Elton John- Kingston, Ontario November 14, 2017

Elton John
Elton John

Sir Elton John is a musical legend whose impact spans multiple generations.  I have powerful memories of the Captain Fantastic and never believing I’d have enough money to buy Goodbye Yellow Brick Road  – it was a double album of course.  I eventually bought it with hard-earned cash from my part-time job.  Like so many of Elton John’s albums, it was destined to be a classic.  While the vast majority of Elton John’s work is in collaboration with Bernie Taupin (they did part ways for a brief period from 1977 through 1979), it was John’s work with Tim Rice for Disney’s Lion King that introduced a whole new generation to Elton John’s musical genius.  I remember my daughter mesmerized in the movie theater and later her younger brother loving the stage production of the Lion King at the Princess of Wales Theater in Toronto.

To say that seeing Elton John live was #1 on my bucket list would be spot-on accurate.  He played to a sold-out crowd at Kingston’s K-Rock Center.  It’s a smaller arena venue at 1 The Tragically Hip Way.  For those not familiar with Kingston, Ontario, it is a beautiful small city on the shore of Lake Ontario.  It has some beautiful older limestone buildings, Queen’s University and the Royal Military College.  It was once consider for the capital of Canada and Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, made Kingston his home.  But way more importantly, Kingston is the home of The Tragically Hip.

We all have our own reasons for seeing live music.  For me, simply being in the presence of Sir Elton John, was reason enough to attend.  That said, being with so many others who could sing along with every song just added to the experience.  Now to say there was some extra icing on the concert cake was doubly true. We arrived a tasteful hour before show time.  We watched the crowd assemble – mostly of a vintage old enough to remember first generation Elton, but there were certainly millenials who could appreciate Elton’s music too.

Ok, so the icing on the cake?  The seats beside us were occupied by a couple who really didn’t seem as enthusiastic hardcore Elton fans.  As luck would have it, they were in the wrong seats and Susi arrived with tickets giving her full possession of those seats.  “Hi, I’m Susi.  What’s your name?” she released in preparation for Elton’s arrival.  She then announced to us that she was “hard-core”, this was Elton John concert number twenty and we better get ready.  “So what’s your story?” she asked without missing a beat, knowing full well Elton had touched us in some way.  We shared stories.  One-uped each other on who knew the most about Elton and then got ready for the Elton experience made better with Susi.  And I’ve got to give a huge shout out to Susi of Whitby.  If she is passionate about her custom cake business as she is about Elton John, she will put the icing on any event for you.  Check out Creative Cakes by Susi.  And she is a great photographer.  All pictures in this post of courtesy of Susi.  Did I mention that she managed to work her way up to the stage for an autograph too!

Elton didn’t miss a beat getting us on our feet by opening with The Bitch Is Back and moving effortlessly into the #1 hit Bennie and the Jets from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.  That album cover graced the back of Elton’s jacket.  Really, the flamboyance and platform shoes of that cover ironically represent Elton and glam-rock era of the seventies.

Nigel Olson
Nigel Olson

Through out the night he was accompanied by his long-time band mates – and I’m talking 30 plus years together – Nigel Olsen and Davey Johnstone.

Picking from the album that saw Elton and Bernie Taupin reunite (Too Low For Zero) he gave us that highly singable (what Elton John song isn’t highly singable) I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues.  It’s interesting to note that this is the only lyrics that Bernie Taupin reportedly regrets writing – ” loving you more than I love life itself.”

Take Me

Davey Johnstone
Davey Johnstone

to the Pilot was next on the set list.  This is a staple of Elton’s live performances.  When released as a single, it was the A-side to the enormous hit Your Song and was included on the American debut and self-titled Elton John album (his second studio album).  Many have tried to interpret this number, but lyricist Taupin himself has acknowledged that he really doesn’t know the meaning of the lyrics, but they do seem to have worked.

OK, true confessions, I teared-up during Daniel.  My childhood best friend wasn’t allowed to buy albums because his father deemed them of little musical value compared to classical and opera.  However, rock musicians who were also proficient pianists were an exception.  Elton John passed the acid test so before he was able to buy Frank Zappa incognito, we could openly listen to Elton John at his place – of course, my friend’s name was Daniel.

Now when an perform tells you he’s going to play a couple of his favourite songs, you have to listen carefully.  Looking Up and A Good Heart are both from Wonderful Crazy Night.  Even if many of the audience had only hear these songs for the first time, you immediately connected with them and John/Taupin collaborations.  Wonderful Crazy Night is Elton John’s celebration of his lift as a partner and father.  It’s fun and well worth the listen.

I’ve heard Philadelphia Freedom countless times and it was great to hear it live, but I never really knew the story.  It was written for Elton’s friend, tennis star Billy Jean King whose tennis team were the Philadelphia Freedoms.  The lyrics say absolutely nothing about tennis, but who cares – we were on our feet.
Elton paused for a moment to express his dismay for the state of the world tell us that this was one song he just had to sing – I Want Love from Songs From the West Coast  released in 2001.  While not one of his most prominent albums, when Elton John tells you he had to play this song, you listen – we did.

Tiny Dancer – what can you say about this beautiful ballad.  OK – teared-up again.  This is my daughter’s favorite Elton John song and I still remember her singing along to the Lion King as she sat on my knee at the theater.

When you she your musical hero live AND he plays your favorite song, you can go home satisfied.  I didn’t leave after Levon, but I could have left a very satisfied Elton John fan at that point.  But then I would have missed his moniker song – Rocket Man.  Hundreds of people were in the crowd wearing Rocket Man jackets.  It’s been covered dozens of times and is probably top-ten karaoke, but it was a treat to hear The Man perform it himself.

Have Mercy On the Criminal from Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player has pleading lyrics that may be speaking to the challenges of those with nineteen-seventies taboo sexual orientations – “Have mercy on the criminal/Who has fallen from the law/Are you blind to the winds of change?/Don’t you hear him anymore”.  Regardless, the music is powerful rock that John and his band delivered with passion.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is the album cover adorning Elton John’s concert attire.  It was rendered beautifully and demonstrated that Elton John is as good musically now, and perhaps better, than he was when this double-album was released in 1973.  As an album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road demonstrated the musical breadth and depth of Elton John and the phenomenal lyrical/story telling abilities of  Bernie Taupin.

It is hard to imagine that Your Song was a B-side single, but it was released that way in the US.  Elton John himself sees this song as the point at which he realized what a tremendous poetic talent his eventual collaborator of fifty years (so far) would be.

Sad Songs (Say So Much) is from the second reunification album of John/Taupin Breaking Hearts.  Its pop music and lots of fun.

When he launched into Don’t Let the Sun Go Down you wanted to hear the other voice and have Elton introduce “Mr. George Michael”.  It’s never going to happen and the Kingston concert rendition was great, but we do miss George Michael and I suspect Elton does too.

I’m Still Standing, also from Too Low For Zero is possibly an anthem song for Elton John who has reinvented himself numerous times without ever really swerving away from just writing great music.

If anyone questions for a second the continued musical skills of Elton John they needed to have been at the K-Rock for his piano solo.  He teased us with riffs from some of his greatest tunes and then dazzled with outstanding showmanship.  But he didn’t slow for a minute moving directly into the rock and roll tunes that are part of his legend – Crocodile Rock, Your Sister Can’t Twist, and Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.

He left the stage for perhaps five minutes to make us work for our encore – and we earned Candle In the Wind.  Perhaps the classiest moment was before Candle In the Wind when he took time for sign autographs and meet some of his fans.