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 are...so 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.