By Bob Andelman
September 23, 1986
With each encore, the audience waited.
(There were three encores. That’s a lotta waiting.)
When is he going to do it? they wondered. When is Elton John going to strip down to his skivvies?
He never did, it is a pleasure to report.
Unlike his 1984 appearance at the USF Sun Dome – supposedly his last concert anywhere – John maintained his dignity and kept his pants on throughout his entire two-hour-and-15-minute concert Sunday night before 10,782 people.
Dignity is a relative term when it comes to Elton John. He may not have re. moved his pants, but you should have seen these pants: luminescent yellow baggies with a black stripe on either side.
And his jacket was a, pop art nightmare, a kitschy cross between Keith Haring and Peter Max.
Only Elton John gets so much review paid to his apparel.
How was his music? Not bad for a white guy with a furry, Day-Glo green mohawk.
John reached way back in his 16-year catalog of hits for much of his material.
With nearly all of his older songs, John played it straight for about three-fourths of the tune and then added playful, sometimes bombastic flourishes.
During “Rocket Man” the pianist diddled the high-pitched, far end of his keyboard. At the close of a bouncy “Philadelphia Freedom,” his four-piece horn section lashed a pound of flesh to the old pop favorite.
Ballads were very much in vogue Sunday. The sell-out crowd heard John croon his way through a wide variety, from “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” and “Love Song” through “Blue Eyes” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues.”
Midway into the show, the singer announced he would do a song from “one of my most requested albums.
“It is not one of my favorite albums,” he said, “but every time I run into an Elton John fan, they always request something from ‘Madman Across the Water.’ So … this is ‘Levon.’ “
This version of “Levon” was one of the most pronounced variations of any John classic all night. Like the others, it began in a familiar way, with John singing high over his gentle piano playing, telling the story of how Levon, “he wants to go to Venus,”
Congos added an extra dimension to the song, then John picked up the pace by turning the tone to gospel:
He shall be …
“He shall be …
“He shall be … Levon”
Instead of ending with the piano with which it began, “Levon” concluded with an abrupt guitar twang from Davey Johnson. Like many of the thing’s John did with his songs, this, too, was a pleasant way to punch life into an oldie.
It is surprising, in retrospect, that few of John’s songs – ballads or rockers – induced audience singalongs. Through 22 songs, all but two or three were recognizable to even the occasional radio listener or pop fan. And certainly anyone who paid the price of admission must have been predisposed to those songs.
There was some grumbling that John’s choice of material was a bit too mushy, that he left out foot stompers such as “Crocodile Rock” and “Honky Cat.”
The real problem – as has been evidenced in the recent appearances of Stevie Wonder and James Taylor – is that these artists have maintained careers over three generations and have a barrel full of money – er, material. John introduced just one new song, “Paris,” (written by Bernie Taupin) from his upcoming LP. Unless he plays a four-hour show, there’s no way everyone can be satisfied.
John did perform “Restless,” “The Bitch Is Back,” “Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting)” and “I’m Still Standing.” These songs kicked in hard and tight.
His best time all night was during the six minutes of “Bennie and the Jets.” Always a popular, albeit turgid tune, “Bennie” was alive Sunday. John leaped to his feet and – without a microphone – shouted “Bennie” at the capacity crowd, to which they responded in kind. Returning to the piano, he tossed aside his stool and began playing on one knee, then fell to the floor on his back and noodled a few one-handed honky-tonk blues turns.
That wasn’t enough for Captain Fantastic. He paused and the song appeared to be over, but it wasn’t. Leaning over the piano, John muscled through familiar bits and pieces of songs before making it clear he still was playing “Bennie.” He jumped on top of the piano and lay still momentarily before standing atop the white baby grand and raising his fist. It was worth the standing ovation it received.
But the overall impression of the night resides with slower songs such as “Candle in the Wind,” “Daniel,” “Nikita” and “Your Song.”
So what? Elton John dressed his musical best. (But personally, the mohawk has to go.) His oldies got a new set of clothes, he kept his own pants on and the cynics were turned away for another round.