Tag Archives: Pop Music

Concert-Going Veteran Finally Sees A Legend

Guest contributor Michael Noble returns with a review of rock legend Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour’s stop in Sacramento, CA.

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I’m a veteran of more than a few hundred rock concerts over the years.

BTO, The Police, Bruce Springsteen, U2, David Bowie, The Clash, Peter Gabriel, Queen, Devo, AC/DC, Depeche Mode are a handful of the big boys who come to mind immediately; The Cure, Crowded House, The Cramps, Tears For Fears, The Pretenders, Thompson Twins, Grizzly Bear, The Pixies, Love And Rockets, The The, and Adam And The Ants are a few others who made lasting impressions.

Some of the more adventurous outings featured Flock Of Seagulls, Tones On Tail, Polysics, Wall Of Voodoo, Dread Zeppelin, Haunted Garage, The Tubes and, most recently, Psychostick. Woven within them all, are hundreds more individuals and bands and shows and benefits of mind-boggling number, a couple of which I’m certain I’ve forgotten. I’m sure I’ve witnessed close to 500 events in person. And let me tell you: There were days I woke up ridden hard and put up wet after a show. (Indiana Jones said it best: “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”)

But of all those adventures I’d never before seen Elton John.

That changed last night.

His “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour was in town (the “town” being Sacramento), the tickets for the event had been purchased back in 2017. The showcase venue was the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento, the relatively recently opened arena (2016) housing the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. With a seating capacity well over 16,000 seats for concerts, the Center did a nice little job of filling up for the night – not quite to capacity but damned close.

Going into the show, I fully predicted a retrospective sampling of John’s storied songwriting history. (And he did not disappoint.) But I was expecting more from the man and the band, regardless of the fact the dude has hit his 70 year mark. (More than a few of his band members, too, are a bit long in the tooth, some having played with him since the 1970s.) Did he still have the chops? How long would the show last? And could his voice hold out for however long the show commenced?

John set the tone for the evening by launching into the familiar strains of “Bennie And The Jets” which, of course, got the crowd clapping in unison. After that rousing beginning, however, things went downhill quickly with “All The Girls Love Alice” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.” Let me explain:

It wasn’t the song selection by any means. It was the unfamiliar, goofy arrangements he decided to use. His odd rendition of “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” actually had me cocking my head dog-like with its funky queerness; John’s almost off key singing didn’t help matters. And this is something that would continue throughout the evening, I was to discover. Several more tunes (“Rocket Man,” “Crocodile Rock” and especially “Sad Songs” and “The Bitch Is Back”) unapologetically tested the audience’s listening range. But isn’t that part of the concert going experience? You never know what you’re going to get, right? And, after all, they can’t all be gems.

But with the evening’s fourth song came the highlight of the show: “Border Song.” Not only did he execute it brilliantly, he offered a tale about its infancy back in 1970 when it was originally released and how, as a young man with a young band, he discovered the song covered unexpectedly by none other than The Queen Of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who did very well with her version. (Side Note: John shares a birthday with Franklin, a nice little piece of trivia there.) The song has always been a favorite of mine in my history of Elton John Marching And Chowder Society appreciation. It was a pleasant surprise to hear it. Early in the show John formally apologized to the audience in the event he didn’t get to some folks’ preferences given the abundance of tunes in his song repository.

Now, while there was often song quirkiness to break up the evening, some of the more pleasant aspects of the night hovered around the extended piano riffs and copious band pronouncements during several songs. The crowd was treated to “extended versions” of tunes courtesy of “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” and “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” the latter already clocking in as a long composition in its original form. There were a couple more examples, but these two in particular were unexpected highlights.

And, yes … there was of course the cheesiness of “Philadelphia Freedom,” “I’m Still Standing” and “Crocodile Rock” – all with ditzy arrangements – to round out the mix and get the crowd jauntily clapping in rhythm. (I’ve never been on board with those particular fluffy songs. It’s a personal thing.)

But, when all was said and done, Elton John turned in an overall worthy two and a half hour concert for the 15,000 or so in attendance. Not bad for someone turning the page on 71 years in a couple months. And while his voice didn’t hit the highs and lows of younger days, he more than made up for it with his enthusiasm and appreciation at being the center of attention. There seemed to be a palpable genuineness to the man whenever he stood and took in the applause of the crowd.

Was I happy to have finally seen him? Yes, regardless of the sometimes weird warbles with which he constructed some songs. (I even plunked down $75.00 for a poster and tour program, well worth it to this concert-attending yahoo.) I mean, come on: The dude’s an icon. He’s a legend. He’s been appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. For his charitable work, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. And, most of all, he’s a major player in music, making up a big part of the fabric of rock and roll history.

See him if you can. His Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour is worth the effort.

The Evening’s Set List

Set 1:

Bennie And The Jets
All The Girls Love Alice
I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues
Border Song
Tiny Dancer
Philadelphia Freedom
Indian Sunset
Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be A Long, Long Time)
Take Me To The Pilot
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
Levon
Candle In The Wind

Set 2:

Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Burn Down The Mission
Believe
Daniel
Sad Songs (Say So Much)
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
The Bitch Is Back
I’m Still Standing
Crocodile Rock
Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting

Encore:

Your Song
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Thanks, Michael! You can read more by Michael Noble at Hotchka.com.

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Great Album Retro Review: Bridge Over Troubled Water By Simon & Garfunkel

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Bridge Over Troubled Water is the studio swan song album of the harmonizing folk duo that ruled the 1960s. There aren’t too many two singer voice combinations that were better than Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. And Simon’s lyrics are among the best of any songwriter in all of pop music.

The album was released in January, 1970 and I seem to recall that my parents owned it. That’s a little surprising, because my parents were never big music people. Dad liked his country and western, but I don’t remember them doing a lot of listening to music at home. They watched the Lawrence Welk Show for crying out loud! These weren’t the most musically hip people, but they had this album. Go figure.

I don’t often listen to this album, but when I do it’s amazing how good it is. It’s not the folk sound of their earlier efforts, it explores several musical genres such as jazz, reggae, and world music. Comedian and podcaster Adam Carolla would often complain about how doleful and morose Simon & Garfunkel’s music was and he has a point, but he forgets this album. Sure, it gets a little quiet and sad, but some of it is downright fun!

It is easily my favorite S & G album.

The tracks:

Bridge Over Troubled Water – Right out of the gate. A magnificent song. It’s been compared to The Beatles’ Let It Be and that is an understandable reaction. More gospel than folk, Garfunkel’s vocals soar on this one. And he didn’t want to sing lead on it at first, he needed convincing. I’m glad he was convinced. Also, according to Wikipedia, the “silver girl” in the song is referring to Simon’s wife at the time and her first grey hairs, not heroin as the urban legend claims. That will be a relief to my mother, who had gone off the song when she heard that myth.

El Condor Pasa (If I Could) – This gentle and wistful song is an early indication of Simon’s interest in music from around the world. It’s a little like a World Music version of the folk classic If I Had Hammer.

Cecilia – Oh, this one is fun. Awesome percussion throughout. A great, toe-tapping, uptempo song about a fellow’s not-so-loyal girlfriend taking on another lover while he’s in the bathroom.

Keep The Customer Satisfied – Another uptempo song and another song rumored to have to do with illegal drugs. This time it’s thought to be about a drug dealer, but Simon was writing about how exhausting it is to tour. I love the horns! They add a terrific punch.

So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright – A jazzy song praising the world famous architect, sung so sweetly by Garfunkel.

The Boxer – This and the title track were S & G’s most commercially successful songs and this one is a boomer. A gritty song about a fighter trying to survive a life filled with punches. The big drum sound was accomplished by recording the drums in a hallway. The “lie, lie, lies” chorus helps make this a great sing-a-long tune.

Baby Driver – Back to the uptempo, but this time Simon doesn’t counter-point the music with downer lyrics as he does on Customer and Why Don’t You Write Me, this time he just wants to have some fun. I really like this song. It just might be my favorite track. Excellent guitar work!

The Only Living Boy In New York – On an album of so much musical exploration, this and the final track are the most traditional S & G feeling songs. It’s a melancholy track about being lonely in New York City. The big drum sound fits this song, unlike the drum sound that was overdubbed, unknown to Simon and Garfunkel, onto the remixed version of their song The Sound Of Silence.

Why Don’t You Write Me – Simon loves himself an uptempo, bouncing song with a downbeat lyric and this one is a good one. There’s a bit of a reggae feel to this one.

Bye Bye Love – Recorded live on my fifth birthday (just a coincidence) during a concert performance in Ames, Iowa, this cover song is more popularly known to have been hit for pop music’s other famous harmonizing duo, The Everly Brothers. According to Wikipedia, S & G performed the song twice, because when they first played it that night in 1969 they really liked the sound of the audience clapping along. So, they played it again and recorded it for inclusion on this album.

Song For The Asking – Quietly lush with strings, acoustic guitar, and Paul’s vocals, this all too brief song sounds very much like a sweet goodbye. And that’s what it turned out to be for this would be Simon & Garfunkel’s final studio album.

Packing Peanuts!

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