Elton John and his giant jellyfish conquer Vancouver

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photos by the newt

By Steve Newton

Elton John doesn’t need no stinkin’ band. Heck, I remember seeing him at GM Place back in ’99 when it was just him and his piano, and he killed it. There was no elaborate staging or lights–not even a costume change–yet the magical combination of his music put to Bernie Taupin’s lyrics was enough to keep the sold-out crowd transfixed.

No, Elton John doesn’t need no stinkin’ band, but last night at Rogers Arena he brought one anyway.

And it tore the place up.

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Two members of John’s band from the early-’70s–guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson–are still with him, and they bring the radar-like tightness you’d expect after all those gigs. And if they ever miss a beat you can bet that primo bassist Matt Bissonette–who used to handle the tricky bottom-end for guitar star Joe Satriani–is right there to find it for them. Throw in multitalented keyboardist Kim Bullard and jazz-reared percussionist-drummer John Mahon, and you’ve got the makings of a stellar live unit.

The group wasted no time proving its mettle, opening with “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”, one of the most dynamic numbers from John’s 1973 double-LP, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The band would return to that album again and again, for both flat-out rockers (“Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”) and sentimental ballads (the Marilyn Monroe homage “Candle in the Wind”).

“I think this is one of the best choruses we’ve ever written,” remarked John before performing the timeless title track.

John did a nice job of sprinkling lesser-known songs–like “Hey Ahab”, a tune from his 2010 collaboration with Leon Russell, The Union–among his blockbusters. He only played one song from his latest album, last year’s The Diving Board, though. He chose that piano-oriented disc’s opening track, “Oceans Away”, which he solemnly dedicated to those “who fought for our freedoms” in World War I and II. Later on he dedicated “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me”, his hit 1974 ballad, “to Brenda, who is 98 today.”

It’s not just kids like me who are into Elton John these days.

When he wasn’t charming the sold-out crowd with his good-guy persona–which included taking a break to sign autographs for the hardcore fans up front–John sang his ass off, and the 67-year-old’s vocals sounded strong as ever. In the battle for attention between that voice and the huge chandelier-type lighting rig that kept unfolding like a giant jellyfish, the lighting rig came a close second.

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My only complaint about the show was that it ended with two songs from the soundtrack of The Lion King. I realize Elton’s all about heartfelt emotion and lifting people’s spirits and such, but that sappy Disney vibe just wasn’t alright for this Saturday night.

Brenda probably loved it, though.

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