Sunday, October 21, 2007

HAPPY BELATED 60th ELTON (or, concerts I can't believe I missed, part 1)

When I heard that Elton John was going to do a special 60th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden (his 60th time headlining there, as it happens), I figured it'd be his usual greatest hits show for rich celebs, so I wasn't even going to try to get tickets.


Actually, I was half right: I've been watching the DVD of the event, and yeah, everyone from Ozzy to Clinton (Bill, not George) is visible in the audience. And there was a bizarre moment when Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams came on stage to sing "Happy Birthday" that was a bit too showbiz for me (and more than a bit bizarre, with Williams acting as if the night was about him).

The thing about being an Elton fan is this: you sort of have to forget about all the showbiz stuff, the tantrums, the tiaras, some goofy collaborations, and many lame albums and just concentrate on his incredible body of music. And by "incredible body of music," I don't only mean his '70s stuff: his '80s/'90s/'00s repertoire includes some of his greatest songs ("Sad Songs," "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues," "Sacrifice," "The One," "The Last Song," "Believe" and pretty much the entire 2001 album Songs From The West Coast).
I've always been of the mind that, at the end of the day, only the music matters. So, I've looked the other way when it comes to some of Elton's less cool moments. They don't cheapen Tumbleweed Connection.
Anyway, this show was pretty remarkable. The setlist did contain most of the hits that you'd expect, including some that I could do without hearing ("Honky Cat," "Crocodile Rock," "I'm Still Standing"), the first ten songs were a true fan's dream: "Sixty Years On," "Madman Across The Water," "Where To Now St. Peter?," "Hercules," "Ballad Of A Well Known Gun," "Take Me To The Pilot," "High Flying Bird," "Holiday Inn," "Burn Down The Mission" and "Better Off Dead." Wow. Even though they showed crowd shots, it was hard to get a sense of whether or not the audience was digging this, other than a few very enthused fans.
A few years ago, I attended a fan-club only show by David Bowie. He played his Low album in full, followed by his then-new album, Heathen. It was at a pretty small (for Bowie) venue: Roseland. Even though it was fan club members, I didn't feel like it went over very well. A few years earlier, he did his 50th birthday concert at MSG, but had a lot of guests - The Foo Fighters, Robert Smith of The Cure, Lou Reed, Frank Black, Sonic Youth and Billy Corgan. He mixed up hits with lesser-known tracks, and also played most of his upcoming album, Earthling. It was a cool show.
I was glad that Elton avoided the "special guest" thing. And it is interesting that no one really noted all the obscure songs he did, while Bowie's themed concerts were seen as "brave." It's really just because critics absolutely adore Bowie (which I understand, I'm a big fan too), and they've written off Elton (which I also understand, to a certain extent). But I will say that Bowie hasn't released an album that stands up to his past the way Songs From The West Coast did for Elton.
Well done, Reg. And happy birthday.

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