.

Monday, November 3, 2014

'Where It's At'

As the ghosts post Halloween fade away, the blog sneaks out of the Autumn mists. As you can see from the last post, it's been a while since I combed through the Elton world. But as there are so many strands to it  it's difficult to give every layer a good straightening. Between now and the end of the year there'll be yet more delving into the rattle bag to be done. Thanks again to those who continue to seek the blog out for an independent look at the Elton world. I've got some (hopefully) interesting things to look at, as always they'll be off centre to widen the viewpoint of any newbies to the Elton world.

Elton in Madrid on Saturday night.
Before years end I'll have the distinct pleasure of being in Elton's company again. Not something to be sniffed at, whether it be first, umpteenth or last in line. The European leg of the tour started on the Saturday in that wonderfully Iberian named venue the Barclaycard Centre in Madrid. The capitalist global's fingers both long and gripping. The recent tour in North America was a resounding success as per usual. I had the pleasure of listening to a number of recordings from some of the shows over the last while, notably both Vancouver shows, both Los Angeles affairs, Seattle and Denver. The shows were rollicking performances, Elton and the band are currently treading on a fine (on the right side!) line between controlled and carefree. Concentration in maintaining togetherness and confident enough to cut free when the gap arises. Anybody not familiar with an Elton show will still find the songs as they would expect them...but the unexpected shoveled in without throwing everything else off kilter. 

Bilbao, Sunday night.
The current lineup of the band is cutting a groove for itself that's leaving a deep impact in the performance landscape. Nobody from Atlanta to Zurich will have gone home without a permanent aural scar emblazoned on their ear drums. This past month found Elton and the band back in the studio for some, as Davey put it to me on his blog, secret enterprise. In connection with some future Rocket Pictures endeavour no doubt. Mark this point though. When the day comes as, it surely will, Elton and the band return to the studio to record a 'proper' album this blog will ring the bells like a victory rejoice. Anyone who goes to the shows and is then ambivalent as to whether they (band) play on the albums or not has no business trying to find a reference point with me on this matter. Reset the conversation I say.

Early concert goers in Europe will notice the stage setup used in North America hasn't travelled over. But the absence of those lights coming up to Christmas will be easily compensated by the seasonal brightness. The roof will surely be raised, hook or by crook! Last show of the tour in Dublin...bound to be a party. More so now that there will be no remnants of The Diving Board in the setlist. Anyone who has just arrived back from servicing the Mars Explorer will know I am no fan of said album. It's non appearance in the setlist is more than a's essential. 

Firstly, unfamiliar songs are a challenge at an arena show. Carefully chosen though and they can become staples for a long time. Hey Ahab anyone? Unfortunately Oceans Away (a worthy song for sure) is totally unsuitable for an arena band show, it's 'newness' hindering it even more. Home Again looked as if it may have cemented a position in the setlist a la Ahab, but the absence of the girls on backing vocals took away any modicum of impact from early performances, late 2013 being the optimum time for it's performance life. Adding Believe, a very good thing in this bloggers opinion, and making the set a more taut affair will not do any harm to this leg of the tour. On the contrary, the tin says it so it will be the same inside. Even though we know what's coming as regards song lineup, hopefully as Cilla used bawl out, it'll be all 'Surprise, Surprise' on the night!!