Before the show began Thursday night at the Alliant Energy Center, I overheard the woman to my right say to her friend, “I saw my first concert here, Sonny and Cher.” It was then that I realized that I would be in the minority as a 20-year-old at an Elton John concert. I am not Elton John’s number one fan by any means. While most of the audience watched him explode into stardom in the ’70s, I will eternally associate him with Simba and Nala falling in love in 1994’s “The Lion King.” Nonetheless, I had no worries that either of our generations would be disappointed tonight.
The air smelled of laundry detergent, stale popcorn and cigarettes. It was a good representation of the demographic at the concert – the clean classiness of Elton John, the aged venue and the unmistakable feel of a rock concert. As the lights dimmed, my heart began to palpitate in excitement. I thought I was just moments away from witnessing one of the most renowned musicians of all time, but to my surprise Elton John appeared on the screen instead of the stage.
After an eruption of applause, he introduced 2Cellos, a cellist duo from Croatia. The two men, who I later found out to be Luka ?uli?? and Stjepan Hauser, brought the concert to life. I sat staring with my mouth open for the first 30 seconds of their opening cover, “Smooth Criminal.” The two were able to make two cellos sound like an entire band of electric guitars surrounding the room. They even returned for a few of Elton John’s songs to play alongside him, including his opening number, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.”
When I think of Elton John, I expect flamboyant costumes that bleed glitter, feathers and combinations of material that would otherwise be unimaginable. Despite his sequin-adorned jacket and shirt, there was not any sort of flashy attire. The style of his clothing seemed to reflect his overall energy, as he simply smiled, waved to the crowd and took a seat behind his beloved grand piano. Before I even had time to reflect on his reserved nature, his band jumped into the opening number. There is no question as to whether or not Elton John has lost any love he has for singing, as he hit every note and never missed a lyric. If it were not for his signature shades, I bet I would have been able to see a slight twinkle in his eye.
After my moment of jumping up and down in my seat with excitement during “Bennie and the Jets,” along with many other hits like “Tiny Dancer” and “Rocket Man,” the stage darkened, and a haze of smoke wafted slowly from the stage to the ceiling. The lighting changed to illuminate a sheet of twinkling green lights, and Elton John’s silhouette was the only image that was visible as he stood and raised both arms, his back to the crowd. This moment of tense excitement was brief, as he then sat at the piano and let his fingers fly for the introduction of “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.”
Even though every song he sang was well done, there was an air of fatigue that sometimes could be traced. Songs like “Crocodile Rock” that are characterized by his falsetto were drowned out by the thump of the bass drums. At times it seemed he was being overpowered by his accompaniment.
The parts of songs that isolated the singer and piano were the most moving. Elton John may be known for his flashy attire, but he certainly needs no bells and whistles to have a successful show. His encore piece, “Your Song,” was the most riveting because it was just John and the piano bringing the concert to a gentle close.
Going to see Elton John was not the most fervent or crazy concert I have ever been to, but such raw talent is something rarely seen in the music industry today. His lyrics say it best, “I know it’s not much, but it’s the best I can do/ My gift is my song and this one’s for you.” Flashy or not, for Elton John, it’s the music that counts.