Sir Elton John at Ford Arena, Beaumont, 3/12/2014
Photos by Nicholas Zalud
Sir Elton John Ford Arena, Beaumont March 12, 2014
"My first show was in 1974, and the tickets were $7.50 then. A lot has changed since then."
The man sitting next to me, Jeff Young, has now seen Elton John play 165 times, and is beaming as he recalls his encounters with the artist. On the other hand, that news floored me.
This was my first time at an Sir Elton John concert, and I drove 90 miles to Beaumont to see him. There is no Houston stopover on this tour behind last year's The Diving Board, but perhaps Beaumont was due for a visit. After all, it had been 14 years since he last played here.
As I chatted with Young about his Elton John memories, the folks behind me were trying to reassure a friend stuck in traffic that perhaps Sir Elton would wait.
"I bet it won't start. There's traffic backed up all around here," the man said with a soothing drawl. "I bet they're just gonna hold it up."
And then, as if on cue, the lights in Ford Arena, Beaumont's events venue just off I-10, went out. Complete and utter silence prevailed.
Then came a crash of ivory keys, and the one and only Sir Elton John.
As he led into the first notes of the opening song, "Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding," we were aghast. I've always known that John was a living legend, but watching him nearly destroy his piano from the moment he took the stage, all while hitting every single brilliant note, was surreal. I'm still a bit in shock.
I was even more in shock when John emerged from behind his piano after the first song, playfully bit his tongue, and then proceeded to place his foot atop the box beside him to survey the crowd, which reacted by going absolutely insane.
I understand their gusto, though; I've never seen such a fantastically talented artist onstage. With every move, every gesture and every song, I wondered if John wasn't close to ripping the keys off the piano.
Things would only go uphill from there. The first notes of "Bennie and the Jets" rang out in earnest once he shimmied back behind the piano, and the entire arena roared with approval. Even the big, burly cowboys in the audience joined in.
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John has a glorious simplicity I didn't quite expect. Perhaps somewhat naively, I assumed that a man with as much theatricality -- he has, after all, written four musicals -- would be much more focused on the show's stage-dressings. Thankfully he wasn't, because nothing else was needed. His voice carried the show well past any need for costume changes or fireworks.
Not that there weren't theatrical elements, mind you. In honor of this week's 40th-anniversary reissue of 1974 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, John wore an ornate jacket embroidered with the Tin Man and Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road, made even fancier with rhinestones as far as the eye could see. I want one, bad.
John also seemed to understand the strengths of his bandmates, with his accompanying musicians positioned equally across the massive stage. It was as if their leader, poised at the left-hand side, had staggered each musician's placement to give each one a piece of the limelight. It may be a simple gesture, but was effective, especially considering that Nigel Olssen, one of the two percussionists onstage, was a member of the original Elton John band.
In concert, Sir Elton's voice almost sounds better than it does on the albums, despite the obvious toll that the years had to have taken on it. His vocal tone is a bit more leathered and husky, but it adds a velvety, rich quality to the already-impeccible sound. He claimed bronchitis, and apologized for any struggles, but I heard not one. Seriously. He was that spot-on.
There was little chatter between songs, and probably for good reason. The set list was overflowing with a whopping 28 songs; with too much chatter, he would run the risk of playing all night. Not that I would have complained.
As the first notes on each song rang out, I was sure the crowd couldn't grow to be any more enthusiastic, and was proven wrong each time.
"Levon," an obvious fan favorite, drew a chaotic response. As he launched into old favorites like "Rocket Man" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," you could see the nostalgia written across the faces of the audience, as they relived the first moments they'd heard him play those songs.
I understood. It really was incredible to be standing in the presence of one of the best artists of our time, spreading his heart out across that piano. Every song was presented with the utmost respect for the music, almost as though he was handing you a crystal box full of songs -- one that could shatter if not held with the just the right care.
It can't be an easy task to pull off a show as brilliant and accessible as his while hitting every single note of those treasured hits, but after this long, Sir Elton John seems to have it down to one brilliant, rhinestoned measure. He truly is a treasure.
Personal Bias: I'll sing my lungs out to "Tiny Dancer" with everyone staring. It's a great song.
The Crowd: Two or three generations of Elton John fans; I counted three generations in the first row. It was so cool to see that music being passed down.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Oh, I see you're finally getting into it now, aren't you ma'am?" The guy next to me thought my stoic nature was high-larious. I was just trying my hardest not to sing along with "Rocket Man," lest my horrible warbling be overheard by classier folks.
Random Notebook Dump: Artists like Elton John only come around when the stars align just right, and I'm thankful for that. He's one of a kind, that one.
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