Saturday, December 13, 2014

'And The View From...'

You know that period between Christmas and New Year when the telly companies decide to fill up that important schedule gap between Indiana Jones And The Old Artifact Snatch and Morecombe And Wise sometime in the last century festive special with a review of the year. Unless you've been taking part in a Sleeping Beauty contest all year then it's a rehash even most recycling plants wouldn't find of any value. So rather than get lost in that dead zone and to look back on something that anyone reading here would find far more interesting than any of that let's pop the cork and spirit out the ghosts of 2014.

I had intended to do something similar last year but I'll be honest with you. My Elton mojo 12 month's ago had taken a right battering, storm force doesn't even go there. The final straw...a large bale of them dropped from a great height...was the vile, disgusting attempts to wreck Davey's blog on Musinq. Totally unforgivable and shameful. Like a Santa doesn't exist moment. Those responsible should have developed bad stoops at this stage due to their heads being in a permanent state of shame hanging. If not then their necks must be harder than a jockey's...anyway, we won't dwell on such characters at this time. I think this year has been fabulous for the Eltonites. There always seems to be so much going on, the touring ropes everyone into the mix. Sporadic hard copy releases keep things ticking over on that front. It's ended though on a terrific high, especially for me after last Tuesday night. But it was only the final act of some incredible scenes that began with some dramatic moments. On stage and on disc we've had a full year. Brimming with goodies...even the tastiest gum drops aren't up to this mark.

I'll start with Elton's touring arm. Or both arms of course. Starting in North America in February we began to see more and more GYBR tracks being added that at one point we had 10 different songs from the album being played live (though not all in the same setlist). For one glorious moment it looked as if we may have got the full...or as near as full as Elton would do...album being played. But alas we could see it on the horizon but the rainbow seemed well up the road. We bade a Goodbye to I've Seen That Movie after a brief cameo. Captured on film, it's power still intact after all the years in hiatus.  

Elton went back to South America for another tour, primarily in Brazil this time. The fans down there are unreal, I watch them on Facebook with packs of passion pitching up at the venues. Pretty special when he plays Skyline Pigeon down there, the band version is the one to savour. Summer time and the World Cup kind of dominated things for me during June and July. However one standout show was Elton's first festival appearance in the US at Bonnarroo. This is becoming a new thing for Elton in the last few years, taking the last slot at these multi act affairs. Broadcast live in sound and vision it also gives the people in the venue a chance to peer into Eltonworld and see what the fuss is all about. Doubters will have manners put on them. Waverers will be tipped over to the light side. As for the converted...another preaching to never did anyone any harm. This performance is highly recommended though Someone Saved My Life Tonight is a bit raggedy at times. A Glastonbury appearance is surely only a matter of time.

The Autumn leg of the tour continued the great work on stage, musically. One highlight from that lofty position he holds went beyond music. His speech from the stage in St. Petersburg on LGBT rights in Russia again was heard at first hand by the converted but those who need to hear I get the feeling had the mufflers on that day. I suspect though if they didn't hear the speech they felt the vibrations of it. And will continue to do so. And so the tour ended in my parish and the curtain came down on another 100 or so shows. In both hemisphere's and in all weathers. Indoors, outdoors, like the Wombles Elton and the band keep rolling around the globe. All the reviews took the same hymn sheet and whilst putting their local dialect stamp on it the same mantra was preached time and time again. 

Some great setlist moments during the year need to be mentioned here. Rocket Man in late 2013 featured one of the 'Dream' sections from TDB as an intro. That asepct has continued this year but has drifted away from that original idea (as did so many things from that album, more later). It's now developed into a multi coloured shop of swapping moods and shades. A great song now bookended by some great playing at the start and finish. Levon has progressed beyond anything we could (but Elton of course can!) imagine. The outro getting progressively longer over the last few years has now subtly had another avenue connected onto it. Expect an exciting journey down this route in 2015. Elton did well over 40 different songs this year, nearly two different setlists if you please. So the complaint Elton doesn't mix it up much kind of gets an Exocet through it's main doors. Elton's a crowd pleaser and a promoters dream. If he turns up and does what the paying public want then all is well. The demand is there...

We've had some great treats on the disc front...and the movie front. The showing of the Million Dollar Piano in the cinemas was a great idea though in practice the sound aspect of it was a joke. For the next presentation of this type that anomaly has to rectified or it's not worth bothering about. The dvd release is far better on that issue. The GYBR 40th could and should have had more. The de luxe box was nicely presented (looks even better signed!) but the covers disc didn't seem to make any friends. The Hammersmith Odeon show had minimal work done to it compared to the bootleg version. Still though, next year is the CF 40th. Is there anything left in that cannon to fire off?! The announcement of The Pillars Of Hercules documentary is another triumph. Simply put, fans have been crying out for this type of project for decades. The band in the early days along with those in the control room were at the coalface of finishing off the creations that are the terrific songs that Elton and Bernie had manufactured. An amoeba crawling out of a petri dish in a laboratory hearing Rocket Man on the radio for the first time would grasp that concept. So we're gonna to get to hear in greater detail than ever before about the magic that went down in getting down the magic on disc.

The year was in it's dying embers when it was given a large dose of accelerant. The news we've been waiting for...or should I say...we knew would arrive. A when, not an if. A new band album to be recorded in February. If that's not enough to get the juices at flood levels, then you must be experiencing a severe drought. Then again, I suppose we've been all to the desert and back since The Captain And The Kid in 2006. This camel doesn't need to be led to the water, I can smell it a year off. Never in a million years did I think we'd be getting to hear such a gift so soon or even for that matter ever again. The previous producer has got his P45. For that I am delighted.

As far back as September '13 I said the current producer's era was over. The proof is now before us. The band are back to their proper positions in life. Again, our friend the amoeba will be crawling in joy or whatever it is a one celled creatures do when ecstatic. The great thing about having this equilibrium restored is that all possibilities are on and all bets are off. Shackles broken, freedom fields to be explored. Every possible avenue of creativity is an option and readily available. To be plundered and paraded. Davey's remarks on his blog that the album will rock is telling. For a number of reasons.

Firstly, take Hey Ahab. It's one of the longest surviving new songs of the 21st Century. The slow, lethargic example on The Union was given the belting of it's life on stage and is now an essential part of the setlist. Again, there are so many why's as to the reason for this. The main's rocks the be***** out of everyone. And that's what grabs attention in an arena, coliseum, stadium or field. So a new album that rocks will surely have commercial potential and should garner some sort of life on the live circuit for longer than the initial promo release period. Which takes us nicely back to this news which is truly a moment to savour. Hopefully the biggest asset of Elton's current live incarnation can be siphoned off in copious large chunks, an environment rich in natural resources of light, power and energy. Whereas darkness, lifelessness and lethargy prevailed on the couple of discs up to this point under the old regime. A genesis moment has occurred...not lambs lying down on Broadway...but the start of a whole new world.

Elton and the collective souls of the band have great musical spatial awareness of each other on stage. With this new world comes a chance to make history.The three older members of the band, Nigel, Davey and John have already done that on disc. It's now time for Kim and Matt to have their turn in the studio. They bring a whole new dynamic to proceedings, anyone who been to a concert since 2010 will know this. They'll bring something new, not borrowed and won't make us blue. And a marriage made in heaven. 2015 has so much potential it's like energy about to be created. Though scientifically that's impossible (though the previous producer accomplished the feat of destroying energy), Eltonifically it can be done. And it'll live and breath...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

'Elton & The Band Live At The 3Arena Dublin 9th December 2014 - Review'

The 3Arena. Situated right beside the River Liffey, a name derived from the word 'life'. Fitting then that life should be celebrated by the greatest live act currently on the circuit and ably concelebrated by the ablest of able cohorts.

As wind entered the could well have been real considering the wonky weather pouring forth from the heavens, or worse still from down below...we were feeling the effects of ethereal forces for sure. If the dimmed lights at the start of Funeral For A Friend emitted the feeling that we were in the middle of some sort of seance attempting to make contact with the afterlife then that solemnity was quickly dulled as the lights found full power when real 'live' life became a certainty. The Fantastic Captain with the ultimate name tag on a jacket began an opening salvo that quickly developed into a barrage. 

Like a lot of things on the night we were returning to old ground. One of these was the rightfully restored placing of FFF/LLB at the start of the set. The five piece band sound has also been restored to fasten shut the 'sound'. The monsterpiece has many facets but as would be another part of the show the fields of foreign lands...and worlds...would be visited, the Tibetan cymbals from John being incredibly ceremonial during the opening lines. Band version of Candle In The Wind...chocked full of those Nigel fills that harmoniously beat...the heavy bass line from Matt on the final chorus essential here too. All The Girls Love Alice with the heavy hammering from Elton on the verses is tempered on the chorus when his gradually ascending vocal is masterfully countered by Matt's opposing descending chords. The riff from Davey with it's karate like chops. And a sexy video backdrop. So much going on so far...and it's only four songs in. From just one album.

Levon...with the sharply angled Buckmaster arrangement skillfully negotiated by Kim...ends as we would have wanted it to. The way Elton's being doing it for the last number of years. Getting longer and longer it seems with no end in sight. Elton standing up, eyes not for the keys but the challenge them and to be challenged. Matt's licks at this time, if isolated, would be a beginners guide (for the already very good) on why a bass player is not only needed but essential. But how could the extra stretch be elongated even more. Just as a natural end might have been arrived at he just takes it down a notch, not stopping but steadying things with a groove that is constant (Nigel & John are in the zone here as they say), Davey bubbling above the storm clouds as Elton dives once more back into the slip stream until a halt is called. Incredible version here...2015's edition I suspect is not to be missed.

We've seen the showman side of Elton..both in terms of playing and gesticulating. Step up the humanitarian. His dedication at the start of Tiny Dancer to little Lily Mae and to the fundraisers for the charity single in 2012 to help in her fight to 'eff cancer' was humbling for everyone there and most of all Elton I'd suspect. But his humility should go in tandem with pride for himself (in terms of allowing the song to be used for such a great cause and for helping to write it of course). It always gets a great reaction when played...great just became the greatest in this neck of the woods from this time on I suspect.

As a poster held up said, Believe In Elton. Yet again when he does (possibly) my favourite EJ/BT song it never fails to resonate. Timeless and timely. The added exotic feel of faraway places return with the Tablas from John. Kim again found the deep end of the Buckmaster arrangement and pumped it up for all it's worth. Goodbye Yellow Brick of the greatest '45s' of all treated with precision here. Davey's essential Leslie guitar sound is to the forefront and Nigel's classic parts are also noted. As are the harmonies. Aficionados of this classic sound hearing GYBR for the first time are not disappointed. Nor was anybody with the luminous video tale of Elton's colourful career.

Rocket often a source of extended workouts at the end has now been bookended with something extraordinary at the start. This is another one for the newbies to see why he's the only one is his field that can attempt and succeed at this venture...Elton alone at the keyboard plundering his way through his extensive back knowledge of music. So no surprise he switches from Bach style Baroque to Bordelloish Boogie in one beat. Time and cultures all seamlessly mixed. Music across Centuries and Continents conjured up. But all that meant the outro had a lot to live up to. And it did. His progressive style and gradual attaining of higher moments was another example of faraway places being within his...and then ours...grasp. The big screen almost 3Dlike with it's vision of Earth from space like a genuine view from Mars. Something to note during this voyage of discovery, a voyage that Matt has been on since he joined the band. The discovery of Elton's handiwork and his genuine exploration of it. Not for the first time during the show but during this trail out part he stood behind Elton to marvel and to tap into his vibe. No wonder he's always bouncing around the stage for joy!

Hey Ahab has become such a rock beast that nobody unfamiliar with it dares ups and leaves for the 'pitstop'. It's aggressive, bolshie and hard. Elton's piano pounding percussive nature knocked lumps out of it. I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues culminated in one of rocks most cohesive, knowing relationships. Elton with his big lung engorging finish responding to bluesy licks from Davey as both timed their responses accordingly with with each other's exclamations. Mid show a brief restbite is required. Energy to be reclaimed for the next part of the journey. The One is ideal here...Elton taking one of his most naturally flowing melodies, putting an equally natural strong vocal on top, and holding court for the transfixed crowd. Intensity all in One go. If people think Your Song has been flogged to death in concert, then chew on this one. The echo of the crowd singing it is enough to tell me it has another bit left to run in it. Quite a bit of bite. 

With that musical equivalent of the three Shredded Wheat on board it was time to rev it up again. Burn Down The Mission with it's multi switching movements of broken rhythms to all out banging rock leaves no time for inhalation of air. Nigel's batterdrum finish to Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me in complete contrast to his melodious accompaniment during the preceding sections of the song. Octane at a high dose. Which some's up the period from The Bitch Is Back right through to Crocodile Rock. Thoughts of anything other than what's happening on stage are impossible. This is the moment. Elton still has the should we. Your Sister Can't Twist with it's faux Beach Boys backing vocals present and correct is supported by Davey's driving guitar and Kim's right side of cheesy organ. Saturday Night's Alright falls into the category of paradise restored. The opening is the first example of that...the proper drums and guitar intro, the stop start rhythm finding gear when Matt's shimmy on the bass and Elton ripples the keys to signal full on onslaught. But where Levon might have heralded a breakdown, we get it now at the end of this one. Looking for vocal reinforcements, he goads the crowd to chant, so they chant 'Saturday' in excelsis. Almost worshiplike...both for song and singer. As for Crocodile Rock...the song where everyone in the crowd can be a band member...just for one song. Are we done though? Not quite...

To let us go home with some semblance of calm...not possible I think...he treats us to one of his favourites. Circle Of Life/Can You Feel The Love Tonight? is a combination of restorative emotions and positive messages. Simple as that, to hear it is to know it.

After 100 shows this year, the tour ends. Not by happenstance in Dublin, but more out of design. Energy levels were incredibly high throughout with no lessening of delivery. Elton is in tip top live form at the moment and the band are so tapped into what's happening on stage that when...not if of course...they go back into the studio and put in there what they give out on stage then all bets are off as to what can be achieved. As 2014 suggests...2015 promises anything and everything.

Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding 
Bennie and the Jets 
Candle in the Wind 
All the Girls Love Alice 
Tiny Dancer 
Philadelphia Freedom 
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 
Rocket Man 
Hey Ahab 
I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues 
The One 
Your Song 
Burn Down the Mission 
Sad Songs (Say So Much) 
Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word 
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me 
The Bitch Is Back 
I'm Still Standing 
Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'n Roll) 
Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting 
Crocodile Rock
Circle Of Life/Can You Feel The Love Tonight?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

'Cause Lennon's On Sale Again'

Last week was the 40th anniversary of Lennon not only being on sale again but up on stage for possibly the last time. I say possibly because those present at the Tribute to Lord Lew Grade (he of ATV and Sinking The Atlantic fame) in April 1975 might protest that their thunder was bushwhacked. Whichever or whatever the definitive moment was, there's no doubt it was still a triumph. Lennon is for every day, not just for Thanksgiving. 

But I'm not going to look at the moment at this time. have done some great articles on that moment from those who were there so the eyewitness reports are quite sufficient. What I want to zoom in on is Lennon's studio collaborations with Elton.

I had Sgt Pepper on the other day and it's impact still seeps through the speakers. No wonder Brian Wilson nearly crashed his car on first hearing of it on the radio which led in some small part to his retreat from the world following his failure to bring his 'Smile' project to fruition. He knew at that very moment his task of topping the Lonely Hearts Club band effort would be futile. The 1967 version of Lucy was recorded pretty quickly, one night for the rhythm track and another night for the overdubs. Recorded on cutting edge (at the time) equipment that rapidly became out dated at decades ends. But that still doesn't temper it's influence. The surreal imagery...too 'out there man' even for this blogger to decipher! But the catchy chorus needs no explanation. Lennon's vocal is quite tinny at times, the half here, half there spirit he evokes from it is another example of its detachedness from our reality. McCartney's bass at the end is his usual style of rhythmic punch.

Jump forward seven fact we've headed at Warp 7 into the future. Because recording techniques at this time had taken the same leap of light speed. Elton's version is bolder, brighter, bigger and beautiful. The longer intro with bells on...quite literally from Ray... immediately grabs a vital tribute from the original version. Davey on Leslie guitar is centrally located to spread some familiar soundscapes. The 'Caribou' sound of the drums, all points focused and lively are in evidence. Nigel's big fills could only be dreamed about in 1967. Elton's vocal is more adventurous than Lennon's was. His lively harmonies are terrific. Lennon's vocal is heard on the chorus but his distinctive (at times) snarl is clearly heard. Elton's great skill at arranging is sometimes overlooked, but his interweaving of Mellotron especially with other keyboards is carefully and tastefully done. A massive sound is generated, again the Old '67ers would be jealous. 

One Day (At A Time) was another that got the 'Elton' treatment and was all the better for it. Lennon's 'Mind Games' version suffers from a lack of proper production input. Produced by himself it shows what a great song it is but nothing more. Country tinged due to Sneaky Pete's involvement and the reverby drums being stroked by light brushes. However when Gus got his able producing hands on it, a greater event came to fruition.

Elton's electric piano work...always a great favourite here...bounces like a ping pong from left to right in the spectrum. Davey takes the motif that flowed through the original to another level. Takes it to the front in fact. His gorgeous guitar work, sassy and sultry, is ably backed up by bright acoustic piano. String synth adds some glorious washes of sound, the solo part is like a workout of symmetry and harmony. Nigel's delicate yet definite drumming is bristling full of bounce.

Elton took two masterclass works of songwriting and turned one on it's head and accentuated the positive in the other. They say you shouldn't do covers but in these cases, for differing reasons, these both work...even better than the real thing. Miley take was already done and done...better.