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Elton John and Leon Russell at US Airways Center Last Night

Elton John and Leon Russell at US Airways Center Last Night
Maria Vassett

Elton John

November 6, 2010
US Airways Center

Elton John and Leon Russell let their fingers do the talking at last night's show at the US Airways Center.

John was, of course, the main attraction and the singer's solo set was hit after hit, satisfying a crowd full of people who wanted to hear their favorite of his songs. Not that they all came out sounding just like on the albums. And not that his touring partner got the same reception.

"Rocket Man" was spiced up with some freestyle on the piano and a jammy electric guitar, followed by some reverb on the mic, which instigated a call and response with the crowd. The crowd echoed "Bennie!" and pumped their fists along with the piano chords during "Bennie and the Jets." And there's nothing like seeing old women stand up in their seats and air drum for the duration of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me."

Russell, a cult favorite who just recorded a critically-acclaimed album with John, who had opened for hi once-upon-a-time, and four soulful backup singers joined John for their shared set and full performance of their new album The Union. That mini-set began with Leon's "If It Wasn't For Bad" and continued with "Gone to Shiloh," a beautiful buzz kill about the American Civil War that finally allowed the crowd to take a break from grooving. Russell played "In the Hands of Angels," a song he wrote about Elton, which was the highlight of their joint set. The upbeat country style of "Jimmie Rodgers' Dream" would have brought everyone back to life if they were actually familiar with the song.

Elton John and Leon Russell at US Airways Center Last Night
Maria Vassett

In fact, most of the time Elton and Leon shared the stage, the crowd only nodded their heads and watched the musicians play together like the show was some sort of exhibition rather than a rock concert. "I know it's hard," Elton said of everyone having sat patiently though the performance of The Union after it had concluded. "Thank you for being so good to Leon."

However, both of Elton's solo sets were a treat for a lot of people to relive the soundtrack to their childhood. The crowd sang along and danced in the aisles with each other like they were old friends that all grew up together with Elton's songs. (Oh wait, they were.)

Captain Fantastic hopped on top of his piano and got the show back in full swing again with "Tiny Dancer," "I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues," "Take Me to the Pilot," and "Your Song," among plenty of other well-loved classics.

Elton John and Leon Russell at US Airways Center Last Night
Maria Vassett

It was a very intimate show overall. Elton graciously stopped to show his love for the audience in between every song, reaching out his arms to them as though he was trying to embrace everyone all at once. He even signed front row fans' shirts and tickets, and shook and kissed their hands before beginning his encore.

Despite Leon Russell's great prominence, I'm particularly impressed with the new collaboration album, and it seemed like some of the crowd didn't think it was anything all that special either. I mean no disrespect to Russell, whom Elton John teamed up with to give his idol some spotlight, but the duo's performance of The Union in its entirety made it apparent that the crowd was largely there for Elton John.

Critic's notebook:

Last night: Elton John and Leon Russell at US Airways Center.

Personal bias: None really. As someone who enjoys the essentials of rock, I really like Elton John even though there's no way for me to appreciate him as much as my mom did, since I wasn't around in his prime. Plus, Elton John and Billy Joel's Face 2 Face tour was one of the better shows I saw in 2009.

The crowd: Just about everyone was 40 or older. A lot of mothers in attendance, some wearing feather boas, were dressed in their best rock star wife get-up like it was the one night a month they have to enjoy themselves for girls' night out. Men came out to the show in their most flamboyant button downs. Those folks know how to party though. I sure hope I'm as much fun as last night's crowd when I get to be their age.

Overheard: "I feel like this concert is a birthday present for a lot of moms." Also: "I love you, Elton!" - a 50-year-old woman who clearly said it in the "I want to have your babies" kind of way, even though that will never happen for multiple obvious reasons.

Random notebook dump: Even though Elton and Leon's The Union Tour and Elton and Billy Joel's Face 2 Face Tour are on two separate planes of comparison, the Face 2 Face show was much better.

Setlist:

Leon Russell

Tight Rope

Out in the Woods

Prince of Peace

A Song for You

Delta Lady

Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms

Stranger in a Strange Land

 

Elton John

Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)

Philadelphia Freedom

Goodbye

Yellow Brick Road

Rocket Man

Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me

Bennie and the Jets

I'm Still Standing

 

Elton John and Leon Russell

If It Wasn't For Bad

Hey Ahab

Gone to Shiloh

Jimmie Rodgers' Dream

There's No Tomorrow

Monkey Suit

The Best Part of the Day

A Dream Come True

When Love Is Dying

Hearts Have Turned to Stone

Never Too Old (To Hold Somebody)

In the Hands of Angels

 

Elton John

Burn Down the Mission

Levon

Tiny Dancer

Ballad of a Well-Known Gun

I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues

Take Me to the Pilot

Sad Songs Say So Much

The Bitch Is Back

 

Encore:

Your Song


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