Review: Elton John worth the 40-year wait

By Vladimir Bunoan,

Posted at Dec 09 2012 12:36 PM | Updated as of Dec 10 2012 07:48 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Filipino fans waited for a long, long time for veteran singer-songwriter Elton John to finally perform in Manila and all those years of pent-up emotions finally gushed out on Saturday night at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.

John performed before an enthusiastic full house to mark the 40th anniversary of the "Rocket Man" -- his first ever in the Philippines.

Elton John performs in Manila for the first time on Saturday night at the Araneta Coliseum in Cubao, Quezon City. Photo by GR Rodis.

The flamboyant British singer, who is known for his wild costumes and crazy sunglasses during his younger days, proved to be a warm entertainer, standing up almost after every number to bow and acknowledge the wild applause.

Prior to his encore numbers, he even gamely signed autographs from the stage for those who shelled out P12,000 for VIP tickets to the one-night-only concert.

Although John, who is now 65 years old, has pretty much lost his upper range, his voice still had that fullness in the mid- and lower registers, which served him well throughout his 25-song set list, including the two encore numbers.

With a career that has now entered its fifth decade, John has made numerous hits and it was inevitable that not all of these memorable songs would make it to the concert.

Among the notable omissions were his early hits "Skyline Pigeon" and "We All Fall in Love Sometimes," the Kiki Dee duet "Don’t Go Breaking My Heart," "the Oscar-winning "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from the Disney movie "The Lion King" and "Written in the Stars" for the stage musical "Aida."

John’s repertoire consisted of hits representing the four decades of his long career -- from songs his first Billboard charting self-titled album in 1970 to a track from “The Union,” released in 2010.

Wowed by front act

Saturday’s concert began with the Croatian duo 2Cellos, who are also part of John’s backing band. Consisting of Luka Šuli? and Stjepan Hauser, 2Cellos drew worldwide attention when it uploaded a video of their version of "Smooth Criminal" on YouTube, which was also used in a memorable episode on the US hit TV show "Glee."

2Cellos opened with the Michael Jackson hit, which immediately wowed the crowd. But it was their haunting, almost elegiac, arrangement of U2’s "With or Without You" that sealed the deal for this writer.

They also proved that they can rock with Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and the classic rock number "Highway to Hell," as they were joined by the rest of the band.

The front-act performance then seamlessly segued to the main act, with John taking his place on the grand piano, for the aptly titled "The Bitch is Back."

Down memory lane

Wearing a sequined black jacket with "Madman Across the Water" embroidered on the back – the title of his xxx album – a bright blue shirt, which matched his blue-tinted glasses, John unleashed his earlier hits such as "Benny and the Jets," "Levon" and "Tiny Dancer."

John also included lesser-known songs in his set list as if to establish his wide range of music influences – from gospel to country, and even jazz and the blues. For instance, the conceptual "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding," which started as a lengthy instrumental, was more of a showcase for the individual talents of the band and John’s deft composing skills, while songs like "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" and "Grey Seal" demonstrated the power of storytelling in his songs.

This storytelling also propelled his performance of “Rocket Man,” whose line “I guess it’s gonna be a long, long time” resounded with the audience who patiently waited for this moment to arrive.

John proved to be most affecting when he was just at the piano, as shown in the ballad “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word,” with the guys of 2Cellos adding to the lament, and the '80s hit “Nikita.”

After all these years, “Candle in the Wind,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Daniel” can still warm hearts as the crowd raised their lit cellphones and swayed their hands.

And while John couldn’t reach the high notes anymore, his performance of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” was so heartfelt and powerfully arranged that it remains one of the best songs he has done in his lengthy career.

Party time

John’s wind up turned the Big Dome into a retro party with the hits “I’m Still Standing,” “Crocodile Rock” (the audience was asked to sing the falsetto “la, la, la” parts) and “Friday Night’s Alright for Fighting.”

For the encore, returned with his first big hit – and probably the most-loved by the Filipinos – “Your Song.” With just his piano, it was the concert’s key moment, one that the fans would carry long after the show.

Although the night’s final song was “Circle of Life” from “The Lion King,” it might have been more appropriate had he ended the evening with “Your Song,” whose simple poetry and melody seemed light years away from today’s pop music. There’s something about the honesty of “Your Song” that brings back everything that’s beautiful about the past.

Indeed, how wonderful life is while Elton John is still in the world.