Last night’s Elton John concert at the San Jose Arena (aka HP Pavilion), complete with a video backdrop and band, was a reminder of why people become musicians. These guys aren’t out to prove anything – they just play because they love music and they love to perform. Sir Elton, who I believe was knighted as much for his philanthropy as for his career success, always has a genuine smile for his crowd and holds up his energy as well as can be expected from behind a piano keyboard.
I’ve been checking off older artists on my concert attendance list the past few years – groups I’d always wanted to see but the timing was never right, like Yes, Simple Minds and the Doobie Brothers and the rare masters like Simon & Garfunkel. I haven’t seen Rush in a while but they all have this same sense to them when they play – their ease from playing together a long time permeates throughout the entire performance, showing that age has as its advantage the ability to be comfortable in their skins.
I missed Ray Cooper, Elton’s sometimes percussionist, who I believe is up there with Neal Peart as two of the best percussionists ever. He had this crispness to his performance – a perfection not to be easily emulated, and he is just amazing to watch within his castle of instruments. I saw Elton & Ray perform together (just the two of them) in Ann Arbor back in 1993. I sat in the next to the last row in the way back of Chrysler arena and still was floored by them.
More recently, I saw Elton John play for the Star Ball, a benefit for the Nick Traina Foundation in San Francisco at the Ritz last April. Clearly this was a different crowd and venue than last night’s show, but we sat about the same distance from the piano in each case. The difference was that in a smaller group, the knight was able to show his softer side and the kindness that makes him such a steady force on the benefit circuit. This is a man who deeply cares about causes and who uses his life experience and financial success to help gain attention for others. In the case of the Star Ball, the cause was manic depression and related mental illnesses, particularly cases pertaining to musicians. Danielle Steel hosted the event as she founded the organization for her late son, Nick Traina.
Having seen Elton John now by himself, with only a percussionist, with Billy Joel, in a ballroom, in indoor arenas and outdoor stadiums, from in front on the floor and in back near the rafters, I will say it really doesn’t matter where he plays or where I sat, even turning 60, he still is an incredible performer, worthy of the name “Captain Fantastic”. His new album, “The Captain and the Kid” debuts on Tuesday. He played seven songs from the album and I liked them – a little off the track from his recent albums.
Of course, it must be said that the house lit up when the classics were performed – as always – “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”, “Levon”, “Daniel”, “Funeral For A Friend” and “Your Song” delighted the audience.