Saturday, October 3, 2009

Elton John Concert

Of the 79 concerts Elton John will do in 2009, only 7 are with the percussionist Ray Cooper.

Last night we saw the last at Palais des Congres, a large modern amphitheatre seating 3,723 on the west side of Paris beyond the Arc de Triomphe, before he continues throughout Europe for the rest of October on his Red Piano tour and then back to the states for Face to Face with Billy Joel.

The Maillot station (Line 1) actually lets you out underneath the complex (which is like a mini-mall) and you just have to go up a couple flights to reach the ampthitheatre.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, for some reason I thought (until 2 days ago!) the concert was in the Grand Palais in central Paris and that we were on the floor among possible tens of thousands of fans. Instead we were in an intimate, though large, ampthitheatre in comfortable lush red seats.

Though we were one row from the back, we still had a great unobstructed view of the stage containing nothing but a grand piano and a really large set of every imaginable percussion instrument.

There was no opening act so, at a few minutes after 8p, Elton John walked alone across the stage wearing a black jacket with tails and the words “Stardust Kiss” in pink down the right lapel and “Elton John” down the other. He immediately received a standing ovation while bowing repeatedly to the audience.

After sitting at piano and making a few brief remarks in French, the show began and did not end until almost 11p with no interruptions, almost 3 hours (compared to less than 2 for Coldplay and Diana Krall).

The first segment was 15 songs with Elton John solo followed by 15 songs and 1 encored with Ray Cooper who joined him about 80 minutes in.

The complete setlist for the tour can be found here. I am a very casual fan and know almost nothing about Elton John other than his popular songs on the radio, especially his hits from the 70s and 80s.

Most of the 15 opening songs were from his new work. I recognized only 3 or 4 (Rocket Man, Tiny Dancer, Your Song).

He occasionally made political remarks, which I am not usually fond of at a concert since I am not paying an artist to listen to their political commentary, but he made them only to introduce the inspiration for a particular song which I think is acceptable. One was a reference to the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and the Reagan Administration's inaction which led do "Ballad of the Boy In The Red Shoes" and the other was a reference to Matthew Shepard who was murdered in Wyoming 12 years ago for being gay which inspired "American Triangle."

The solo segment started to sound all the same after a while; there was little variation in the vocal or musical tone. John's voice was deeper than I recall from the radio and many of the high notes (from, say, Rocket Man) were sung an octave lower which I assume is simply the result of age (and maybe the throat surgery he had years ago) or a way of preserving his voice. He also plays a very muscular piano, by which I mean he hits many keys at once to create a big sound rather than tinkling a sequence of individual keys.

After a long instrumental introduction to the 16th song ("Funeral For A Friend"), Ray Cooper lit up at the drums and suddenly the energy level for the show went up a big notch. Ray Cooper is a trip; it is no just his sound but he is visual fun to watch. I never thought of a percussionist choreographing his performance but the way in which he played his instruments was mesmerizing.

I recognized a few more of the songs in the second set (Levon, Daniel, Sorry Seem to be the Hardest Word, Don't Let the Song Go Down on Me, Honky Cat and Saturday Night for the encore). He said "Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word" always reminds him of France but he doesn't know why. The part in the song where he sings "it's sad... so sad... such a sad, sad situation" illustrated the limit of his voice again. Instead of the falsetto from the original, he simply dropped it an octave. It sounded fine but it lacked the range and, therefore, excitement, of what you expect to hear.

However, this was made up for by the addition of Ray Cooper which resulted in some fun, interesting, and extended variations of familiar songs. I prefer an artist mix it up a little rather than simply play the CD version of a song.

During the last song of the second set ("Crazy Water"), fans started exiting their seats seemingly spontaneously and walking down the aisles to the front. If I didn't know better, you would have thought Elton John was singing "Just As I Am" at a Billy Graham Crusade. (Can you just imagine that!?)

After returning onstage for the encore, he spent about 5 minutes shaking hands and signing autographs for the fans fortunate enough to be a stage-side. He even gave his glasses to one lucky fan. He then finished with a rousing version of Saturday Night. On the metro back home, we met an Israeli couple who happened to have stage-side seats and got his autograph in their program.

These are some pictures and some audio/video recordings from the concert. The pics are Brit's and mine; the audio is mine (iPhone) and the two short videos are Brit's. As you would expect, the lighting was spectacular and the sound system was flawless.

60 Years On

Weight of the World


Original Sin

Your Song

Better Off Dead

I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself


Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

Carla/Etude and Blessed

Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting

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