Saturday, July 18, 2015

'Elton & Band Live At Lucca, Radio2 Rai Broadcast - Review'

I think it's been a long long time in coming...but finally I got to hear what went down in Lucca.

There's been a strange old sideshow running alongside the summer European tour. On the boundaries of the main event a small three ring circus was parked up. At various times hopping in and out were discussions on modern work practices of security personnel, the rheumatology and orthopedict aspects of knees and the timekeeping and number count of the setlist. Reading reams and reams of rubbish on those matters on the various soapboxes bordered on the bizarre at times, downright maddening the rest of the time. If that's what the soapbox died for then, the suds coming out of it means it truly wept. Quite how we got to this is beyond even this blogger's comprehension...but what is in my control is that none of those pointless topics will be appearing here. I'll say this about the setlist; Elton has spent many years finding one that he is comfortable with and one that fans are equally at home with. The supposedly shortened set...I'd call it streamlined...has been refreshed and rejigged. The simple maneuvering of a few favourites caught a lot on the hop. The same people who demand change, if you please.

Anyway, enough of that boring old guff. On to the show...Lucca over the years has always been radio broadcast, 1999, 2003, 2007, and 2011 are all safely in the files. This year we got the same treatment, complete with malodian mouths talking over the start of each song. Like inebriated people at an Elton show, do they spoil it?! Not if you let them...Elton's piano playing cuts through them to reveal he has still plenty of fresh things to say, even within the confines of familiar surroundings. The power to surprise, the power to please, the power to reinforce the old values. If the curtain is coming and Elton is heading out, then it's at the top of the world, ma.

Confident with the brash opening of The Bitch Is Back, his voice warms up with vigorous jabs and jerks. No ceremony standing here, the sound mix is impeccable. Crucial of course when the new pearls of wisdom that Elton deploys throughout are clear to be heard. Matt on bass, just by doing some simple yet distinctive licks has now entered my top echelons of bass players of all time, alongside Dee, David Paton and Bob Birch. And he's going to get even better! Davey 'windmilling' at the end generating it's own energy reservoir, which will be needed later. 

Bennie And The Jets throws us one the those early pearls, Kim with layers usually underneath suddenly finds them to the forefront on the chorus. Nigel and John combine tightly here; John with ruffled hi-hat caught in the down draft of Elton. Davey's counter melodies on the jam playing of Elton slip away quickly as he slips in some licks before the rhythm section weaves in and out every so often before it boots everyone back into play. 

The sudden appearance of Davey at the start of Alice on guitar is always startling, like someone screaming at your opening front door. Whilst recovering from that shock, he delays the riff entry in order to prolong the 'agony!' The piano is really up for it here, barging to the front you hear the fully pumped lines throughout. PSI heavy...the chorus breaks with Kim cracking the whip on the synth, the after stings of those slash's slow to calm down. Levon starts with an eerie solo vocal, Elton's voice with a dozen or more unseen Elton's heralding Jesus. Kim with razor sharp swipes, taking his cue from the absent 2Cello's to underscore the orchestral arrangement with greater ferocity than normal. The outro again sets a scene of rock and roll carnage on a grand scale. We're going full circle here as Elton goes back to the time when the piano was the premiere instrument of rock, it's brutal and unforgiving pounding come complete with jabs and stabs that are thick and fast. Then space opens up, the bass stops and a struggle between Elton and Davey begins. Who has the stamina to wrestle control, we'll never know as Davey retreats to safer ground. Then Nigel challenges him, his incessant beating of the snare like something out of the Middle Ages using percussion to drive the unclean and unwanted from the village. Elton responds by re engaging gear and heading out of town under his own steam. 

Rocket Man with it's thoughtful intro, open eyes and silent mouth. A raft of emotions are explored here, going further than any Dream could ever dream to do. If the Dreams on TDB were the Moon, we're orbiting Pluto here. His left hand is leading, the right hand co-piloting and navigating through this new atmosphere. For unsuspecting listener's the song with the the most sudden of vocal arrivals now has the most delayed on tour. Great to see that part of Elton's live repertoire beginning to find's it's voice again. The ending is just as delayed, the last vestige of emotion and feeling is slowly expunged for maximum effect and for longer lasting impressions. 

Rush forward to the final chorus of Burn Down The Mission, and then take a deep breath. Because a shiny pearl will appear. Elton digs deep vocally (as he always does here) but deep down in the bowels of the Elton mine shaft he reveals something super shiny. On the line 'Oh if we're gonna stay alive' his rephrasing of it one of the best jewels he's shown us lately. Incredible texture to it. Sorry Seems To Be...has John with a cast of characters ranging from cymbals, triangle and chimes ably supported by other fully paid up members of the percussion union. The union boss, Comrade Cooper, would surely approve. The final playout with Kim tenderly bringing the accordion to the fore with the strings aft. I'm Still Standing starts hurriedly and speeds up after that. Tom rolls in abundance, Davey's solo is surefire quick and a surefire direct hit. Your Sister Can't Twist may be a post ironic statement of late 50's fluff, but the fluff is blown away when Davey bulldozes in with the nasty sounding guitar, like a Teddy boy determined to have a good time. On his terms and nobody else's...especially on a...

...Saturday Night which shows us why 70's rock was the real deal, even when 50's rock found itself in itself in the clothing of flares and big collars it still sounded hot. Chuck Berry live at the BBC in 1972 confirms that but back in 2015 we hear Elton doing exactly what Chuck did and hammer out a word on every note. He's still clear, concise and fully in control of his vocals here. If a court was summoned to judge such matters, then this example of Saturday Night will be the first and only exhibit. On the second chorus another pearl is polished off. Suddenly he slips into a simplistic rhyming of the words. Monotonal with more than a slight hint of leg pulling. And pulled it off he did. The solo ends with a flourish from Kim, a simple device that stands out above other examples. The outro jam again surprise and teases. Davey, like that Teddy Boy of earlier, takes centre stage again, bending strings and wrenching every angry response out of the Les Paul. Elton with heavy left hand and gentle right, teases the riff until the rhythm section peels back. Matt's heavy bass holds it all together, Nigel's hi-hat snuffles in the background, then a cameo from Song For Guy makes a guest appearance. Matt spots him, seizes him and has pounced on him. All in one movement. Until Elton decides to sweep them all aside and heads off again. 

On a whim The One slowly comes into focus. Elton's whim is indeed just that, throw something unexpected in an unexpected place. Unexpectedly of course! But this isn't a whimsical version, the empty stage allows for the words to breath with open passage ways. Which in turn allows Elton to express them with greater depth and control. His pauses and expressiveness is really on another level here. Less pacey than of recent times, the more considered approach pays huge dividends. For Elton primarly...and for us.

This was a terrific broadcast, the yapping announcers had a much as effect as yapping dogs. Ignore them and they'll go away. The concert was a powerhouse first class display from Elton and band throughout, all we need now is for Stray Arc Records to wave their big wand in their little hand and make it into a 'hard copy'...

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