In a time when plenty of veteran rock and pop stars are content to take a victory lap with their jukebox full of hits, Elton John has never stopped creating brand-new music — while totally owning that jukebox full of hits at the same time.
John brought new songs from his upcoming album Wonderful Crazy Night (due Feb. 5) and his arsenal of classics to The Wiltern theater in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, a very intimate venue for a performer so big. He brought out special guests, paid tribute to another rock icon who never quit making music and generally rocked out.
Here are highlights from the packed show:
Elton John Has So. Many. Hits.
“Bennie and the Jets.” “I’m Still Standing.” “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” “Levon.” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” “Sad Songs (Say So Much).” “Philadelphia Freedom.” He played all of these (and many more; see below) during the two-hour-plus show — and as a man who had a song within the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in every year between 1971 and 1999 (seriously), there were plenty more to choose from.
And He’s Still Crafting Classics
The reason behind the Wiltern show was John’s upcoming 32nd album, Wonderful Crazy Night, due Feb. 5. He played five tracks from the new record: four upbeat songs, including the gorgeous, catchy “Blue Wonderful” and the title track, plus the ballad “A Good Heart.” The joyful tone wasn’t a mistake: John and longtime writing partner Bernie Taupin set out to make a happy album to represent the contentment in John’s own life.
Remembering a Legend
“I’d like to dedicate this to the Starman himself,” John said before launching into an epic piano requiem for David Bowie, who died Sunday at age 69 after an 18-month cancer battle. John’s original song weaved in pieces of the “Ground Control to Major Tom” melody from Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” evolving from a lush, quiet ballad to a jangly, joyful romp and then ending in a booming, urgent roar, before transitioning into Elton’s own space anthem, “Rocket Man.”
Passing the Torch to the Next Generation
When John announced that there would be guests joining him onstage, the crowd buzzed about what fellow legends he might perform with. Instead, John gave the spotlight to three relatively young artists. First up was Shawn Mendes trading verses on “Tiny Dancer,” prompting this introduction: “Our first guest: If I was 50 years younger than I am now, I’d still be one year older than him.” Next was Demi Lovato, who took Kiki Dee’s vocals up on octave on the wailing duet “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” (video below). Finally, Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump added some extra rock to the already rocking “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.”
Rock ‘n’ Roll Liberace
But John didn’t really need much assistance in the rock department: He jammed out on the piano all night like the rock god that he is. His sparkling coattails and leap atop the piano while performing “The Bitch Is Back” recalled the stage histrionics of the late Liberace, while his expert banging on the piano and blues/gospel sensibilities were more Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis. “Nobody rocks out anymore,” John told the crowd between songs. “They’re all bedwetters.”
After two hours of over-the-top performing, the band left the stage and John remained at the piano for one final song. Before kicking into “Your Song” — which he dedicated to Taupin, his husband David Furnish and all the fans — he sweetly said: “This is your song, Los Angeles.” The band returned mid-song to take the ballad and the concert out with a bang.
Elton John at the Wiltern track list:
Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Bennie and the Jets
I’m Still Standing
A Good Heart
In the Name of You
Tiny Dancer (with Shawn Mendes)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
David Bowie piano tribute
Wonderful Crazy Night
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (with Demi Lovato)
Sad Songs (Say So Much)
Burn Down the Mission
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
The Bitch Is Back
Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n’ Roll)
Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting (with Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump)