SAN FRANCISCO Elton John and his band squeezed into the
intimate Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel on Thursday night, to give
an industry-laden crowd a short-but-sweet set of tunes from his upcoming
soundtrack album, Elton John's The Road to El Dorado, and a
smattering of his '70s hits.
John has had a lengthy career that has seen him through several
incarnations from balladeer to goofy, glammy rocker to eulogist
for Princess Diana and film composer, with a few detours along the way.
But his 45-minute set here drew mostly from the animated movie "The Road
to El Dorado," which he worked on with lyricist Tim Rice and composer
Han Zimmer, the same team he collaborated with on "The Lion King."
Joining a band that included three male backing singers including
Nigel Olsson, his drummer in the '70s a keyboard/synth player, a
percussionist, drummer, bassist and two guitarists one of them
being Davey Johnstone, another longtime sideman the 52-year-old
singer and pianist (born Reginald Kenneth Dwight) bounded onstage in a
magenta suit embroidered with rhinestones and plastic jewels, with
matching magenta boots and small rectangular glasses.
He opened with the movie's title track and "Something Out of the Blue,"
both ballads, which featured synth-heavy intros. He introduced "The
Question" as a song that, like the major "Lion King" hit "Can You Feel
the Love Tonight," was originally left on the movie's cutting-room
floor. Both films were produced by DreamWorks.
Given that "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" went on to win a Grammy and
an Academy Award only after he insisted it be put back in the
movie John said he told the film producers, "You f---ing better
well" find a way to include "The Question," too.
Although the soundtrack doesn't come out until March 14 (with the movie
to follow on March 31), the audience of about 400 clapped in sync with
the driving beat of "The Trails We Blaze" perhaps indicative of
the number of insiders in the standing-room-only, invitation-only crowd.
As clips from the film continued to roll on screens placed at either
side of the ornate, columned stage, John and the band closed the
soundtrack portion of the set with "16th Century Man."
After introducing the band, John, as he'd promised at the start of the
set, dipped into his extensive catalog for a rocking version of the 1975
pop-soul hit "Philadelphia Freedom." "Bennie and the Jets" (
excerpt) followed, featuring perhaps his most improvisational
riffing of the night. During the song's stops, the ebullient John stood
up from the piano to mug for the crowd.
After a short walk to stage right, to high-five some enthusiastic fans,
John said, "We'll see what we can do with this one," before lighting
into "Crocodile Rock" (
excerpt), a big hit from Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano
Finally, Johnstone and Don Jorgenson strapped on Les Paul guitars, and
the band brought down the house with a rave-up, "Saturday Night's
Alright for Fighting," from John's 1973 double album Goodbye Yellow
John thanked the crowd, commenting that it was good to play where he
could actually see the crowd's faces, and left the stage. The show was
taped for broadcast on VH1, at an undetermined future date. (SonicNet's
parent company, Viacom, also owns VH1.)
"That was incredible," Bernadette Fay of San Francisco said. " 'Bennie
and the Jets' is my favorite song. I can't believe I got to see him play
it from so close!"