Monday, May 25, 2020
Dave Carlock - A Day In The Life
Originally Posted: 04-12-2013 7:28 PM
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You know what I'd like to have someone say about me someday? "He's 66 and on top of his game." Really what more could one ask for? Wouldn't we all like to pass "official" retirement age and be fully firing on all cylinders? That’s where Elton John is.

And in regards to Elton's game, consider this: he's 66 and not only is he still SELLING OUT arenas, he just set the grossing box office record for the 12,000+ seater I saw him in on April 3rd.

In a period where American Idol stars cancel tours due to slumping ticket sales, where the Rolling Stones are pissing everybody off for price gouging and allegedly reselling their own reserved ticket stock for 4-digit sums; Elton John continues to take the international touring market by storm.

What makes the Rocket Man continue to soar? Why is his audience so loyal? Well, I have some opinions. First and foremost, Elton has always been an immensely gifted and developed rock pianist. But really, his playing style is so roots rich that any single label can't begin to describe it.

Perhaps the closest explanation would be to say that he could be the ultimate solo barroom piano player: effortlessly able to lay down the blues, boogie woogie, hints of cajun syncopations, and relentless 1/16th note offbeat stabs in songs like ‘Grey Seal’. His machine-like right hand solo melodies are supported beautifully with comping left hand voicings and leading tones like a jazz cat who wisely traded in modality for melodies because people could actually remember them after leaving the club at the end of the street.

Or, if you have no idea what I just said, the short version is: he plays rock piano better than anyone else, so quit trying. It's real, on display, and up in the mix to blow you away every time you see his show. Fans young and old all agree on one thing: he delivers.

Another reason the world feels a need to see him whenever he goes out is that his voice is still great and strong, plain and simple. He's long given up trying to emulate his self-described "castrati" range in the original 1973 vocal track of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and has dropped the key a full step, but it's the *only* key in the 25-song set that's been changed.

Next we get to the songs. I've long held that songs sell records and performers sell tickets. But what if top-notch performances are combined with unforgettable songs? Well, people of multiple generations find themselves driving to arenas to see an Elton John show, that's what. In the popular music petri dish, hip grandparents expose the kids and grandkids down the line and the culture takes. Classic Rock radio helps immensely too, insuring that there are always new teens familiar with Elton's catalog, right alongside Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

Elton's piano playing, voice, and songs are the foundation of his phenomenal business but Elton's next great asset is his band. If his band couldn’t keep up with him and strengthen his show, it’d be all over. To that effect, he’s been wise to choose carefully and keep his group intact, still working with 40+ year veterans in guitarist Davey Johnstone, who also serves as Musical Director, and drummer Nigel Olsson, who was with Elton when he first played in America in 1970. Both are not only great players, but also integral to the guts of the sound of the 70s era Elton John Band.

Keyboardist Kim Bullard continually does a stellar job bringing the additional orchestral elements from Paul Buckmaster’s and James Newton Howard’s scores to life. French Horns fly from Bullard’s fingertips in “Philadelphia Freedom”. “Take Me To The Pilot” wouldn’t have its power without low string stabs. Bullard’s beautiful and authentic Mellotron flutes in “Daniel” pay nightly homage not only to the classic single, but since this past January 11, also to Elton and David Furnish’s new child, Elijah Joseph Daniel Furnish-John.

Classic synths have always been a part of Elton’s sound and Bullard rightfully gets the “STAGELIGHTING OF GOD” during his masterful treatment of “Funeral For A Friend”, as he pulls off David Hentschel’s multiple overdubbed ARP 2500 synths with only two apparent hands. With sampling, his role can also be one of “guitarist’s best friend” by handling the reverb drenched electric slide guitars in “Rocket Man”, freeing up Davey Johnstone to play the integral acoustic guitar.

Ohio-borne percussionist John Mahon thrilled the Dayton crowd the night I attended and formed a tight union of groove reinforcement throughout the night, moving from electronic triggers to hand drums and triangle, leaving no sonic range ignored in the song’s feel.

New bassist Matt Bissonette, hailing from Detroit, laid it down very well indeed, a flash-free job for a song supportive bassist. But he did manage to throw in an occasional, tasteful funk slap for good measure, pulling a smile from his bandmates.

And the silk veil over the top was, of course, Elton’s background singers. His records have long been adorned by great harmonies and when his four dedicated ladies poured out rich ooos, it was nothing short of orgasmic due to the great pitch of Family Stone founder Rose Stone & daughter Lisa Stone, Tata Vega, & Jean Witherspoon. Anyone dealing with concert sound knows how difficult it is to get not only the right singers to pull off amazing harmonies, but also to get the monitors right to insure pitch perfection. Both the singers and their monitor tech deserve praise.

As the band chugged through 280 minutes of nonstop greats, it was great to hear them reinvent a few of Elton’s classics with a subtle feel change, unique to the way Elton and the band play together on songs like “Take Me To The Pilot”, “All The Young Girls Love Alice”, & “I’m Still Standing”. I call it “Swamp Swing”, a shuffle with a very swampy New Orleans vibe. The groove is deep, authentic to the band and great feeling—a reminder that even at 66, Elton’s still coming up with new ways to be even better for his loyal fans, not only of his own steam, but through the wisdom of keeping a fantastic band.

Dave Carlock
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