Following up on the recent New Listen, I’d like to honor Elton‘s piano trio format by featuring the incarnation that helped to catapult his career. Notably, it was with this trio that he made his US debut at the LA’s The Troubadour in 1970. The trio is:
For various contractual reasons, Murray and Olsson didn’t regularly play on a lot of Elton’s early studio albums. But, along with the eventual addition of guitarist Davey Johnstone, they were Elton’s core live band until 1975. Johnstone has pretty much remained in the band since, with Murray and Olsson both sporadically rejoining Elton since. Olsson once again joined Elton in 2000 and continues to tour with him through present day.
The below videos are from a live set at the BBC studios in 1971 in support of Madman Across the Water, the album from which these songs come. If you’ve not explored much of Elton’s material beyond the radio, then you’re in for a real treat. It’s a side of him often obscured by fanciful wardrobes and the hit parade. No costumes. No spectacle. Just three musicians and excellent songs.
I’m surprised it took me this long to feature a video of Sir Elton. (Though I did write a glowing article about 2010’s The Unionhere.) I’ve made many mentions of my Top 5 in this blog. However, if I were to come up with an iron-clad Top 10, I’m sure it would include Mr. Dwight. I have about half of his studio output, and have had the pleasure of seeing him live a few times (including a signed shirt… 🙂 ). And, considering he’s one of my favorite musicians to listen to during long drives, he makes up almost half of my iTunes Top 25 Most Played playlist. Elton is one of those artists that I never tire of, no matter how much I listen to him.
Unfortunately, Elton’s celebrity and wardrobe tend to eclipse his actual music, and many people, especially “serious musicians,” tend to write him off as a cheesy, Top 40 has-been. But as someone who dives deep into his catalogue, I can tell you that he (often along with lyricist Bernie Taupin) has written some of the best songs of the last century. (Go listen to Tumbleweed Connection – his third album that produced zero singles – in its entirety if you don’t believe me.) And to top it all off, he and his band still get an arena of fans to their feet. The last time I saw him was almost two years ago, and the 63-yr. old Elton led his band through a three-hour, high-octane set that had everyone dancing all night.
The first video is from his 1980 Central Park Concert, and of “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.” (I’ve set the video to start at the second half, “Love Lies Bleeding.”) This pair of tunes opens his legendary Goodbye Yellow Brick Road(1973). While the original studio recording is an energetic, sonic experience unto itself, this live performance definitely kicks it into high gear. This performance features original band members drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray. (This same concert also features his legendary Daffy Duck costume.)
This second video is rare footage of a recent, complete performance of “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” the opening title-track of one of my favorite EJ albums. (Opt for the deluxe edition; it’s quite worth it.) In 2005, he performed the album in its entirety throughout that tour to celebrate its 30th anniversary. This particular video has been missing from YouTube the last few years, but it was thankfully reposted in October. This performance features Olsson, guitarist Davey Johnstone (a mostly regular member since 1971), and longtime bassist (and Detroit native!) Bob Birch.