Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Elton John in Concert - PBS

by Bill Holmes

A quick review of Elton John in Concert on PBS. The show aired on 10/7 here on the D/FW PBS station but I just watched it yesterday. I hadn't realized that it was a pledge drive broadcast but luckily I recorded it. As always, I recommend that you DVR the pledge drive shows since about half the time is spent selling the CDs and DVDs of the concert or just begging for pledges. This program was 1:30 long with about 50 minutes of actual show.

The concert was a made for TV deal with a rather small audience. It was to support the new Elton John album Diving Board another collaboration with Bernie Taupin. The playlist was mostly old Elton John hits with a couple of new songs from the album in the middle.

The good news is Elton looked slimmer than I've seen him recently. He wore a rather simple, for him, black outfit with a bird on the back made of sequins and a few other sequin highlights. No crazy glasses or hats, just his normal walking around wig. Elton sat at a grand piano the whole concert. The accompaniment consisted of a five member band and four women backup singers. A couple of cello players joined in on a few songs. In addition to the vocal support by the backup singers, four of the band members sang on some songs too. That means up to eight voices were behind Elton's lead vocals.

The bad news is that Elton John needed every bit of that vocal support. On the first couple of songs his voice was terrible. It was gravely, he had trouble singing the loud powerful parts, he wandered from the melody and key and was generally mediocre at best. He often sounded more like he was screaming than singing. Elton lost some of his higher range and got more gravely several years ago after he had throat surgery. Despite that when he recovered he still sounded OK although with a lower more limited voice. Now the kindest thing I can say is his voice is inconsistent.

As the concert progressed Elton's singing improved. I suspect part of this was he warmed up his vocal cords and part was he transitioned to songs from the new album. I'm sure the new songs better fit his current vocal capabilities. They also feature more piano and less singing. The new songs are OK. Nothing spectacular but not bad. Unfortunately when he went back to the old songs at the end of the concert he sounded bad again. My suspicion is that part of the problem is that we are used to hearing the old songs as they were recorded in the 70's. What we heard on the radio or the albums was produced in a studio by a much younger Elton. A singer with a better stronger voice before throat surgery. Even though we all get older those recordings from 40 years ago don't and they still sound the same. Unlike Elton, I sing exactly the same as I did in 1970 which is to say terribly and I don't.

I'm am not now or ever was an Elton John fan. It's not that I dislike him or his music but it's not my favorite. I realize he was a big star in the 70's and 80's. Of course I like some of his songs which are now standards but I don't own any of his albums and never did. None of his stuff is on any of my current music players and I don't have a Pandora or Spotify Elton John station. I can't remember any EJ songs that are attached to any of my life's defining moments either good or bad. I usually like my rock a little rougher around the edges or more southern or more soulful.

I guess if you are an Elton John fan this program would be worth catching. I looked on the PBS web site and it is not available for streaming. I also didn't find any future airings on KERA, the local D/FW PBS station. I guess you could buy the new album.

Overall I'd rate the concert a B- or C+. Not great, not terrible.



  1. You are a moron. You cannot expect a guy in his late 60's to sound like he did 40 years ago.

    1. Thank you for your articulate and well thought out comment Mr. Anonymous.