Yep. Elton John and his band came to Boise, Idaho. To the Taco Ballerina, er.. Taco Bell Arena, which has exactly the acoustics you would expect of a large basketball court. But it was still immense fun to revisit some of the big hits from John’s four decade songbook.1
WC last saw Elton John live back in 1971, touring in support of Madman Across the Water, in, yes, a basketball stadium. He had his own hair back then, extravagantly dyed, but hadn’t moved into the whole Captain Fantastic thing. He had a tenor voice in 1971, but could drop down into a baritone when needed. His piano work was mostly chords – he described himself once as having bricklayer hands, not pianist hands at all.
Forty-four years down the road, at the Taco Ballerina, his piano work is much better, and his supporting band (largely the same as on the Tiny Dancer Tour) is much better. But John’s voice has contracted to perhaps a single, slightly ragged octave. The “La la la” falsetto chorus on “Crocodile Rock”? That’s an audience participation thing now. And we were both a lot skinnier then.
But to the adoring, packed house at Taco Ballerina Saturday night, none of that mattered at all. Awash in nostalgia and some fine old songs, it was a mutual love fest. The crowd gave John multiple standing ovations and, in what may very well really be his final tour, John gave that love right back.
At the height of their songwriting prowess, from Madman through, perhaps, Captan Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, John and his lyricist, Bernie Taupin, produced some very good and extremely popular songs. The opening set, a rocking series of 1973’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road sprawling and iconic hit tracks, “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” “All the Young Girls,” “Bennie and the Jets,” and the album’s landmark ballad, “Candle in the Wind” put the crowd in John’s pocket for the rest of the show.
The current show includes a lot of razzle-dazzle lighting effects, including computer-generated background images and a gigantic dazzling, multi-colored chandelier, flashing strobes and sweeping beacons. The lights and special effects aren’t really necessary and didn’t add much, with one notable exception: the images during “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” told the Elton John story. The crowd would have been just as happy with Elton, his band and a simple stage. WC’s only musical quarrel was with John’s transformation of “Levon,” a sensitive ballad, into a screaming rocker. Otherwise, John showed his savvy chops as a showman.
Even with ear plugs, WC’s ears are still ringing a little from the show. Doubtless, another couple of decibels of hearing sacrificed on the altar of Very Loud Music. Not for the first time. Probably not for the last, either. And the acoustics of Taco Ballerina leave a great deal to be desired.
But despite those minor matters, it was a fine show. Sir Elton isn’t one of WC’s favorite artists, but he is one of the most popular pop artists of the last fifty years. He’s survived as a rocker in an industry that kills too many of its young. And his love of performing informs his shows. And the audience Saturday night got that.
- Mrs. WC’s late father was a large donor to Boise State University. For one contribution, he was given a pair of lifetime of tickets to Taco Bell Area, measured by the life of his youngest child, Mrs. WC. So WC and Mrs. WC attended the show for free. WC very much doubts he would have sprung for the price of two tickets. So, thanks, Larry! ↩