Elton John has become the best-case scenario of the future life of a troubled character in one of his songs. Albeit a song that he has been writing since he and collaborator Bernie Taupin decided to forge a songwriting partnership nearly 45 years ago.
He's now a seasoned sage, deeper in voice, richer in smile, stately in manner, but still able to pull off a blindingly bright red-sequined coat.
He's Elton John, that guy on YouTube in the powdered wig, the Donald Duck costume and the sunglasses from Mars, with 40 years of life acting as his wardrobe here in 2013.
Thursday night's sold-out Toyota Center show saw John dialing the time machine back to the days of 1971's Madman Across the Water while also plucking choice cuts from the rest of his catalog. "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" even made a cosmic showing in the middle of the show, one of seven Goodbye Yellow Brick Road cuts to make the set list.
Those of us weaned on Elton songs on classic-rock radio from birth had to get used to his now deeper register, with most his higher and breathier passages turned to mellow growls. It forces the songs to hit a little harder, the drums to pound even harder.
He lets the crowd and his band take the high notes, which they (we) all did ably. It's been that way since the late '80s or early '90s, according to folks who saw him long before me.
His piano playing is still flawless, with a lipstick camera aimed at his keys at all times, his hands gliding to and fro. His hands look like they're insured for billions, give or take a few zeroes.
His live show in 2013 is very Vegas, a product of his headlining The Colosseum at Caesars Palace off and on since 2009 in Sin City. High on drama, high on glitz, but still very much custom-built for John the storyteller to sing us tales of tiny dancers, rocket men and dead glamour girls.
His Vegas-honed road act is aided by drummer Nigel Olsson and guitarist Davey Johnstone, band members for over 40 years. On backing vocals, John has Rose Stone, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer in her own right, formerly of her brothers' Sly and the Family Stone. Her daughter Lisa Stone sings next to her.
He seems more at ease behind the piano than I had ever seen him in previous live clips, even saying last night that he still tours because he enjoys it, not because he needs to. His Vegas spots are a hot and expensive ticket, outpacing prices for his touring show, so he's not lying or being disingenuous.
Especially coming from a man who at this point probably has a bank account nearly comparable to Paul McCartney's. Anything after 65 for rockers of their status has to feel like a victory lap, the icing on the gluten-free cake.
John closed the night with a single song, "Your Song," sending fans back into the world refreshed and ready to take on the world, or at least the drive home.
Personal Bias: Elton John was a biggie waiting on my music critic bucket list, and a staple in my formative musical education. Bagged and tagged. I'm going to remember this one for many reasons. "Tiny Dancer" seemed to close a circle for me.
The Crowd: People who have dusty, stained, well-worn original copies of Honky Château in their garages, younger people who came along after The Lion King, and a handful of grizzled rocker types left over from the Clapton show weeks back.
Overseen in the Crowd: Lots and lots of people in Elton drag. Good and bad.
Random Notebook Dump: It wasn't until after I left the show and came home to write this sketchy collection of sentences that I realized he didn't play "Honky Cat." I'm kinda sad.
One Last Thing: I sang "Tony Danza" instead of "Tiny Dancer." I know I was not alone.