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Review: Elton John is all right on a Saturday night in Eugene

In 2017, it often seems that musicians need a political agenda to garner attention. But Elton John, whose repertoire does not boast any protest anthems, per se, seems to remain timelessly relevant. He’s professed a desire to make hip-hop with Kanye West and Pharrell Williams; he made a cameo on one of the best rock records of the twenty-first century, Queens of the Stone Age’s “…Like Clockwork” and even hung out with Atlanta rapper Young Thug.

Music need not be political; sometimes we just need a queer Englishman with strawberry-blond hair and rose-colored glasses to keep us centered.

Check out our photo coverage of Elton John’s performance here.

Elton John returned to Matthew Knight Arena on Saturday night for the first time since February 2011. He and his band are touring in support of their newest album, “Wonderful Crazy Night,” released in February as part of the Follow The Yellow Brick Road Tour. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the 48th year since John released his first record, 1969’s “Empty Sky.” 

Pink and purple spotlights illuminated John’s grand piano before he entered the stage to the ominous opening chords of “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.” The video board behind him displayed a video of gray storm clouds flying by.

He sported a blue suit jacket — the words “Rocket Man” on the back — bedazzled with red, gold and silver sequins from his sleeves to his coattails, which made an image of a rocket taking off.

The two-and-a-half-hour performance highlighted John’s biggest hits and new material with little visual distraction. The night was all about the music and John’s boundless gratitude.

It’s often hard to strike a personal resonance, especially in an arena that fits more than 12,000 people, but it still felt deeply intimate when John sang, “And you can tell everybody / This is your song.” He and the band made a conscious effort to connect with the audience as much as possible, both during and after songs.

Every available seat in the house appeared to be filled, which provided the band a 360-degree view of loving fans. John often turned and waved, pointed and bowed to every corner of the arena to say thank you. John invited those seated to approach the stage toward the show’s end. He autographed at least two-dozen items for fans gathered at the front of the stage. He was offered everything for his signature, from tickets and drumsticks to a brown boot to sign (He skipped the shoe).

John often ended songs by slamming the fall board on his grand piano, punctuating the finish to an epic performance. At age 69, John has a remarkably youthful energy.

He tweaked the opening lines of “Tiny Dancer”: “Blue jean baby, Eugene lady, seamstress for the band” in an arena-wide singalong. 

In the interim before the encore as everyone beckoned for John’s return, an inordinate number of cell phone LED lights lit up and floated like celestial orbs around the pitch-black arena.

John’s band has had some remarkable continuity: drummer Nigel Olsson has been a member since 1969, and musical director and guitarist Davey Johnstone has toured with John since 1972.

John mentioned that as much as he loves recording in the studio, playing live is his favorite part of the job. “I’d much rather play for you,” John said. “We’re not going to sleep for two-and-a-half-hours after this.”

Set List:
“Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”
“Bennie And The Jets”
“I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight”
“Looking Up”
“A Good Heart”
“Philadelphia Freedom”
“Rocket Man (I Think It’s Gonna Be A Long Long Time)”
“Tiny Dancer”
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”
“Have Mercy On The Criminal”
“Your Song”
“Burn Down The Mission”
“Sad Songs (Say So Much)” (Band introductions)
“Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”
“The Bitch Is Back”
“I’m Still Standing”
“Your Sister Can’t Twist”
“Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”
“Candle In The Wind”
“Crocodile Rock”

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Craig Wright

Craig Wright

Craig is the senior arts and culture editor for the Emerald. He is from West Linn, Oregon, and is a senior majoring in journalism at the UO. He has made Nick Frost laugh and has been deemed to be "f---ed up in the head" by legendary thrash-metal band Slayer.