I have seen Elton John in concert three previous times: 1995 in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Garden with Billy Joel in the Face to Face Tour; 1998 at the Erwin Center in Austin in the Big Picture Tour; 2000 in Lubbock in the newly completed United Spirit Arena for An Evening With Elton John. Friday night I saw him for the fourth time, also in Lubbock at the United Spirit Arena, Elton John with his Band. The Rocket Man can still rock the house.
Caroline and I left Muleshoe in what we thought was plenty of time to run two errands, which were right on our way, and to eat before the concert. We should have known better. Our second errand took us to the west end of 19th Street, which was convenient since the arena is at 19th and Indiana. Our first choice for supper was Jazz, also conveniently located on 19th. Apparently everyone else going to the concert had the same idea because the line was out the door and down the sidewalk. No problem. We decided Gardski’s was a good second choice and reasonably close, so we drove down there to find a full parking lot and a 40 minute wait. Okay, River Smith’s is right down the road on Avenue Q, so we tried that. The line was slow and everyone was being given one of those vibrator things with the red lights to signal their turn. By this time we were getting a bit antsy, so it seemed prudent to walk over to the Taco Bell next door and do the fast food thing. Prudent choice, as I think only two other people were in there when we walked in, but they were doing a banner business at the drive-up window. So while we were ordering, Caroline’s phone rang and without realizing how it would sound, she proceeded to tell Neil how we drove to three nice restaurants and wound up at Taco Bell, to which the poor little girl waiting on us was not sure how to react. I added that Taco Bell was a perfectly nice place, too. We ate our food quickly and hurried back down 19th to wait 30 more minutes to park.
You’d think after all those concerts I would know the dress code for an Elton John concert. Alas, apparently I did not. Pink feather boas and pink glasses with matching feathers at the temples and flashing red light Elton John-style glasses were streaming in all around us. And it was neat to see not just fans my age-the old guard-but people of all ages coming to pay homage to a rock and roll legend who had bothered to come to an out of the way, and by most rock concert standards, small venue to entertain us once again.
And entertain he did. He came to Lubbock the first time, he said, because of Buddy Holly’s influence on his music, which I guess was part of the reason for this follow-up tour. He had also done his homework, as he was dressed in a black tux with Rocket Man designs glittering on the back and a red shirt, and he asked quietly after he greeted everyone, “So how are my colors tonight, okay?”
I dutifully listed the songs in my little notepad as they were performed because I wondered how in the world he choose songs for a greatest hits concert from a career that has spanned, what, 40 going on 50 years? He and the five-man band played 25 songs, including all the signature hits one might expect as well as a few pieces not as familiar to all the audience. Heck, I liked them all, but you will quit reading long before I finish sharing a blow by blow account of every song, so just let me make a few personal observations of a few things I found interesting.
The curtain of digital lights hanging behind the stage did not, for me at least, add much interest to the show, but was used to good effect during Philadelphia Freedom with lots of red, white, and blue patterns flashing during the song. Crocodile Rock had good lighting effects with a cartoon crocodile, and for several songs the curtain was just a display of tiny colored dots, like so many multicolored stars behind the musicians, and that wasn’t bad. I liked the extended version of Rocket Man and The Bitch is Back. In every concert I have attended he always brings the audience to its feet with Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me; this time was no exception. I liked one of the lesser known, older songs, All the Girls Love Alice, but then I would since my name is in it, right?
A couple of time Elton played without backup, those fat little fingers never missing a key, his face intent on the music, as if he and the piano were the only ones in the room, partners in nourishing the soul. I think his next career should be piano player in an old honky tonk using no amplification, just the piano and him. He could do blues that would make B.B. King proud.
Sir Elton and the guys played for almost three hours and when he left the stage a little before 11 pm, one song was noticeably missing. I knew what the encore would just have to be. He came back on stage to patiently sign autographs for a few minutes before sitting down at that shiny Yamaha and saying that this last song is one he doesn’t play that often and then said, “-to hell with it. I’m going to sing it tonight,” and gave us, with no accompaniment, Circle of Life.
And then as simply as he had come in, he left.
Elton John’s music will always be part of the circle of my life.
Here is the play list, just to let you know what you didn’t get to enjoy if you weren’t there:
Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting
Madman Across the Water
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues
Sad Songs (Say So Much)
Take Me to the Pilot
Something About the Way You Look Tonight
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word
Candle in the Wind
All the Girls Love Alice
Burn Down the Mission
Bennie and the Jets
The Bitch is Back
I’m Still Standing
Circle of Life