The Pilgrimage Part 2: Another (captain) fantastic day!

On Sunday, November 21st, I awaken to the realization that I get to do this all over again tonight…this is going to be another (captain) fantastic day! And that’s a first for me – two nights in a row of EJ!

After a nice, relaxing morning enjoying the Daytona Beach scenery (A big blue canvas painted by the Master’s hand / The shifting clouds above and endless miles of sand) and reminiscing about the concert, Lisa and I drive 2 1/2 hours to the next venue – the Lakeland Center.  The hotel is right next to – repeat: right next to – the arena.  Which means we can wear our dancing shoes again (since we won’t have to walk very far).  Lakeland, you’ve been forewarned!

7:00 arrives and we head over to the arena…the doors were not yet open, so we decided to head back to the hotel for a drink.  Oh my!  The hotel was not prepared for the throngs of fans getting ready for the show (as if one can ever be prepared for throngs of Elton John fans).   Although it took quite some time to get a glass of wine (how hard can that be?), it was nice to share the excitement with fellow fans (and commiserate about the teeny tiny sizing of women’s concert T-shirts – I mean, who do they think Elton John fans are?).

Our Rocket Club seats were amazing!  14th row, center stage…I believe these were the second-best seats I’ve ever had at an Elton concert.  (The best were the front row, left-of-center, right in front of his piano bench seats that I had in 1982, but that deserves a blog in and of itself).  Although we did have a bit of a time figuring out how to actually get on the floor.  We almost convinced security (if that’s what you can call a 70+ year old standing guard) to let us in behind the curtains where the Elton John equipment trunks were, thinking we might get backstage, but alas…strike two…

The view from the 14th row!

As I mentioned in Part 1, I wish I had gotten up and danced to Hey Ahab and Monkey Suit during Sat-uh-day night’s concert.  I decided tonight I was going to, whether the crowd around me did or not.  So, Lisa and I turned to the people behind us and let them know that we’d probably be dancing during a couple of The Union songs.  And one of the ladies responded, “No problem. Get jiggy with it!”

And so it begins.  “Good evening, Lake Land”…(So cute! I love his accent – it’s a little bit funny the way he says things sometimes)…

Elton gets it started in here

Elton primed the crowd for how the night would unfold.  And even though I knew the set list and pretty much knew what to expect, it was STILL. JUST. AS. EXCITING. (Perhaps even more so, since you feel kind of like an insider).

Leon was extra talkative tonight, saying “Hey, how you all doing tonight” when he sat down at his piano.  And when he dedicated “A Song for You” to Elton, he must’ve spoken for a whole 2 minutes…talking about how he got a call one day, “Hey Leon, this is Elton John” and how Elton, “in his inimitable style,” convinced him to collaborate and record  The Union, “a pretty good album.”  To say the least.

The loquacious Leon

Leon’s Set (with the Leon Russell Band)

  • Tightrope
  • Prince of Peace/Out in the Woods
  • A Song for You
  • Delta Lady
  • Rolling in My Sweet Baby’s Arms

The crowd was on its feet for most of Elton’s first set – yea! That’s the way it should be.  And it was great being with other Rocket Club fans, because they knew the words to every song, just like me.

Elton’s First Set (with the Elton John Band)

  • Saturday Night’s Alright for Fightin’
  • 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

Next it was time for The Union, and the crowd (as expected) was seated – although very appreciative – of the new music.  But Lisa and I did make good on our promise, and we (bit our lip and) got up and danced to Hey Ahab and Monkey Suit.  And, since there was no one in the 13 rows in front of us up and dancing, I just know that Elton saw us.  Victory!  And it was such fun – you HAVE to dance to those songs.

The Union (with the Elton John Band):

  • If it Wasn’t for Bad
  • Hey Ahab
  • Gone to Shiloh
  • Jimmie Rodgers’ Dream
  • 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

Leon got a well-deserved standing O after In the Hands of Angels – and it looked like Elton was telling him that he would miss him (this was the last date on The Union tour).  Elton just looked pleased as punch to see the appreciation and love that the crowd was sending out to Leon.

Now it was time for the final set.  I absolutely love Burn Down the Mission live.  And the improvisation before Take Me To the Pilot was as glorious as I’ve ever heard it, and I’m pretty sure it was longer than the night before.

Elton’s Second Set (with the Elton John Band):

  • Burn Down the Mission
  • Levon
  • Tiny Dancer
  • I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues
  • Daniel
  • Candle in the Wind
  • Take Me to the Pilot
  • Sad Songs Say So Much
  • The Bitch is Back

And of course, the concert ends with the encore, Your Song.  Especially bittersweet this time because the pilgrimage is winding down.  And who knows when I’ll be able to see Elton live (my Mandalay) again.  But I promise to myself that I will hold this exhilaration, this abundance of spirit in my heart (and now my blog) forever.  Today, if you asked how I am, I would just say “inspired.”

The Union Tour (Lake Land, Florida – November 21, 2010)

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The Pilgrimage Part 1: Amazing Graciousness

November 20th has finally arrived!  Its been at least 2 years (probably more) since I saw Elton live…and I’m like a kid on Christmas Eve.  (Note to EJ:  This train does need to stop here in Florida more…)

My sister Lisa picked me up at (zero hour) 9:00 a.m. to head to Daytona  Beach.  And so the pilgrimage begins…

Of course, we listened to The Union all the way up.  I swear, I just don’t get tired of that album, and I’ve been listening to it every day, every where I go since October 18th.

Fast forward to Daytona…When we were checking into the Hilton, which is right across from the Ocean Center, my sister coyly asked if perchance Elton was staying there, and the desk clerk said he didn’t know, but if he was, he would be on our floor (because that’s where the Presidential  Suite is).  Alas, no EJ siting, but who knows…I’d like to think he was just down the hall.

As we were getting ready for the concert, I couldn’t decide what to wear.  I was worried that my gold sequined sweater clashed with my shirt. I asked my sister if it was too much, and she said, “Too much for an Elton John concert?”  Good point.  Too bad I didn’t bring my Monkey Suit and Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes.

We found our excellent “Rocket Club” seats (on the floor, center stage, 28th row), and the buzz of excitement began to fill the arena.  At about 8:05, Elton came on stage (to the delight of the roaring crowd) to tell us about what we’d be seeing tonight.  I guess he felt the need to explain the concert and the collaboration to those fans who came just for him.  And thus, from the beginning, it was quite evident that this night was not about Elton, it was about Leon.  And how much it meant to both of them, but especially to Elton, to have reconnected after all these years and to have worked together with his idol.  Very genuine and very gracious.  As he left the stage and Leon entered, he asked us to give Leon a great big Daytona Beach welcome, and that we did. Let the magic begin!!!

And magical it was.  Leon was great (I think I might just have to get a Greatest Hits or something and give it a listen) then Elton played some of his hits (starting with Sat-uh-day, Sat-uh-day!!!), then the two played most of their songs from The Union, with EJ finishing things up with another set from the juke box.  Almost 3 and a half hours of electric music, solid walls of sound…

Leon surprised me and actually spoke a little during his set.  He dedicated “A Song for You” to Elton, telling the crowd how Elton got him out of the ditch he was in and how much his life has changed for the better since then.  It was very poignant.

Of course, the crowd was on their feet when Elton came to perform his first set, especially since it started with Sat-uh-day.  And Rocket Man was one of the best versions I’ve heard live (but then, it is always amazing).  I must add that the lighting and the effects during the show were some of the best I’ve seen at an Elton John concert (although the iPhone 4 doesn’t do it justice at all).

Live from Daytona Beach!

The crowd was very gracious through The Union, giving them a standing ovation after each song.  (I wish I had gotten up and danced to Hey Ahab and Monkey Suit, but I’ll leave that for Part 2). And of course it ended with In the Hands of Angels. Elton explained to the crowd that Leon wrote the song as a gift to Elton’s (and now Leon’s) manager and Elton for doing what they’ve done for him.  My sister and I shared a special toast to “Johnny and the Governor” during the song…she knows why.

The Union

It was great to see Nigel, Davey and the rest of Elton’s band there, too.  I wasn’t sure if they were going to play with Leon’s band (like they did at the Beacon Theatre concert).  But I knew right after we got to our seats, seeing the Nigel Olsson drum set, that the gang was there. It just wouldn’t have been the same without them.  I mean, it just HAS to be Davey playing The Bitch Is Back!

The Captain Fantastic Guitar!

The crowd was on its feet for most of Elton’s last set (I would’ve been standing the whole night except the people behind me might not have appreciated that).  And of course, you know when when he comes back out to sing Your Song that the concert is coming to an end.   Always a bittersweet moment for me.

Anyway, it was such an amazing night, with such amazing musicianship and, perhaps more impressively, amazing graciousness.  And, guess what, I get to see it again the next night!

The Union Tour: Daytona Beach, Florida (November 20, 2010)

Come back, I’d like to find the time

Ok, so I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m going to choose Mandalay Again as my favorite song from The Union.*  I know I’ve said this before, but it is so hard for me to pick a favorite…whether it’s an all-time favorite EJ tune (impossible!), an album, or a song from an album.  But choose I must, so here goes…

Rules and regulations
And real estate are things I’ve left behind
Flights are always leaving
Silver wings unfolding on a dime
But I won’t forget to tell you
If I could only reconnect the line
I really never knew you, but come back I’d like to find the time

I guess it’s the sentimentalist in me, but this song really hits home…Is it my age?  Is it that my Dad recently passed? Who knows…may be the heat babe, could be this tune…

In any case, it is a truly magnificent collaboration with Leon Russell.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, their voices blend so well (why didn’t they do this album sooner)?  Velvety, like Opus One.  The melody is beautiful (you’ll be humming it to yourself, trust me).  And the lyrics…the concept of reconnecting with someone from your past is especially bittersweet, which the melody so aptly conveys.

It it wasn’t in the afterglow of wine
Or the chatter of some European girl
I’d have understood that after all these years
There were those who chose to separate our worlds
Separate our worlds

I dedicate this song first and foremost to Natushka.  It’s impossible for us to reconnect, I know, but of all the people I’ve ever known in this lifetime, you are the one I would want to reconnect with the most.

If I could piece it all together
Or maybe find you through a friend
Last I heard it was St. Louis
But I wish that it was Mandalay Again

I also dedicate this song to “Miss Berman,” Bill, Bob, Randy, Ralph, Gary, Gordon, Joe, Donna, Mau-Don, Maggie, Linda , Peter and so many others who I’ve left out but who have touched my life in their own special ways…I was younger then and foolish, come back, I’d like to find the time…

I wish that it was Mandalay Again

Mandalay Again (The Union – 2010)

*You’ll only find Mandalay Again on the Deluxe CD (I can’t imagine why it wasn’t included on the basic CD)!  Well worth the extra $

Don’t it make you want to fly…someday

As I’m headed to Wings over Homestead tomorrow, I thought I’d get into the mood a little bit early and talk about Planes.  Although a lot of the planes I’ll be seeing tomorrow will be more of the “rocket man” type, I’ve been wanting to share this song with you because it is a recent and unexpected discovery for me (where was I all these years)?  And since that’s the intent of my blog (to introduce people to out of the mainstream tunes from the vast Elton John discology), away we go…

Oh Jessie I’d like to be
One of those men upon the screen
With an elegant lady and a cafe in Paris
Serving Pernod and Kahlua with cream

That voice!!!  That’s the Elton voice that reaches into my soul.  If I used the word swoon, that’s how I would describe my reaction to his voice when he sounds like that.

I remember the first time I heard Planes.  A couple of years ago, I was sitting in my car, and I just happened to be listening to the Rare Masters disc.  This song comes on, and I was caught off guard.  I can’t explain why I had never heard it before (my head hangs in shame as I type this), but I hadn’t (ok, there, I’ve admitted it).  It was like opening up a scrapbook that you hadn’t looked at in years and finding some unexpected treasure that brings a smile to your face and warms your heart.  Needless to say, this song has been played over and over and over again since then.

And won’t you look at the planes
Riding down the skyway
Jessie ain’t those wings just fine
Don’t it make you want to fly [pause] someday

And the pause is absolute perfection, if a pause can be such.  Kind of like taking a breath as you’re dreaming aloud to come back to reality.

Why friend am I so still
Tied to my job with time to kill
Do I still bear the traces of old Don Quixote
Tilting giants on imaginary hills

Ok, Bernie, there you go again, gracing us with such poetic lyrics.

To me, Planes is very reminiscent of Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters (my all-time favorite EJ song), musically, the tempo, and that voice! And the lyrics are melancholy, almost elegaic.

BTW, I believe that Planes is an outtake from Rock of the Westies…an outtake?  Hard to believe. I can’t imagine it not being included (except that I guess it didn’t fit thematically).

Unfortunately, I can’t find a free version of this tune on the web to share with you (there are a couple of covers, though).  I’ll try to upload it soon so you can swoon, too.   But trust me – it is amazing!

Planes (Rare Masters – 1992)


Musings from The Union, Part 2

Hey Ahab…It’s a dream come true! I’m in Mandalay again, wearing my monkey suit and my eight hundred dollar shoes…and I’m going to Shiloh for the Union during the best part of the day. I should’ve sent roses, but…since there’s no tomorrow, you’re never too old to live Jimmie Rodgers’ dream…You know, if it wasn’t for bad, no hearts (would) have turned to stone, because even when love is dying and you’re in my kind of hell, you’re (still) in the hands of angels…

Ok, so that’s a silly little ditty from moi, but I think it just goes to show that the music on The Union ties together so very nicely,  just as Elton and Leon’s voices, pianos and musical stylings do, too.

It’s been three weeks, and I’m still enjoying the album.  Each time I listen to it, I hear something new, something else to appreciate, something else to fawn over.   Just today, I listened to “My Kind of Hell” and “Mandalay Again” for the first time using speakers other than my laptop’s…I really do like both of these tunes, but especially “Mandalay Again.”  One of the best tracks on the album.  (I’m not sure why it’s only included on the Deluxe CD/DVD).   This is one of the only songs where they really do blend their vocals (vs. Elton singing one verse and Leon another) – and it works extraordinarily well.  Perhaps they can do more of that on The Union Part 2 (hint, hint)…

My daughter likes “Mandalay Again,” too…she heard it for the first time today and commented on it (something about it being a pretty song).  Coming unprompted from a 15-year old, I think that’s pretty good, don’t you?  Could that mean it is prime for air play?  It should be!  Alas, I know the reality, and that isn’t likely to happen.  Besides, Elton says he isn’t interested in making pop music any more, just real music…and that he (they) did with The Union.