Saturday, December 13, 2014

'And The View From...'

You know that period between Christmas and New Year when the telly companies decide to fill up that important schedule gap between Indiana Jones And The Old Artifact Snatch and Morecombe And Wise sometime in the last century festive special with a review of the year. Unless you've been taking part in a Sleeping Beauty contest all year then it's a rehash even most recycling plants wouldn't find of any value. So rather than get lost in that dead zone and to look back on something that anyone reading here would find far more interesting than any of that let's pop the cork and spirit out the ghosts of 2014.

I had intended to do something similar last year but I'll be honest with you. My Elton mojo 12 month's ago had taken a right battering, storm force doesn't even go there. The final straw...a large bale of them dropped from a great height...was the vile, disgusting attempts to wreck Davey's blog on Musinq. Totally unforgivable and shameful. Like a Santa doesn't exist moment. Those responsible should have developed bad stoops at this stage due to their heads being in a permanent state of shame hanging. If not then their necks must be harder than a jockey's...anyway, we won't dwell on such characters at this time. I think this year has been fabulous for the Eltonites. There always seems to be so much going on, the touring ropes everyone into the mix. Sporadic hard copy releases keep things ticking over on that front. It's ended though on a terrific high, especially for me after last Tuesday night. But it was only the final act of some incredible scenes that began with some dramatic moments. On stage and on disc we've had a full year. Brimming with goodies...even the tastiest gum drops aren't up to this mark.

I'll start with Elton's touring arm. Or both arms of course. Starting in North America in February we began to see more and more GYBR tracks being added that at one point we had 10 different songs from the album being played live (though not all in the same setlist). For one glorious moment it looked as if we may have got the full...or as near as full as Elton would do...album being played. But alas we could see it on the horizon but the rainbow seemed well up the road. We bade a Goodbye to I've Seen That Movie after a brief cameo. Captured on film, it's power still intact after all the years in hiatus.  

Elton went back to South America for another tour, primarily in Brazil this time. The fans down there are unreal, I watch them on Facebook with packs of passion pitching up at the venues. Pretty special when he plays Skyline Pigeon down there, the band version is the one to savour. Summer time and the World Cup kind of dominated things for me during June and July. However one standout show was Elton's first festival appearance in the US at Bonnarroo. This is becoming a new thing for Elton in the last few years, taking the last slot at these multi act affairs. Broadcast live in sound and vision it also gives the people in the venue a chance to peer into Eltonworld and see what the fuss is all about. Doubters will have manners put on them. Waverers will be tipped over to the light side. As for the converted...another preaching to never did anyone any harm. This performance is highly recommended though Someone Saved My Life Tonight is a bit raggedy at times. A Glastonbury appearance is surely only a matter of time.

The Autumn leg of the tour continued the great work on stage, musically. One highlight from that lofty position he holds went beyond music. His speech from the stage in St. Petersburg on LGBT rights in Russia again was heard at first hand by the converted but those who need to hear I get the feeling had the mufflers on that day. I suspect though if they didn't hear the speech they felt the vibrations of it. And will continue to do so. And so the tour ended in my parish and the curtain came down on another 100 or so shows. In both hemisphere's and in all weathers. Indoors, outdoors, like the Wombles Elton and the band keep rolling around the globe. All the reviews took the same hymn sheet and whilst putting their local dialect stamp on it the same mantra was preached time and time again. 

Some great setlist moments during the year need to be mentioned here. Rocket Man in late 2013 featured one of the 'Dream' sections from TDB as an intro. That asepct has continued this year but has drifted away from that original idea (as did so many things from that album, more later). It's now developed into a multi coloured shop of swapping moods and shades. A great song now bookended by some great playing at the start and finish. Levon has progressed beyond anything we could (but Elton of course can!) imagine. The outro getting progressively longer over the last few years has now subtly had another avenue connected onto it. Expect an exciting journey down this route in 2015. Elton did well over 40 different songs this year, nearly two different setlists if you please. So the complaint Elton doesn't mix it up much kind of gets an Exocet through it's main doors. Elton's a crowd pleaser and a promoters dream. If he turns up and does what the paying public want then all is well. The demand is there...

We've had some great treats on the disc front...and the movie front. The showing of the Million Dollar Piano in the cinemas was a great idea though in practice the sound aspect of it was a joke. For the next presentation of this type that anomaly has to rectified or it's not worth bothering about. The dvd release is far better on that issue. The GYBR 40th could and should have had more. The de luxe box was nicely presented (looks even better signed!) but the covers disc didn't seem to make any friends. The Hammersmith Odeon show had minimal work done to it compared to the bootleg version. Still though, next year is the CF 40th. Is there anything left in that cannon to fire off?! The announcement of The Pillars Of Hercules documentary is another triumph. Simply put, fans have been crying out for this type of project for decades. The band in the early days along with those in the control room were at the coalface of finishing off the creations that are the terrific songs that Elton and Bernie had manufactured. An amoeba crawling out of a petri dish in a laboratory hearing Rocket Man on the radio for the first time would grasp that concept. So we're gonna to get to hear in greater detail than ever before about the magic that went down in getting down the magic on disc.

The year was in it's dying embers when it was given a large dose of accelerant. The news we've been waiting for...or should I say...we knew would arrive. A when, not an if. A new band album to be recorded in February. If that's not enough to get the juices at flood levels, then you must be experiencing a severe drought. Then again, I suppose we've been all to the desert and back since The Captain And The Kid in 2006. This camel doesn't need to be led to the water, I can smell it a year off. Never in a million years did I think we'd be getting to hear such a gift so soon or even for that matter ever again. The previous producer has got his P45. For that I am delighted.

As far back as September '13 I said the current producer's era was over. The proof is now before us. The band are back to their proper positions in life. Again, our friend the amoeba will be crawling in joy or whatever it is a one celled creatures do when ecstatic. The great thing about having this equilibrium restored is that all possibilities are on and all bets are off. Shackles broken, freedom fields to be explored. Every possible avenue of creativity is an option and readily available. To be plundered and paraded. Davey's remarks on his blog that the album will rock is telling. For a number of reasons.

Firstly, take Hey Ahab. It's one of the longest surviving new songs of the 21st Century. The slow, lethargic example on The Union was given the belting of it's life on stage and is now an essential part of the setlist. Again, there are so many why's as to the reason for this. The main's rocks the be***** out of everyone. And that's what grabs attention in an arena, coliseum, stadium or field. So a new album that rocks will surely have commercial potential and should garner some sort of life on the live circuit for longer than the initial promo release period. Which takes us nicely back to this news which is truly a moment to savour. Hopefully the biggest asset of Elton's current live incarnation can be siphoned off in copious large chunks, an environment rich in natural resources of light, power and energy. Whereas darkness, lifelessness and lethargy prevailed on the couple of discs up to this point under the old regime. A genesis moment has occurred...not lambs lying down on Broadway...but the start of a whole new world.

Elton and the collective souls of the band have great musical spatial awareness of each other on stage. With this new world comes a chance to make history.The three older members of the band, Nigel, Davey and John have already done that on disc. It's now time for Kim and Matt to have their turn in the studio. They bring a whole new dynamic to proceedings, anyone who been to a concert since 2010 will know this. They'll bring something new, not borrowed and won't make us blue. And a marriage made in heaven. 2015 has so much potential it's like energy about to be created. Though scientifically that's impossible (though the previous producer accomplished the feat of destroying energy), Eltonifically it can be done. And it'll live and breath...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

'Elton & The Band Live At The 3Arena Dublin 9th December 2014 - Review'

The 3Arena. Situated right beside the River Liffey, a name derived from the word 'life'. Fitting then that life should be celebrated by the greatest live act currently on the circuit and ably concelebrated by the ablest of able cohorts.

As wind entered the could well have been real considering the wonky weather pouring forth from the heavens, or worse still from down below...we were feeling the effects of ethereal forces for sure. If the dimmed lights at the start of Funeral For A Friend emitted the feeling that we were in the middle of some sort of seance attempting to make contact with the afterlife then that solemnity was quickly dulled as the lights found full power when real 'live' life became a certainty. The Fantastic Captain with the ultimate name tag on a jacket began an opening salvo that quickly developed into a barrage. 

Like a lot of things on the night we were returning to old ground. One of these was the rightfully restored placing of FFF/LLB at the start of the set. The five piece band sound has also been restored to fasten shut the 'sound'. The monsterpiece has many facets but as would be another part of the show the fields of foreign lands...and worlds...would be visited, the Tibetan cymbals from John being incredibly ceremonial during the opening lines. Band version of Candle In The Wind...chocked full of those Nigel fills that harmoniously beat...the heavy bass line from Matt on the final chorus essential here too. All The Girls Love Alice with the heavy hammering from Elton on the verses is tempered on the chorus when his gradually ascending vocal is masterfully countered by Matt's opposing descending chords. The riff from Davey with it's karate like chops. And a sexy video backdrop. So much going on so far...and it's only four songs in. From just one album.

Levon...with the sharply angled Buckmaster arrangement skillfully negotiated by Kim...ends as we would have wanted it to. The way Elton's being doing it for the last number of years. Getting longer and longer it seems with no end in sight. Elton standing up, eyes not for the keys but the challenge them and to be challenged. Matt's licks at this time, if isolated, would be a beginners guide (for the already very good) on why a bass player is not only needed but essential. But how could the extra stretch be elongated even more. Just as a natural end might have been arrived at he just takes it down a notch, not stopping but steadying things with a groove that is constant (Nigel & John are in the zone here as they say), Davey bubbling above the storm clouds as Elton dives once more back into the slip stream until a halt is called. Incredible version here...2015's edition I suspect is not to be missed.

We've seen the showman side of Elton..both in terms of playing and gesticulating. Step up the humanitarian. His dedication at the start of Tiny Dancer to little Lily Mae and to the fundraisers for the charity single in 2012 to help in her fight to 'eff cancer' was humbling for everyone there and most of all Elton I'd suspect. But his humility should go in tandem with pride for himself (in terms of allowing the song to be used for such a great cause and for helping to write it of course). It always gets a great reaction when played...great just became the greatest in this neck of the woods from this time on I suspect.

As a poster held up said, Believe In Elton. Yet again when he does (possibly) my favourite EJ/BT song it never fails to resonate. Timeless and timely. The added exotic feel of faraway places return with the Tablas from John. Kim again found the deep end of the Buckmaster arrangement and pumped it up for all it's worth. Goodbye Yellow Brick of the greatest '45s' of all treated with precision here. Davey's essential Leslie guitar sound is to the forefront and Nigel's classic parts are also noted. As are the harmonies. Aficionados of this classic sound hearing GYBR for the first time are not disappointed. Nor was anybody with the luminous video tale of Elton's colourful career.

Rocket often a source of extended workouts at the end has now been bookended with something extraordinary at the start. This is another one for the newbies to see why he's the only one is his field that can attempt and succeed at this venture...Elton alone at the keyboard plundering his way through his extensive back knowledge of music. So no surprise he switches from Bach style Baroque to Bordelloish Boogie in one beat. Time and cultures all seamlessly mixed. Music across Centuries and Continents conjured up. But all that meant the outro had a lot to live up to. And it did. His progressive style and gradual attaining of higher moments was another example of faraway places being within his...and then ours...grasp. The big screen almost 3Dlike with it's vision of Earth from space like a genuine view from Mars. Something to note during this voyage of discovery, a voyage that Matt has been on since he joined the band. The discovery of Elton's handiwork and his genuine exploration of it. Not for the first time during the show but during this trail out part he stood behind Elton to marvel and to tap into his vibe. No wonder he's always bouncing around the stage for joy!

Hey Ahab has become such a rock beast that nobody unfamiliar with it dares ups and leaves for the 'pitstop'. It's aggressive, bolshie and hard. Elton's piano pounding percussive nature knocked lumps out of it. I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues culminated in one of rocks most cohesive, knowing relationships. Elton with his big lung engorging finish responding to bluesy licks from Davey as both timed their responses accordingly with with each other's exclamations. Mid show a brief restbite is required. Energy to be reclaimed for the next part of the journey. The One is ideal here...Elton taking one of his most naturally flowing melodies, putting an equally natural strong vocal on top, and holding court for the transfixed crowd. Intensity all in One go. If people think Your Song has been flogged to death in concert, then chew on this one. The echo of the crowd singing it is enough to tell me it has another bit left to run in it. Quite a bit of bite. 

With that musical equivalent of the three Shredded Wheat on board it was time to rev it up again. Burn Down The Mission with it's multi switching movements of broken rhythms to all out banging rock leaves no time for inhalation of air. Nigel's batterdrum finish to Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me in complete contrast to his melodious accompaniment during the preceding sections of the song. Octane at a high dose. Which some's up the period from The Bitch Is Back right through to Crocodile Rock. Thoughts of anything other than what's happening on stage are impossible. This is the moment. Elton still has the should we. Your Sister Can't Twist with it's faux Beach Boys backing vocals present and correct is supported by Davey's driving guitar and Kim's right side of cheesy organ. Saturday Night's Alright falls into the category of paradise restored. The opening is the first example of that...the proper drums and guitar intro, the stop start rhythm finding gear when Matt's shimmy on the bass and Elton ripples the keys to signal full on onslaught. But where Levon might have heralded a breakdown, we get it now at the end of this one. Looking for vocal reinforcements, he goads the crowd to chant, so they chant 'Saturday' in excelsis. Almost worshiplike...both for song and singer. As for Crocodile Rock...the song where everyone in the crowd can be a band member...just for one song. Are we done though? Not quite...

To let us go home with some semblance of calm...not possible I think...he treats us to one of his favourites. Circle Of Life/Can You Feel The Love Tonight? is a combination of restorative emotions and positive messages. Simple as that, to hear it is to know it.

After 100 shows this year, the tour ends. Not by happenstance in Dublin, but more out of design. Energy levels were incredibly high throughout with no lessening of delivery. Elton is in tip top live form at the moment and the band are so tapped into what's happening on stage that when...not if of course...they go back into the studio and put in there what they give out on stage then all bets are off as to what can be achieved. As 2014 suggests...2015 promises anything and everything.

Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding 
Bennie and the Jets 
Candle in the Wind 
All the Girls Love Alice 
Tiny Dancer 
Philadelphia Freedom 
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 
Rocket Man 
Hey Ahab 
I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues 
The One 
Your Song 
Burn Down the Mission 
Sad Songs (Say So Much) 
Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word 
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me 
The Bitch Is Back 
I'm Still Standing 
Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'n Roll) 
Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting 
Crocodile Rock
Circle Of Life/Can You Feel The Love Tonight?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

'Cause Lennon's On Sale Again'

Last week was the 40th anniversary of Lennon not only being on sale again but up on stage for possibly the last time. I say possibly because those present at the Tribute to Lord Lew Grade (he of ATV and Sinking The Atlantic fame) in April 1975 might protest that their thunder was bushwhacked. Whichever or whatever the definitive moment was, there's no doubt it was still a triumph. Lennon is for every day, not just for Thanksgiving. 

But I'm not going to look at the moment at this time. have done some great articles on that moment from those who were there so the eyewitness reports are quite sufficient. What I want to zoom in on is Lennon's studio collaborations with Elton.

I had Sgt Pepper on the other day and it's impact still seeps through the speakers. No wonder Brian Wilson nearly crashed his car on first hearing of it on the radio which led in some small part to his retreat from the world following his failure to bring his 'Smile' project to fruition. He knew at that very moment his task of topping the Lonely Hearts Club band effort would be futile. The 1967 version of Lucy was recorded pretty quickly, one night for the rhythm track and another night for the overdubs. Recorded on cutting edge (at the time) equipment that rapidly became out dated at decades ends. But that still doesn't temper it's influence. The surreal imagery...too 'out there man' even for this blogger to decipher! But the catchy chorus needs no explanation. Lennon's vocal is quite tinny at times, the half here, half there spirit he evokes from it is another example of its detachedness from our reality. McCartney's bass at the end is his usual style of rhythmic punch.

Jump forward seven fact we've headed at Warp 7 into the future. Because recording techniques at this time had taken the same leap of light speed. Elton's version is bolder, brighter, bigger and beautiful. The longer intro with bells on...quite literally from Ray... immediately grabs a vital tribute from the original version. Davey on Leslie guitar is centrally located to spread some familiar soundscapes. The 'Caribou' sound of the drums, all points focused and lively are in evidence. Nigel's big fills could only be dreamed about in 1967. Elton's vocal is more adventurous than Lennon's was. His lively harmonies are terrific. Lennon's vocal is heard on the chorus but his distinctive (at times) snarl is clearly heard. Elton's great skill at arranging is sometimes overlooked, but his interweaving of Mellotron especially with other keyboards is carefully and tastefully done. A massive sound is generated, again the Old '67ers would be jealous. 

One Day (At A Time) was another that got the 'Elton' treatment and was all the better for it. Lennon's 'Mind Games' version suffers from a lack of proper production input. Produced by himself it shows what a great song it is but nothing more. Country tinged due to Sneaky Pete's involvement and the reverby drums being stroked by light brushes. However when Gus got his able producing hands on it, a greater event came to fruition.

Elton's electric piano work...always a great favourite here...bounces like a ping pong from left to right in the spectrum. Davey takes the motif that flowed through the original to another level. Takes it to the front in fact. His gorgeous guitar work, sassy and sultry, is ably backed up by bright acoustic piano. String synth adds some glorious washes of sound, the solo part is like a workout of symmetry and harmony. Nigel's delicate yet definite drumming is bristling full of bounce.

Elton took two masterclass works of songwriting and turned one on it's head and accentuated the positive in the other. They say you shouldn't do covers but in these cases, for differing reasons, these both work...even better than the real thing. Miley take was already done and done...better.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

'Pillars Of Hercules'

Davey can never be accused of standing in the shadows and the spotlight frequently hit him over the years as he weathered all changes in music styles, fads and retroisms. But the spotlight is about to shine the light a bit brighter...and the temperature will soar well above ninety five.

Davey...Fantastic Captain of the EJ Band.
Anybody who has been following Davey's 'official' Facebook page (not the doppelganger one) will have been kept up to speed on one of the most exciting projects to emanate from the Elton world is recent times. If not here's a quick recap.

Davey's son Tam has taken on the labour...10 rolled into one you could make a documentary about the rise of Elton at the start of the 70's. Not for the first time that's been attempted of course but the first from the angle he's approaching it from. This time it's from the band outwards. In particular the troika of Davey, Dee and Nigel. An inside look that will undoubtedly finally confirm on them the due recognition they deserve.*

'The Pillars'

And like another well known film series that recently got the title of it's next installment this project has also been name stamped. 'Pillars Of Hercules' will feature new interviews and previously unseen footage and photographs. If the anticipation is too much then this video teaser will sooth your torment. I did an item a while back on Sick City and Davey gives some great insights into it that only he can recant. The force is strong with this one.

Side by side...somewhere in Europe, November 2014.
And what a raconteur he is. He speaks in such a way that even non musicians like ourselves will never be mystified. His good humour and general insight-fullness makes him the ideal 'spokesperson' for Elton's music. I've said this before but he's a tremendous ambassador for both Elton and his music. Read his blog of the last three years and it's nothing but positivism.

The appetite for this documentary is ravenous. Not just in the Elton world but outside it too. The recent Oscar winning film '20 Feet From Stardom' which featured another Elton cohort the wonderful Tata Vega is testament enough. A lofty template but it's success dispels any notion that there is no market for these films. In fact as I speak another project called 'Hired Gun - Music's Unsung Heroes' featuring Billy Joel's drummer Liberty Devitto is currently in the pipeline. We all know the great artists are exactly that, great. But at the same time they too recognise that without the great pillars of talent behind them the labour is a ten thousand times harder.

*Since going to upload I've been informed by Tam that the project has been expanded to include the design team, crew and management from that time period. So it's going to be a pretty full on experience.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

'This Could Be Anywhere Or Rotterdam'

This a treat. Anybody not familiar with my gateway into this Madness well here's a gentle reminder. Live In Australia was my first Elton album so that whole era/tour is kind of special. Those that have the album may not be familiar with the whole story of it, this doc gives great insight into it. Something else that may have become swamped with time passing is how the culmination of a year's touring was generated and developed. The Tour De Force didn't appear under a rock, Ayers or otherwise nor under a bush...not including tucker man either. The World Tour 85/86 began in late 1985 and wormed it's way through the UK, Ireland and eventually Europe before Leather Jackets was put to disc. Resuming in North America during summer 1986 it encountered some challenging moments. Elton's much discussed vocal problems that dogged him till the last night in Australia. However on the European leg of the tour no such troubles were encountered and it's this point of the tour we're going to look at here.

Whatever his state of the mind at the time...mental, medicated or otherwise...there's no doubt these were marquee shows. Both from the diversity of mood swings and the tremendous unrelenting energy. And the fact he had one of the best band lineups ever. I've this said this before on the blog but it's worth repeating. The Morgan/Paton combo is the best rhythm section outside any that contained Olsson and Murray together or both separately. How do I know? Because I can hear it. I hear melodic descriptiveness and thub thumping rocking at any given moment. With that great building block, the empire of Elton at that time had a grand palace built upon it. The Tour De Force had Elton resurrecting some old numbers at the time, Burn Down The Mission and Tonight appearing in the band setlist early on to begin a gestation period that lasted a year. Other songs had similar period of incubation in front of audiences. 

I'm going to look at some of the outstanding movements from the Rotterdam show on the 24th April 1986. This 'enhanced' recording only came to light recently due to the work of little beavers behind the scene's. These little trojans belong to one of the best groups on Facebook, a group of young enthusiastic fans that have only one goal in life. Assemble as many live recordings of Elton in one place. So expect a man from Guinness and a clipboard to be standing next to them any time soon. Seriously though, they've realised the value of the music rather than the price of it and taken the appreciation of Elton's live work to another dimension. As we've had 3D already I suppose the best way to describe it is 4D. Anyway thanks to those involved...they know who they lets cut through and weed out the best bits.

Highlander is it's usual expectant self. Slowly dilating then cries of joy as the synth parties like an excited child let out into the world. Segueing into Tonight as if attached with an invisible cord and chord. This piece here gives some detail as to what Tonight sounded like at this time. That invisible lively cord/chord appears again as One Horse Town creeps in. Oriental sounding synths from Fred being lambasted by marching warrior drums (Jody on timpani). Brass on the ramparts echoes Charlie's fills on the toms, firepower of might and glory. David on the bass crosses over (frequently) into various lands of lead, rhythm and most importantly of all, bass. Tubular bells are a call to pause, but it's only for a couple of brief periods. Davey's solo is frantic, fiery and fulfilling on all levels. Elton's vocal is strong, phrasing is familiar. The barometer of his vocal condition has been measured and the reading is exemplary.

Better Off Dead live has caught out many a musician in the past. Both vocally and musically. No such failings here. The timpani and drums are angular with pumped up muscle. The backing vocals refer to the original arrangement with no loss of style. The gradual build up of 'oohhs' march out as 'lalalas' with 'aahhs' finally triumphing. Rocket Man is another one in the growing stage. But no pains here. Or ceremony standing as Elton goes straight in for the kill. The bassline has all of it's sharpness and varying tones. Davey on the flying 'V', a pleasure cruelly denied to us to a great extent after this tour, on this song is perfectly poised to step in when gaps appear. When Elton's vocal is silent it pops in and sings with equal emotion. When Elton does sing he throws in some alternate phrasing...just for the heck of it. The coolest coda ever in rock means we're not done yet. The brass herald up another phase of piano pounding. Elton's vocal and Davey's guitar have always been key ingredients on stage for a satisfying banquet. Again during the jam they play off each other like seasoned sparring partners. One calls, the other responds. Simmering slow burning attitude starts to win over, the rhythm section kicks back in to tell us Elton is indeed back home. 

Burn Down The Mission like it's aforementioned relative is also discovering new life. Before it grew up and gained an orchestra, it had a life as a rowdy youth. Rustling cymbals at the start, the two drummers bang on the beat. Davey fires off his guitar like a chain gun with an unlimited clip. Extraordinary bass playing here from David. If it were isloated it would be exhibit number one in bass playing court. Fullsome licks that are vital to the transition from verse to chorus. Someone Saved My Life Tonight has an 80's style influence; Fred on the keyboards at the start with it's glassy waves. Slow drumming is present and correct (good) backing vocals are at full power and full arrangement (good, good). David's heavy bassline is a terrific counterpoint to the low guitar from Davey for much of the time. That is until the solo boots in. The whammy bar is never strangled, Davey just handles it to maximum effect. Elton's piano playing never shirks the heavy parts nor does his vocal. His range still able to summon up high. 

The Bitch Is Back has a witty vocal from Elton, the deep sax (I said sax!) equally as fun. Fred's guitar solo is a case study of twisted and tormented vibes being wrung out of six strings. The ride cymbals hunt in clusters, Shirley Lewis's end interjection is interrupted by chainsaws being switched off. The ultimate rock massacre. Restless...or Relentless....has zany keyboard work from Fred. It's aggressive, opinionated rock throughout. The shouting brass being more opinionated than most. Davey's solo is sleazy, egged on to even more depraved twist and twirl throwing by equally mean drums.

What of the piano I hear some cry? The white Steinway was never underused on this tour. Ask Bennie And The Jets for instance. She'll tell you how hard she got banged every night...anyway, a funky boogie woogie line is omnipresent. And I Mean This Most Sincerely Folks...Opportunity Knocks for Elton when he's let loose here. Borderline comedy threatens to spill over into farce as the solo progresses Straight (not New Faces) faces are restored. But then all hell breaks loose. As it always did on the outro to this manic jam. This is what I'm talkin' 'bout...sudden accelerations with the riff freezing everyone on stage with its hard notes repeatedly hammering over and over. Expressive keyboards playing alongside pummeling piano playing. Never too much...and not too soon.

Polarising Bennie is Cry To Heaven. No faces of clowns here, they've been wiped clean to lay bare emotions of the lyric to the maximum. A wall of synth, solid yet opaque enough to let through majestic tubular bells from Jody. Davey's wailing guitar is simplicity in itself, the perfect response to the earlier craziness. When Elton says 'tease' Fred teases us with an equally unexpected line. A fulfilling climax with ghostly echoes fades from earshot...that later awakens with a brisk I'm Still Standing. Lyrically heavy but vocally light. A no nonsense solo with mood calming piano to beckon an extended finish. Dangling bass with guitar always poised to take over. Which it does, a heady mix of evolution and revolution. A rockasm has been achieved by the end of this one.

That's what we're going to close with. A revolutionary yet evolving version of a classic. When Elton does the 'hybrid' song...a mix of the original and then other newer elements it's usually a triumph. Tonight on this tour being a case in point, Sixty Years On at the birthday show in 2007 another. Song For Guy is one of the highlights of the show and Elton's live repertoire. Encapsulating perfection, all contributors are to be congratulated. Crucial original elements like the drum machine and backing synth are retained. But with added nutrition. Conga's and tambourine are more than organic, they are vital to the songs diet. Piano lines are critically unaltered, the sweeping synth is like an unseen wind shaking the chimes. As the buildup to the end is commenced, Elton hits some high notes that summons up those chills without corny spills. A closing payoff with added encouragement from Davey on guitar. Mimicking the lead line with a sense of pathos. When Eton's vocals come in we stay on the edge yet tip over into something mesmeric, spellbinding and stretching out into oblivion. For life...and everything.

'Hallowed Halls'

My Elton MOJO is rising...and so is this month's issue of said music magazine. From which inspiration for this item is taken from.

In one of their buried treasure style articles they dug out this overlooked but important missing links in the train of both parties who comprise the album makeup. But it's from the Elton angle we'll be approaching as the link back to the house of John is more than tenuous.

Picture the're with Elton about to go out on stage for the last show of the 7 night run in Madison Square Garden in August 1976. Only to be told by the manager of the day that he was to retire from the road and the band was to be dismantled. Not to be put in cold storage but to be fragmented permanently. Cue offshoots heading in various directions. Blue Moves splitting up in two with sitars, mandolins and cutting edge MIDI keyboards heading to the Orient so to speak and the bluesy guitars and no nonsense drumming popping up in Philadelphia. Davey, James and Roger conjured up China and produced the excellent self titled album. Roger along with Kenny and Caleb pitched up later in 1977 as Hall And Oates' touring band. It was the latter three's involvement with Daryl Hall that led to what could have been a groundbreaking album on a grand scale in a far larger scheme of affairs if it had been released at the right time but the missed boat never returned to port.

Sacred Songs was recorded in 1977 but didn't see the light of day until 1980. The reason being Hall's record bosses were uneasy of his solo enterprise distracting from the main attraction of the partnership with John Oates. The exact reason being the presence of Robert Fripp on the project. As producer, songwriter and instrumentalist. But as we'll see when it's looked at further it wasn't as great a foray into uncharted territory that might have been expected. If anything it took a nod from one of 1977's better musical message's...New Wave..and thankfully steered clear of the new low fibre diet that was being dished out at the same time...disco. Frippertronics were present and correct but not dominating. If the premise of his influence from the arty side of Prog was considered off putting then that false fear is allayed. It's wider accessibility was never realised due to the delayed release date. A shame unfortunately. Considering it was almost the last hurrah together of the three Eltonites together and in some of their cases permanently in the rock business.

Before I did this item I referred to Dale Berryhill's excellent biography written in conjunction with Caleb Quaye. In it he (Quaye) makes no secret that the Hall And Oates gig was a means to an end. One of the ends being large helpings of Satan's sugar. His belief in or buying into the musci was minute. Unlike his purchases of the Devil's sherbert dip. In saying that however any lack of desire doesn't really come across here, both himself and the other two were surprisingly more in tune with the material than I had expected. I'll briefly go through the songs that feature all three and the albums high points, paying attention in detail to the Elton alumni contributions.

The title track finds our people in familiar territory...a piano led mid tempo rocker that has familiar elements from both Rock Of The Westies and Blue Moves. Roger's concert tom fills off the latter and Caleb's rhythm riffs lifted off the former. His solo is a coarse affair, the grit of it leaves deep embedded lines. Something In 4/4 Time has a familiar Hall And Oates sound of electric piano dominating at the start with Kenny on driving bass. Babs And Babs is probably one of the more experimental tracks, a mid paced big number with the Frippertronics lurking beneath the waves hiding out until it reels itself in and swamps us with endless loops. The fade out is pure eeriness...the spooky sound reminiscent of Dr. Who a la Jon Pertwee era. You could just visualise the Brigadier ordering a soldier in a tin hat to fire a few rounds at a winged creature as this plays behind it.

NYCNY has the rhythm section (electric guitar included) in heavy handed beat mode. An unrelenting groove that forms the back beat throughout. Vocals are word heavy, drenched by distorted guitars from both Caleb and Fripp. Don't Leave Me Alone With Her is guitar led charge with Caleb seizing power on centre stage and maintaining a tight grip on power from start to finish. Fripp formates on the solo to create something almost flammable. Kenny's bass playing is surprisingly adventurous here, more than what I expected from him. Fake fade out notwithstanding either. Because one of the better habits they picked up on the road is put to good use here. The outro is like a jam from the '75-'76 live Elton era though mercifully shorter and tightness being a key element. Survive is a funky affair, a bluesy guitar solo driven home by steady, weighty drumming.

I've highlighted some outstanding parts from the three folks we're all familiar with. Caleb showed some great grooves here, his distinctive style that was to the fore on the Gibson's he used at the time is uptempo and more importantly up front. Something he himself bemoaned was lacking on Blue Moves in particular. Roger proves here again that his best work was in the studio, his heavy hand suited to the drive of the songs. Kenny showed some interesting parts but his overall contribution was functional rather than groundbreaking. Hall And Oates are a favourite of mine so listening to this album is no challenge to me. But when you've got some points of reference...Elton pointers...then it's easier to delve in.

Monday, November 3, 2014

'Where It's At'

As the ghosts post Halloween fade away, the blog sneaks out of the Autumn mists. As you can see from the last post, it's been a while since I combed through the Elton world. But as there are so many strands to it  it's difficult to give every layer a good straightening. Between now and the end of the year there'll be yet more delving into the rattle bag to be done. Thanks again to those who continue to seek the blog out for an independent look at the Elton world. I've got some (hopefully) interesting things to look at, as always they'll be off centre to widen the viewpoint of any newbies to the Elton world.

Elton in Madrid on Saturday night.
Before years end I'll have the distinct pleasure of being in Elton's company again. Not something to be sniffed at, whether it be first, umpteenth or last in line. The European leg of the tour started on the Saturday in that wonderfully Iberian named venue the Barclaycard Centre in Madrid. The capitalist global's fingers both long and gripping. The recent tour in North America was a resounding success as per usual. I had the pleasure of listening to a number of recordings from some of the shows over the last while, notably both Vancouver shows, both Los Angeles affairs, Seattle and Denver. The shows were rollicking performances, Elton and the band are currently treading on a fine (on the right side!) line between controlled and carefree. Concentration in maintaining togetherness and confident enough to cut free when the gap arises. Anybody not familiar with an Elton show will still find the songs as they would expect them...but the unexpected shoveled in without throwing everything else off kilter. 

Bilbao, Sunday night.
The current lineup of the band is cutting a groove for itself that's leaving a deep impact in the performance landscape. Nobody from Atlanta to Zurich will have gone home without a permanent aural scar emblazoned on their ear drums. This past month found Elton and the band back in the studio for some, as Davey put it to me on his blog, secret enterprise. In connection with some future Rocket Pictures endeavour no doubt. Mark this point though. When the day comes as, it surely will, Elton and the band return to the studio to record a 'proper' album this blog will ring the bells like a victory rejoice. Anyone who goes to the shows and is then ambivalent as to whether they (band) play on the albums or not has no business trying to find a reference point with me on this matter. Reset the conversation I say.

Early concert goers in Europe will notice the stage setup used in North America hasn't travelled over. But the absence of those lights coming up to Christmas will be easily compensated by the seasonal brightness. The roof will surely be raised, hook or by crook! Last show of the tour in Dublin...bound to be a party. More so now that there will be no remnants of The Diving Board in the setlist. Anyone who has just arrived back from servicing the Mars Explorer will know I am no fan of said album. It's non appearance in the setlist is more than a's essential. 

Firstly, unfamiliar songs are a challenge at an arena show. Carefully chosen though and they can become staples for a long time. Hey Ahab anyone? Unfortunately Oceans Away (a worthy song for sure) is totally unsuitable for an arena band show, it's 'newness' hindering it even more. Home Again looked as if it may have cemented a position in the setlist a la Ahab, but the absence of the girls on backing vocals took away any modicum of impact from early performances, late 2013 being the optimum time for it's performance life. Adding Believe, a very good thing in this bloggers opinion, and making the set a more taut affair will not do any harm to this leg of the tour. On the contrary, the tin says it so it will be the same inside. Even though we know what's coming as regards song lineup, hopefully as Cilla used bawl out, it'll be all 'Surprise, Surprise' on the night!!

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Telly Savalas once asked if and so are we on this update. A short word with infinite possibilities. Elton has more than delivered for us over the years so we've no complaints on what's gone before. But once upon a time he tantalised us with a project that if it had come to fruition could have given him a musical passport to a world he hasn't explored to a great deal but boy if he had we'd have encountered a planet of great depth and beauty.

Around 1980 he spoke about the possibility of an instrumental album. We've had some great appetisers over the years of his instrumental work, just recently one of the (very) few high points of The Diving Board were the Dream interludes. Unforgivably short they asked more questions than gave answers too. On stage when he clears the decks of accompaniment and mutes his vocal he gives a first hand showcase of his talents in that area. In the last few years those moments have been far and very few between. Recently though it has appeared again in an ever elongating fashion on the intro to Rocket Man. A welcome return and no mistake.

The releases at that time (1980/81) had Elton giving us some very diverse instrumental pieces. From the manic Choc Ice Goes Mental to the more functional Tactics we can only wonder as to what styles would have filled the gaps between such moods. Carla/Etude/Fanfare being more than a gap filler, it being a satellite of quality in which all other heavenly bodies would circumnavigate around.

Key to handling all this would have been James Newton Howard. And a careful touch he would have put on everything. His arranging and baton work with the orchestra is legendary and needs no further explanation here. His keyboard is truly remarkable too, Elton has cited him as a better piano player than himself if you please. His work on the electric keyboards is grand, expansive and full of broad colours. Listen to anything from the first few albums of the 80's and his input is so essential that if weren't present the music would have been undermined. Listen to his lines on Sartorial Eloquence and Elton's Song for instance and ask yourself would those songs benefit from their absence. Not in a million years. It gave a contemporary vibe to Elton's sound but never lost sight of the main origins of the music. The piano.

Elton on the 1979 tour began experimenting more with various electric piano's, the Yamaha and Fender Rhodes adding a terrific twist to his many stylish moves. Right through the 70's on disc he had flirted with different type of electric pianos, but by this time he had become more confident in the various traits they had to offer. The big voluminous beat of the Yamaha's chunky sound without sounding overtly loud was a terrific complimentary piece to his acoustic work. He could delve further into their nuances and extract grooves not yet discovered. James on Fender Rhodes adding that smooth touch reminiscent of Bill Evans' Left To Right (1970). With these tools at his disposal and more importantly a foil who could take the basic ideas and develop them into something even more exciting then the long lost instrumental album would have been sensational.

Just picture it...or even listen very closely...Elton rattling off some melodies off with an endless degree of possibilities. Intense moments giving way to uptempo life affirming expressions. James on hand to either put down a massive orchestral arrangement to heighten the impact or to simply turn on the tap that was the top of the range digital synths of the day and not forgetting the old analogue machines and adding some intricate yet essential lines. Making it both current and timeless in sound legacy. No rules, no limits, just compose and create. Two master's developing and living the music. Incredible to imagine the endless avenues that could have been explored.

The album could have been both experimental and familiar. The melding of synth and orchestra might have exhausted prog rock by the end of the 70's but there was still plenty more to be done in the field. The soundtrack to Tron (1981) hammering home that point. On The Fox we have orchestra phasing into synth. It's clean and considered but could have been be a microcosm of the overall concept of the album. Whether rhythm section and added guitar would have been required is open to discussion. But as we'll see later could have taken the album into even further uncharted waters.

Elton and James were ready made for this project. Listen to any of the 1980 tour shows and the incredible interplay that both keyboard wizards did on the jams to Saturday Night's Alright and Bite Your Lip and you'll hear two players who could tap into a groove and exploit it. If they were mining gold, it would have been quicker than a rush. 

I'm going to leave you with something related and food for thought. With The Diving Board in I had mentioned it earlier...this act from Japan gives a  taste of how instrumental music can both excite and delight. Hiromi's 'Trio Project' takes the jazz piano threesome and gives it great flair. Ably accompanied by Simon Phillips (The Who, Toto) on drums and the inventor of the six string bass guitar, Anthony Jackson. The three piece element...remember when somebody promised us an album of such delights but failed miserably to deliver anything remotely of the still alive and well. Some of those elements were rooted in Dream #3,  it being one of those asked questions I mentioned earlier. This clip may give some answers...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

'Elton & Ray Live At Galaxie dÀmnéville 26th September 2009 - CD Review'

Earlier this month was the birthday of Ray Cooper. I'll not say his age, needless to say it's irrelevant to his playing. In honour of this anniversary, I dug out one of the early shows from the third age of his efforts with Elton.

This time five years ago was a state of flux in the Elton world, anyone who was present during that troubled time will be familiar as to why. In the midst of this turmoil the two man show as it's known in some quarters was resurrected to great acclaim. Nearly a decade and a half after it's last curtain call the much anticipated re-union was awaited with eager expectation. Did expectations meet that keen sense of excitement that bubbled? Disc one of three discs was first on... we very lucky to have Concert Live record all six shows on this short European tour. The first show at the Royal Albert Hall wasn't lucky enough to be released in soundboard form but the subsequent shows were just as strong and at least early on in the tour were just as long. The tour was short and swift, a quick scoot down the highways and byways of France and Italy. A chance to get the oil flowing back to unfamiliar bearings and rings that might have, but didn't, seize up whilst being laid up. Concert Live always did a decent job, though they had trouble mixing audience and stage sound. When audience sound was turned up the stage sound became something like a badly tuned in radio. But those moments were brief and didn't spoil the overall quality. I'm singling out the second show from Galaxie dÀmnéville, 26th September 2009, as it has the longer setlist. I'll highlight some old favourites and the later additions to the setlist that had new spins put on them. 

First thing to be said about the opening half is the solemnity of the occasion. In fact, it's sombre and hovering just north of downbeat. Elton's mood was incredibly low, his slow speaking (mostly in French) was tempered with the need to entertain. The songs were the main act, they didn't fail to deliver. Due in no small part to the fact the set list was a triumph of variety and the exotic. Elton's voice at the start was rough, improvement was brisk though. The opening of The One was a masterclass of hope that delivered. It seemed to give Elton the nod to kick on and put his best fingers forward. Sixty Years On with his heavy left hand was definitely showing the best side, incredible vibrations reverberated long after the keys had been depressed and released. The great aspect of this setlist was how the 90's and 00's material was exhumed. Too long it's been airbrushed from the set, this time it was standing in line. The Emperor's New Clothes with it's marching solo showing no lack of confidence surrounded by classics like Rocket Man with it's MIDI heavy effects that used the technology to enhance the songs mesmeric trajectory. Weight Of The World continuing the life affirmation for desired life that has been realised. Blues Never Fade Away is where the culmination of all this striving for something positive to cling on to finally hits home. Dedicated as a tribute to the recently lost Guy Babylon it fitted perfectly on a number of levels. Firstly he played on the studio version, so the song will always have part of him. Secondly the lyrics are tailor made for that exact moment. A moment that when you listen to Elton speaking before it, you can't help be moved by the total genuine sentiment that seeps through the entire speech. If the first part was a struggle for answers, then by the end of the solo set we may have found some peace. But the peace in the theatre would be temporary.

As soon as Ray appeared, Elton was suddenly buoyed. The appearance of a friend and musical confidant would drive the second half on into new lighter territory. Though the time away had created occasional bouts of uncertainty between the two, the hesitant cues created by absence but would be rectified by frequent presence together. Funeral For A Friend has one of the greatest piano intros created by anyone who has used the instrument as their canvas of choice. The steady progression and the quickly developing aura suddenly interrupted by Ray beating the last drop of sound out of the timpani. The assault is quick, loud but very comfortable until the vast range of emotions that is Tonight restores tranquility. The great thing about these shows as I alluded to earlier is how old and new mix well. The old get a makeover in some places too, giving them some 21st Century sparkle with a vintage heritage. Come Down In Time's light airy rhythm is accentuated by Ray adding shaker on the intro and vibes as the song progresses. The troika of Carla/Etude/Blessed is no juxtaposition but a the act of a magician. The terrific instrumental leads into one of my all time favourite songs, the melody hypnotises but sleep is kept away by the intensity of the songs message. Crazy Water has it's usual zany mix of alternating rhythms. Saturday Night's Alright is a masterclass of tambourine spanking, the call and response at the end has gently simmering conga's. Rank Films opened with a gong, Elton and Ray shows close with a swanky gong!

YouTube has very kindly provided the full show for listening pleasure. I think these batch of shows catch Elton at a vulnerable moment. Emotionally charged onstage he transfers those feelings through the music with a combination of frailty and strength. The setlist is probably the best from any of the series of shows, including those from '79 and '93-'95. The tone may be reflective, but understandable when you consider the context. If you listen to this show and then put one of the Spring 2010 shows like Grand Rapids for example then we see how music has the power to heal and renew. Life is everything...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

'To Be A B-Side, Or Not To Be A B-Side'

It's some question, ain't it. Luckily over the years Elton, or sometimes the various record bosses, have treated us with the cuts that weren't considered good enough for the final album track listing. Though when you look down the list of b-sides you can't help but think that most would have sat very proudly and without any fear of inferiority on the album that they missed out on.

If you look at the 21 At 33  recording sessions, because of David Geffen's pie fingering we ended up with essentially a whole album of relegated songs. More up to date Peachtree Road left us with half an album of material that luckily saw the light of day and the sound of joy for us. There's been a great many more over the years, too many to go into great detail individually one by one here. But I'm going to look at one of my all time favourites. I focused already on two of my favourite b-sides from some of the other mansions of Elton's many recording houses. The Retreat and So Sad The Renegade being high up on my list.

One can only imagine the dregs of the gutter that Elton and Bernie would have encountered on the road in the early 70's. Every type of chancer and spiv with silvery trails more akin to a slug get together pitching up with one hand longer than the other. One to pick you, the other to land the blade in. If patience wasn't lost quickly, it would have been sorely tested. Bernie took all these usual suspects and packaged them up lyrically to let us float down into 'Sick City'. Wrapped around it though was one of the greatest counter melodies Elton has ever put down on disc to Bernie's life observations.  

If you look at the lyrics firstly, we're greeted firstly by the ultimate 70's temptation and cliche. The groupie, who by her given age (what she says and what's true may be one of the same thing...or may not) in some US states would be legal, in others would have you heading for the clink. As the Sick City in question is focused on New York reportedly, anyone thinking of crossing that line should have Attica State by John Lennon humming in their ears. But all that doesn't stop her spelling out in around about way (firstly) where she'd like to go. For her (second) point of arrival she comes straight out with her offer of a 'rubdown' conjuring up a various range of possibilities. No doubt to hear those British accents in a more intimate setting being part of the appeal. And the fact that they're rock stars equally appealing to the cheeky minx. The 'tricks' she had in mind wouldn't have been seen on a Paul Daniels show...not even with Debbie McGee...even after the watershed. The leeches and the 'here tonight, gone later tonight' type fan just looking for a 'handout' are next to appear around the back. We can only speculate on the myriad of tales of woe that were spun, some truthfully, others very dishonestly. All with the same aim, to relieve them 'loaded down dudes'. Or, as is suggested by the 'healing show' line, that Elton could sell them a couple of bottles of Doctor Good. I think they'd have to wait till Cher and her Papa were in town for that particular beverage. 

If in 1970 there was some degree of innocence lost and paradise gained, by early '74 it had been extinguished quicker than the stage lights. Though the 'monkeys' would always find some solace at the door, in spite of the various shades of darkness they brought with them.

A great set of lyrics requires what. Elton to do his party piece. Looking at the tone of them, it's a desperate tale of downbeats that ultimately make the main aim of the game, the music, a bit harder with so many hangers on. It's dark undertones, when scratched, or even tasted, leave you sick. Nothing pleasant so far. But what does Elton do? The complete opposite and use a clever musical tool.

Ironic comment. In this case, Elton, musically, puts on a mock musical hall style, nearly vaudeville in some ways (the mock style coming from the 'upright piano'  that evoke images of a theatre full of merry revellers ala 'The Good Old Days') just one key device employed. His vocal is tone neutral, if you listen to it he neither strays into comedy or deadly seriousness. A line between Ticking and Solar Prestige territory. But one he carries off with no sense of pathos either. It's a frank delivery. The melody itself is pure singalong, catchy and cheeky. It never undersells the lyrical message or denigrates it any way. So whilst we're rowing along in a cesspool with the lowest forms of life, we're doing it a merrily, merrily way.

The production here is incredible, as is always the case with Gus. Caribou early 1974 has the band in top notch recording form. Davey's bluesy guitar has found it's voice, it snarls in and out throughout with an equally almost offensive (in a good way!) solo. Dee's bassline is tensility embodied in four strings. Nigel's drum sound was reaching the peak of it's 70's incarnation. Listen to the way it's recorded, which by all accounts took ages to set up in the new studio, and it's a masterclass in playing. The ride cymbal sounds like it's right beside you. The tom's are tuned with a heavy tone that gives them great firmness. It's a massive sound. The Tower Of Power brass section has a stylish swagger that hums in the low key and speaks up with great purpose when called for. 

But where Gus really nails the hammer, is by keeping the trademark harmonies right till the end. The high altitude of Colorado making them even more nearer to heaven, both literally and musically. Rather than some outro that doesn't do much but just fade away, their late arrival makes staying to the end a required listen. A final burst of the chorus line with the entire company chipping in. Elton works the comedic piano sound well here, not quite silent film stuff but it would be no stranger to that genre either.

Ultimately this never ended up on, I can't believe it either. But any survey over the years I've seen has always puts this at the top or near the top least ways of the favourite b-sides list. Everything works here even when you think it shouldn't. A look at the underbelly of rock and roll touring with a jaunty almost knees up melody. And some people wonder why this pair are masters of their art...not anybody reading this blog I hope!