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Concert Review: 22 Years Later, Elton John Still Dazzles

Originally Published in the Saratogian Newspaper, Print Edition. Sept. 6, 2011. Click Here to Read Online. 

By SUZANNA LOURIE
slourie@saratogian.com

Elton John

Elton John performed for a packed audience at Saratoga Performing Arts Center Sunday. (ERICA MILLER, emiller@saratogian.com)

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Bitch is Back — and when Reginald Dwight (yes, really), also known as Sir Elton Hercules John comes to town, traffic stops to make way.

Literally.

Though the 2.2-mile drive from Broadway to Saratoga Performing Arts Center took more than an hour, neither traffic nor torrential rain could keep away the thousands of fans who braved the elements for the rare opportunity to see Britain’s own “Rocket Man.”

A Live Nation security guard said the venue expected a crowd of 17,000, but with people still pouring in more than an hour from the show’s start time and fans posted up to listen outside the gates, the number could have easily soared closer to SPAC’s 25,000 capacity.

Clad in a long, black tuxedo jacket decorated with roses and a diamond bedazzled skull and crossbones, Elton’s costume wasn’t quite as over-the-top as back in his ’70s and ’80s pomp, but with his signature tinted-shades, Elton’s stage presence still radiated.

Warmly greeting the audience, Elton remembered the first time he stepped on the SPAC stage 40 years ago and the last time he performed here 22 years ago.

It could have just as easily been 22 days as the sparkling songster opened strong with, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” his pipes and his piano-playing anything but rusty.

Noteworthy performances by shaggy-haired Scottish guitarist Davey Johnstone and longtime drummer Nigel Olsson strengthened the force of Elton’s piano and vocals.

Two of his soul-singing backup singers also included Rose Stone, co-founder of the psych-rock ’70s soul group Sly and the Family Stone, and Lisa Stone, Rose’s daughter.
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Seamlessly flowing into popular single “Tiny Dancer,” Elton had the crowd singing, smiling and swaying along in their seats.

 

With more than 250 million records sold, Elton John proved he is timeless by drawing in a mix of youngsters, rowdy teens and nostalgic baby-boomers, all of whom could connect with some aspect of his four-decade career.

For someone who has played a countless number of concerts and churned out 30 albums, Sir Elton never let his skill, energy and gratitude for the crowd fade throughout the nearly three-hour-long show.

In response, the fans never quit cheering for the man who has influenced the world with his music and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998 for his service to charitable organizations including the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

A vibrant version of “Hey Ahab,” a hip-shaking tune from his 2010 album, “The Union,” a collaboration with Leon Russell, had Elton jumping up and down, urging the crowd to clap along.

Other highlights included a powerful, prolonged rendition of “Rocket Man,” interlaced with crescendos and piano solos, and a pitch-perfect version of “Bennie and the Jets.”

Elton masterfully conducted the crowd’s energy, calming it down with “Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues,” then amping it up with the loud anthem, “The Bitch is Back.”

Throughout it all, Elton’s gusto and gratitude stayed strong as he fist-pumped, pounded and stood to wave and thank the audience after nearly each track — he even took time to sign autographs near the end.

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“When I first played here 40 years ago, it was incredible and still is,” Elton said before the finale. “I want to thank you for being here — thank you to everyone on the lawn, thank you for buying a ticket, thank you for loving me for all these years. I want to dedicate this song to all of you to have happiness and peace and to thank you for supporting me for so long.”

With that, Elton laid his cards on the table and gave a striking final performance of “Your Song,” a love song prolonged through the generations with its memorable role in the 2001 movie “Moulin Rouge.” As he sang, fans could be seen wiping their eyes.

As the crowd trickled out, no one pushed, no one shoved and all around you could hear murmurs of bedazzled fans telling each other things like, “I’m speechless,” or “Man, that was amazing.”

We can only hope he doesn’t wait another 22 years before he takes the SPAC stage once again.

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Album Review: Lupe Fiasco – Lasers

Originally Published in Time Out Sydney Magazine, Print & Online Editions, May 2011. Click Here to Read Online. 

Lupe Fiasco - Lasers

Lupe Fiasco – Lasers

After three long years Atlantic Records finally deemed Lupe Fiasco’s third album Lasers (an acronym for “Love Always Shines Everytime: Remember to Smile”) fit for shelves – or perhaps more accurately, fit for pop radio. Low expectations or not, Lasers delivers. Sure it has its predictable chunk of catchy, club-ready choruses laced with an overload of auto-tune, but the album does stays true to Lupe’s smart, charismatic style that got him discovered over six years ago. Some critics might be too proud to admit we all occasionally tap our toes to top-100 hits – but in any case, understanding the debacle with Atlantic Records and Lupe’s admirable fight, we have no problem taking Lasers with a grain of salt.

The haunting piano-infused opening track ‘Letting Go’ proves Lupe has no reservations about the album’s message. Rapping, “My self-portrait/Shows a man that the wealth tortured/Self absorbed with his own self/Forfeit a shelf full of awards” Lupe boldly touches on his struggle with the industry and tells his fans that instead of letting the experience cripple him, he chose to grow instead.
Fiasco shows resilience on the album’s third track, ‘Till I Get There’, which was added to the original track list and pokes fun at the drawn-out record release process. Lupe jokes by comparing his relativ8e lack of fame to an illness that could only be “cured” by a prescription of publicists and magazine shoots.
Three notable and catchy tracks, ‘I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now’, ‘Beautiful Lasers (Two Ways)’ and the hard-edged ‘Coming Up’ all feature young rapper MDMA who leaves his memorable mark on the album by adding depth to some of the top songs.
Lasers features an undeniable synergy that intertwines all twelve tracks, though only just avoiding falling into the “they all sound the same” trap. Moments of Lupe’s lyrical genius are sandwiched between dripping synth hooks as seen on ‘Out Of My Head’ featuring Trey Songz, which sounds like…  well, Trey Songz. Enough said.
On ‘Words I Never Said’ Lupe pulls ahead in the battle with Atlantic as he integrates politically savvy lyrics with a melodic chorus featuring Skylar Grey. In true Lupe fashion, ‘All Black Everything’ makes another bold statement toward the end of the album. A classic drum-beat mixed with whimsical string chords set the background for lyrics that explore what the world would be like if slavery had never existed – a great idea that he could have taken further.
In short, haters need to cut Lupe some slack. He put up a damn good fight with the big-wigs at Atlantic, and it shows. Lasers is undoubtedly a hit and the commercial elements don’t detract from the fine-tuned lyrics and melodies. The verdict? Worth the wait.
Suzanna K. Lourie