2:06pm Wednesday 7th January 2009
By Neil Docking
‘FABULOUS’ is the most obvious adjective with which to describe The Red Piano show.
But perhaps it is also the most appropriate, because this slice of Las Vegas razzamatazz is every bit as flamboyant as Elton John himself.
Striding onto the stage sporting a sequined jacket flecked with musical notes, Sir Elton was met with a standing ovation before he had even taken his seat at the grand piano set upon a luminous red star.
Giant neon letters spelling out his name were lowered from the rafters, but launching into Benny and the Jets it was his signature piano playing and the musicianship of his band, including longtime collaborators Davey Johnstone on guitar and Nigel Olsson on drums, that seized the audience’s attention.
His range may have diminished but Elton’s voice has definitely retained its power.
And by combining timeless hits with brazen pomp the piano man provides an irresistible spectacle.
The Red Piano Show was conceptualised and designed by acclaimed photographer and director David LaChapelle.
A series of videos on 30ft screens and increasingly bizarre inflatable objects accompanied each track – with Philadelphia Freedom set to images of dancing nude hippies from the summer of love and a giant red rose occupying the stage during Believe.
However, the gig came alive four songs in after a nod from Elton to his co–writer Bernie Taupin.
“30 years on and I still don’t understand some of his lyrics,” he admitted, before performing an emotive interpretation of Daniel, illustrated by visuals of a young soldier fallen in battle.
A starlit backdrop then ushered in a sprawling version of Rocket Man, with LaChapelle choosing to re–use his video for This Train Don't Stop There Any More, which saw Justin Timberlake cast as a young Elton swamped by fans, groupies and agents backstage.
“That wasn’t me by the way,” Elton conceded. But his modesty was unnecessary, as the footage marked the concert at its very best – the video perfectly resonating with the song’s wonderfully captured themes of isolation and loneliness.
I Guess That's Why They Call They Call It The Blues led into Someone Saved My Life Tonight, which was not quite such a successful example of the synchronisation of picture and sound.
A bewildering suicide story on screen depicted an angel being fed honey by an ice–skating bear, a seemingly transsexual figure destroying a wedding cake and then his/her naked figure set on fire (in the most painful of places) while sat on an electric chair.
Intelligent sequencing saw this surreal experience followed by more reserved renditions of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word, with Elton pausing to tell a tale about the ‘life’ of songs and how they can be resurrected many years after their ‘birth’.
Expressing his admiration for Leonard Cohen and his Christmas chart–topping Hallelujah, he then played a forgotten track of his own, Tiny Dancer, which was brought back to the public’s attention after it was used in the film Almost Famous. A large disco ball bathed the crowd in a shimmering light and Elton delivered a stunning vocal performance.
Scenes of a strange domestic violence–based ballet again jarred slightly with the music of Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, but the film for Candle In The Wind was far more fitting, revealing the private suffering of a Marilyn Monroe look–a–like in a black and white hue.
It was clear the tempo of the occasion had temporarily dropped but the audience was awoken with a resounding crash as a giant balloon resembling a pinball fell from the air and struck the centre of the stage.
Oversized balloons with Elton’s features etched on the side began to fill the arena and the band fired up a raucous Pinball Wizard, set to shots of Vegas in all its debauched glory.
This assault on the senses continued during a staggering outing of The Bitch Is Back, as an enormous set of women’s legs decked in stockings and suspenders emerged on one side of the stage and a giant pair of breasts were unveiled high in the rafters.
And as if that wasn’t enough, four colossal images of a pole–dancing Pamela Anderson completed the scene!
Overtly suggestive blow–up bananas and cherries were the next distraction during a riotous I’m Still Standing, only for Elton to go one better on Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting), showering the audience in confetti and inviting a hundred or so lucky fans up on stage to dance around his piano.
Taking the well–earned applause and milking it for all it was worth, all that was left for the larger–than–life star was to dish out a few plaudits of his own.
“It’s always great coming here. This is where some of the greatest music ever came from.”
Yet there was one more trick left up his sleeve and that was the poignant Your Song – one of the greatest songs from his canon and a fitting end to a spectacle that was nothing short of a masterclass in showmanship.
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