Elton John rocked Roanoke
The following rock concert review is more than slightly out of date (almost four months ago, hence the past tense rocked in the title), but the musical event we saw was unquestionably good enough to warrant belated mention on this often-tardy blog. I should first explain that Elton John* was my favorite rock star when I was in high school, but I drifted away during my college years as he became more and more eccentric. In contrast, my younger brother Chris remained a loyal fan for many years thereafter, and has seen Elton perform in concert a few times.
As we all grow older, there are certain things we want to do before it's too late, and seeing big name rock stars is high on my "bucket list." So when I heard in Januuary that Elton John was going to perform in concert in Roanoke, I knew right away that I had to get tickets. I am extremely suspicious of buying concert tickets from online vendors, and always try to buy them in person at box offices. Fortunately, I already had plans to be in Roanoke on the very day when the tickets went on sale, attending the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Virginia, less than a mile away from the Roanoke Civic Center. That extraordinary coincidence in time and place made me think the concert must be a sign from heaven, or something like that.
And so, it was on the Ides of March that Jacqueline and I drove to Roanoke (from Lynchburg, where I was teaching that day) to see Elton John in concert. Most of the audience was about our age, some folks considerably older or younger. It's a sign of the broad appeal his music has. Our seats were pretty far back in the Roanoke Civic Center, a basketball arena with about 5,000 seats, I'd guess. We were about half way up in the upper level, near the right rear corner, and we could have used binoculars. But at least the sound system and acoustics were decent, so we enjoyed the music. To my delight, Elton started off with my favorite song from my high school days ("Saturday Night's Alright"), and the next few songs were likewise from the early years, especially the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album, which was probably his best. Here is the song list, guaranteed 95% accurate in terms of sequence, with a couple uncertain titles:
- Saturday Night's Alright
- Bennie and the Jets
- Grey Seal *
- Madman Across the Water
- Holiday Inn
- Tiny Dancer
- Philadelphia Freedom
- All the Young Girls Love Alice *
- Hello - Harmony
- Candle In the Wind
- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
- Rocket Man
- I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues
- (Leon Russell song) ?
- Gone To Shiloh
- My Red Shoes ?
- Mountain Dew ?
- Funeral For a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding *
- Tiny Dancer
- Someone Saved My Life Tonight
- Honky Cat
- Sad Songs
- I'm Gonna Be a Teenage Idol *
- Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word
- Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me
- I'm Still Standing
- Crocodile Rock
- Your Song
It was one of the longest concerts I had ever seen, which reflects the huge body of work that EJ created. 31 songs total, as many as there are Baskin-Robbins flavors! For a guy that old to put that much energy into a performance is really amazing -- much like when the Rolling Stones performed in Charlottesville in 2005. I wish the electric guitar on "Saturday Night's Alright" had been stronger, like in the original with over-amped power chords, but Elton's piano was the focus throughout. Three of the songs (marked with asterisks) were lesser-known songs that I hadn't heard for years if not decades, very impressive. Five songs (with question marks) were new to me, and I guessed at some of the titles. I was not familiar with "Gone To Shiloh," which he mentioned had special meaning for Bernie Taupin, who wrote the lyrics to all or nearly all of ELton's songs. What was missing? "The Bitch Is Back," "Border Song" (the only one on his greatest hits CD he didn't play), maybe "Burn Down the Mission" would have been nice. No "Island Girl," which is just as well. But there's no way he could have played all his good songs.
Throughout the concert, Elton was enthusiastic, gracious, and funny, with very little of the eccentric flamboyance he was once known for. You can tell he really enjoys performing and pleasing the audience, and it's nice that success hasn't spoiled him the way it has other top musicians. He would comment between some of the songs to explain why they were important to him, etc. As expected, he plugged his new pal, Leon Russell, another piano player from the 1970s. The band included two of the other early-days members: Davey Johnstone on guitar and Nigel Olsson on drums.
In sum, it was a wonderful evening of entertainment, well worth the $76 price per ticket. Elton is probably among the top ten rock musicians or groups of all time, certainly on par with the Eagles (whom we saw in May 2008), if not the Rolling Stones (whom we saw in October 2005). I got carried away and bought not only the souvenir book (LP album size) but also a T-shirt with the "Rocket Man" tour theme. The concert was most likely a once-in-a-lifetime event for us, so I figured it was OK to splurge a little.
*Elton John's real name is Reggie Dwight.