When Elton John stepped onstage of the big but charmless auditorium that is the Fort Worth Convention Center Arena on Saturday, the near-sellout crowd went crazy. But it would be another half-hour before he played or sang a note. Instead, he introduced his co-headliners for the evening, Leon Russell. And thus began a rollicking and nostalgic marathon of music.
Russell, whose snowy mane and white Resistol made him look like Gandalf interpreted through a western idiom, banged out some piano-based acoustic bluesy folk songs given an acid-electric background — think “Layla.” Or for that matter, Elton himself. Russell has the same nasally wail that Willie Nelson has perfected, and took to five songs in his 20-minute set — including his signature “A Song for You” to a respectful, sometimes enthusiastic audience – before Sir E emerged. Then things went wild.
Elton kicked off, appropriately enough, with “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting,” and proceeded through 40 minutes of his classics: “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “I’m Still Standing,” “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” and most impressively, a The Who-length (18-minute by my count) extended version of “Rocket Man” that generated several applause lines. (Watch video below.)
In the current AGE (by which I mean, of course, After the Gaga Era), the two badly placed screens and retro graphics were old-fashioned, even quaint, but not bad. In fact, the images took me back to my early youth during the bicentennial, when Elton reigned alongside The Captain and Tennille and The Carpenters. (Indeed: He is still standing.) It conjured the great ’70s era of what we thought flamboyance and showmanship was — only there were also great lyrics.
There were some great lyrics, too, when Russell joined him for another set off their new T-Bone Burnett-produced album, The Union, which has some beautiful melodies and rockabilly soul, but old or new stuff one thing’s clear: Elton still has it. Sure, he couldn’t hit the highest notes of the register (he didn’t even attempt the “no, no, no, no” on “Rocket Man”), but he looks good (if heavier) and sounds even better than he deserved to. The bitch is back? Damn, seems like he never left.