Elton John Previews Next Soundtrack In Private Hotel Gig

Debuts songs from 'The Road to El Dorado,' written with Oscar-winning 'Lion King' team.

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" (

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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" (

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excerpt), a big hit from Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano

Player (1973).

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

Brick Road.

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!"