Photo by ©2010 James J. McKay
The Union Concert: October 19, 2010, The Beacon Theatre, NYC
I was fortunate enough to be among those who attended Elton John and Leon Russell’s debut concert for The Union. Clearly, this concert will rank among Elton’s most legendary concerts, including Thanksgiving Day, 1974 at Madison Square Garden; Wembley Stadium, 1975; Dodger Stadium, 1975; Elton and Ray Cooper’s historic Moscow shows, 1979; and Elton’s 60th Birthday Concert in 2007.
I’ve attended several other concerts at The Beacon in recent years—both before and after its recent restoration. The Beacon is a beautiful theatre and, being in NYC, it is a very exciting setting. My only disappointment with The Beacon—and more than a few of my local NYC friends agree—is that the acoustics are still not up to par. (Check the superior sound some time at its sister venue in Chicago, the Chicago Theatre.)
The concert was broadcast live on Madison Square Garden’s Fuse 1 cable channel and so the show started very promptly at 8:00 p.m.
Elton came out on stage looking very excited, recapping much of the story that we have already know from the album notes about how The Union came to be. It truly set the stage for the historic performance we were about to witness. The audience was filled with excitement and applause.
After Elton’s introduction, Leon Russell was then escorted to his piano on stage left/house right. He proceeded to play some of his best-known hits. I have to confess; I don’t know all of his material. I will leave it to a Leon Russell expert to correct me, but his solo set (with the band, but no Elton) included:
- A couple of instrumentals
- Tight Rope
- Prince of Peace
- A Song For You
- Delta Lady
- Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms
- Stranger In A Strange Land
At this point, Elton came on stage. Elton and Leon performed the entire 14-track version of The Union in order with pretty much the same session musicians that played on the album.
Save for Elton taking Neil Young’s vocal parts on Gone to Shiloh, the performances were almost identical to the album—but live! A celebratory mood pervaded the whole house with everyone buzzed to be hearing Elton and Leon playing this new classic album on the same day it was officially released. The one big difference from the album was most evident in its most rocking and up-tempo tracks. Hey Ahab, Monkey Suit, A Dream Come True and Hearts Have Turned to Stone all took on this extra level of excitement and energy that you only get when there’s about 3,500 fans dancing in their seats and the bass is turned up to the max. Maybe we don’t need yet another live version of Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me or Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word, but we NEED live versions of those four tracks.
- If It Wasn’t For Bad
- Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes
- Hey Ahab
- Gone To Shilo
- Jimmie Rodgers’ Dream
- There’s No Tomorrow
- Monkey Suit
- The Best Part Of The Day
- A Dream Come True
- When Love Is Dying
- I Should Have Sent Roses
- Hearts Have Turned To Stone
- Never Too Old (To Hold Somebody)
- The Hands Of Angels
- Never Too Old (To Hold Somebody)
- In The Hands Of Angels
I don’t know what more an Elton John fan can say about hearing his best album in 35 years played live on the day of its release. It was simply heaven, as if we were in the hands of angels.
Elton thanked the audience for listening through 14 new tracks—but really, it was our pleasure and privilege of a lifetime.
But wait! There was more!
Elton continued to his solo set. Through the years, we’ve heard some of these before, but it was interesting and enlivening to hear them performed with a different band complete with horns and gospel choir –style vocals. Of course, part of me also missed our special friends Davey, Nigel, Bob and others, but this was a very special experience offering new interpretations and nuances on some of the classic tracks we have heard so many times before.
- Burn Down The Mission
- Tiny Dancer
- Ballad of a Well-Known Gun
- I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues
- Your Song
- Take Me to the Pilot
- Sad Songs (Say So Much)
- The Bitch Is Back
Burn Down The Mission sounded amazing especially with the horns section and gospel-style back-up vocals. Ditto for Levon and Tiny Dancer.
I don’t think I have ever heard Elton perform Ballad of A Well-Known Gun live. It was a stupendous, energetic performance that gave me chills. One caveat: Marc Ribot’s frenzied, rocking opening guitar riffs were technically impressive, but they seemed mismatched to the ”Old West” spirit of the song, at least from my seat at the back of the theatre. The intro would have been better matched to Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting).
I can’t say enough how great the band was—and neither could Elton. Because of this different band, Elton’s solo songs were tinged a bit more with a gospel and bar band sound. Between the Speaking Clock Review (T-Bone Burnett’s charity shows) and the Elton and Leon show, Elton pointed out that they had just a couple of days to learn and rehearse about 60 songs. You would never know it. They were amazing!
We’ve heard Take Me To The Pilot, Sad Songs and others live before, but with this new band they took on a new sound and refreshing energy. Even The Bitch Is Back came off a bit as a Leon Russell saloon-style rocker.
After Elton’s set and the audience pleas for an encore, Elton walked Leon back on stage for much deserved accolades. Slightly sheepish, Elton said that they had not rehearsed an encore so they were going to reprise Hey Ahab. We could have been happier because Hey Ahab took on a whole extra dimension and energy live. We were glad to hear it again. The groove of Hey Ahab was fixed in our brain all the way home.
The show ended just before 11:00 pm.
Many of the most dedicated of the fans at Tuesday night’s Beacon Theatre show returned six hours later at 5:00 am for Elton and Leon’s performance on ABC-TV’s Good Morning America. I was not able to attend this but did watch on TV. Their performances included If It Wasn’t For Bad, Hearts Have Turned to Stone, Hey Ahab, and Tiny Dancer. Elton, Leon and the audience were wonderfully patient to provide applause and enthusiasm at the commercial breaks spaced throughout the first 90 minutes of the show. The band sounded great; Elton and Leon were in great humor, although both of their voices sounded a touch hoarse to the wonderful performance from the night before. The TV appearance was a “bit of the tail of the dog who wonderfully bit you the night before.”
Everyone who attended knew that they were blessed to be a part of a legendary evening in the making.