The Greatest Day of My Life: Seeing Elton John Live!

Last week, I experienced what may have been the greatest day of my life so far: the day I got to see Sir Elton John live in concert for the first time. This happened on September 27, 2016, in Allentown, PA.

Elton was joined by his usual band: Davey Johnstone (musical director, guitars, mandolin, banjo, vocals), Matt Bissonette (bass, vocals), Kim Bullard (keyboards), John Mahon (percussion, drums, vocals), and Nigel Olsson (drums, vocals).

It seems so simple—if you're a fan of a current performing artist, all you need to do is pay a large sum of money and you'll be granted semi-close access for a brief period of time (in this case, roughly 3.5 hours.) And yet it seems like so much more! To exist on the earth at the same time is already a massive feat. To be in the same enclosed space, to witness such creative beauty at work, to share this moment with so many other fans of said same artist in real time—this is a terrifyingly amazing sensation, one that I did not want to end. If this seems over dramatic, it's probably because there are few performers alive today that I feel anywhere near as obsessed with as I do Elton.

Sir Elton and his band sounded amazing! He played a mix of classic hits (including "Bennie and the Jets", "Rocket Man", "Your Song", and "Candle in the Wind"—where everyone waved their lit mobile phones in the air!) as well as new material from his latest album, Wonderful Crazy Night (my favorite track being "A Good Heart"). (Here's a link to the full set list. From where I was seated (floor center, 34th row back, right in front of the mixing station), the sound was clear but the line of sight occasionally was not.

Occasionally because, during the hits, nearly every single person stood up, screamed wildly, danced, and/or hugged their partners. But as soon as Elton would say "Now I'm about to play some tracks from my new album, Wonderful Crazy Night, everyone would sit down, and the clapping and screaming would fall to a bare minimum. A couple sitting next to me even seemed to use that time to replenish their overpriced crap beers with new ones, awkwardly spill said crap beers on anyone close by, and then return with new crap beers minutes later.


I don't understand. You're seeing Sir Elton John live, you've paid a decent chunk of your (hopefully) hard-earned money, you took non-refundable time out of your life to be here, so you're obviously a diehard fan. But you remain resistant to his newer work even though he is up on stage singing his heart out, performing for you. (And honestly, "A Good Heart" is a really good song and probably would be a major hit if it had been released earlier.) And to make matters even worse, you not only feel these absurd emotions within, but you also want to make them known. You clap less, you sit down, you stop screaming like a crazy person.

To me, it was as if so many hundreds of audience members were deliberately saying to Elton, "I'm here only because I want to listen to the hits. I paid to see you sing the same songs I've been listening to for the past 40 years and will close my mind off to anything new and beautiful you, Bernie Taupin, and your band create."


I know that hits are hits for a reason. When I listen to Elton, I too am more likely to play Goodbye Yellow Brick Road over Wonderful Crazy Night. But regardless, Elton and Bernie still continue to write beautiful compositions, they still strive to create meaning in new music, and they are the very same men who wrote all the classics we know and love. That is worth standing up for. That is worth applauding for, cheering on, listening to, and believing in.

Our favorite musicians are not live jukeboxes, one-trick ponies to throw money at, static robots trapped in time—they are living, creating, human beings. When they continue to push forward, continue to strive as artists, we should be happy and encouraging.

Elton John—I will love you forever. Thank you for your music.

Anton's picture

Was it the actual guy, or the new animatronic Elton?

The animatronic Elton only sits and the piano and 'plays' a song. Then, the torso swivels and he waves and says thank you.

The real Elton will get up and walk around.

Although, for some shows, they will do some trickery and use some real Elton and some animatronic.

Very glad you liked the show! A pox upon people who hate on new material.

If I had to play only my hits 160 times a year, I'd need more drugs than the whole group Motley Crue uses to pretend as if "Omaha Rocks!"


Venere's picture

Great review of the concert Jana, and nice comments regarding the current work of an artist that is no longer at the "top of the pops" so to speak. I've had similarly emotional and (what seemed like at the time anyway) life-changing concert experiences many times. Bands like REM, The Clash, and The Smiths come to mind. Sadly, I too have been guilty of not really paying the same attention to their new songs as I did to their hits. One memorable example sticks in my memory: At an REM concert in South Florida, long before they became famous (it was in the Florida Atlantic University gymnasium/auditorium, if that gives you an idea of how early it was in their career) Michael Stipe began an acapella version of Moon River. The crowd laughed and began chattering/booing. He started again. Same reaction. He stopped and announced to the audience that he was going to sing the song in full whether we liked it or not, and that it was a truly beautiful song, and that he encouraged everyone to actually listen to it. What ensued, of course, was one of the most transcendent and moving performances (and audience reactions) I've ever seen in concert. Just lovely. One last anecdote, if you will allow me: The first pop record I ever bought was Goodbye Yellow Brink Road. My parents or course just hated it, and loathed how often I played it. My older sister couldn't believe that I could like such a bizarre and talentless performer. Forty years later, my sister's favorite musician of all time is Sir Elton John, whom she "discovered" in the last twenty years or so. I constantly remind her that I knew and loved him first.

jeffhenning's picture

Honestly, who really gives a crap?

He's very talented and glad you had a great time, but how does this rate as a story in Sterephile?

Have, at the very least, some journalistic integrity. I wasn't aware that this was really just a blog.

volvic's picture

Didn't Harry Pearson insist his writers attend as many live performances as possible? Live shows are the standard. I always go and listen and try to pinpoint elements of the performance that perhaps I should follow when I listen at home. Not to mention the excitement of a live performance, I spent a fortune to see Karajan perform in 89 at Carnegie Hall and even though he was a dot from so far off, I was honored to be in the same room with the man. Hi-Fi cannot replicate this, but the recordings I have are more appreciated after I saw and heard him.

Venere's picture

It sort of is a blog (as is virtually every website these days) and it's also sort of supposed to be fun. I enjoyed it, and it reminded me of the beauty of live performances, which is at least tangentially related to our hobby. Oh, and if you don't like articles/blogs like this, you certainly don't have to read them or comment on them.

volvic's picture

We are here to read other people's experiences with gear, music, outlook on how it interacts with our life and I find these blogs so very insightful. Jana's insight and excitement for music and gear is very much appreciated by me even though we probably don't have the same taste in music, this is what makes it so much enjoyable.

Anton's picture

If she didn't see Elton live, then how would she ever know how her Elton records or her system should sound?

Side question: have you ever happened to notice Robert Baird's entries? They are pretty much music oriented....and on Stereophile's website, to boot!

michaelavorgna's picture

To answer your self-absorbed question, I care.

To answer your rhetorical question, "how does this rate as a story in Sterephile", you're supposed to be able to figure that one out for yourself since you're reading this story on Stereophile.

Have, at the very least, some common sense and do try to be more self-aware.

Glotz's picture

While I really don't enjoy Elton, I really enjoy people getting pumped about the live experience!

Whoever, whatever, just the fact she really enjoyed the show and this fuels her soul for the next several weeks of her life!

These are the experiences that bring us closer to our music, and arguably, closer to our equipment.

When our system's are right and it's playing back fulfilling reproductions of music, it gives us many of the same emotions the experience brings out. I can't think of many things in life that can do that, if any.

Audiofun's picture

I got to see Elton in 1975 - his first greatest hits tour. It was two slamming hours of great rock & roll. He had the Muscle Shoals horns accompany his group. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, get the Good Bye Yellow Brick Road album. It has classical intro (Funeral for a Friend), a song that crossed over to the blues charts and became * 1 if I remember correctly (Benny & the Jets), a reggae song (Jamaica Jerk Off), a fifties rock & rock song (Your Sister Can't Twist but She Can Rock & Roll), a hard rock & roll song (Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting) , an early heavy metal song (All the Young Girls Love Alice), a country western song (Roy Rogers), and wonderful ballads (several). Those of you too young to remember should know that from '70 to '76 it was Elton and Stevie Wonder that were putting out the best and most prolific music (see Songs in the Key of Life by S.W.).

Ecl876's picture

The greatest day in your life....really? I could understand being excited, overwhelmed, even thrilled but saying this experience was the "greatest" day seems a bit hyperbolic. If you really think hard, I'm confident you'll find something to even surpass this. Not to rain on your parade, though.

mmole's picture

...actually I do. It's the prerogative of an old guy. Saw Elton as the opening act for Derek and the Dominos (with Duane Allman!) at the Syracuse War Memorial around 1970 when the only album you could buy was the import of "Empty Sky."One of my favorite shows in a lifetime of concert-going.

fetuso's picture

Getting back to Jana's comment about being annoyed that Elton's new stuff wasn't as well received as his classic material, i think most legacy artists have the same problem. These performers rely on casual fans to fill the seats, and these fans are there only to hear the songs they grew up listening to on the radio. If these performers wanted the freedom to play what they wanted then they would have to be happy to take a lot less money from the promoters and sponsors who put these shows together. We know that's not gonna happen.

dalethorn's picture

That's very well said. If a star performer wants to foist their new material onto an audience they sold pricy tickets to based on their star songs, then they owe the audience some apologies, have some patience with them, and give them extra time so they get their money's worth. Some artists finesse that better than others.

dalethorn's picture

Elton is a legend and very deservedly so. But I abhor political compromise. When he performed at the memorial for Diana, the perfect and most passionate song would have been Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding, however I can see that Her Majesty would have been aghast at hearing that cacaphony of sound, and so he chose the neutered tribute instead. So sad, on many levels.

DanGB's picture

At least the casual fans got to hear the hits given their own space. I remember seeing a Smokey Robinson gig on TV, where he rattled through most of the classic singles as a (speeded-up) medley, before settling down to give some insipid new material far more time than it deserved.

I understand that performing your classic hits for the 10,000th time can have a jading effect on anyone, but if you are a professional entertainer, you must know that a lot of people came to hear and see you do just that.

And a good audience should also fulfil their part of the unspoken agreement. That is, to give the new stuff their attention and a chance. Unless they announce "here's a song our drummer wrote", of course (just kidding!).

jokeka's picture

Despite the snarky comments, thanks ... live is what it's all about. I had a similar experience in May when I saw Paul Simon on the first concert of his US tour this year. Transcendent. And, at 74, he also is bringing us new music, except that the new stuff he played is so damned good the audience loved it (almost) as much as the oldies. I saw Elton in mid-70s and he was wild ... also glad he's still putting out new stuff as opposed to putting on an oldies show every night. Same with McCartney, Neil Young, etc etc. Thanks!

jokeka's picture

no idea how that happened ...

Staxguy's picture


How can you like listening to an artist like Elton John?

It took me a while to find his video. It was 1973. He looks like a distraught later day Elvis on the Single cover.

Here's the song I believe he's most famous for, via YouTube:

In later video, he looks like a grandmother, at least in the thumbnail image. You know how elderly women turn themselves into men by cutting their hair in a male style.

I couldn't find a concert video of the one you were at, but here's someone playing him:

Notice how he wears a boater hat - is he English, went to Oxford or Cambridge? - ladies sunglasses and a feather boa.

How was the concert? Did you listen to any Elton John at OMA?

Maybe he went to Eaton? I don't know. Maybe he wears / wore Kiton.

It's likely the whole genre I can't stand, not just his image. The repetitive sound of the piano.

To me, it's 1960s physchedialia to be taken musically / intellectually. His costume, the prisoner. The music, informed by the Beatles, seargent pepper.

The harmonica, why, Vietnam to me, at least informed / influenced by The Watchmen movie as an importus.

Could you stand this track? The first version, on those big Imperius horns - the terrible sound of that piano - tape degregation - in the Oswald mill audio space?

The blue and red lights of the concert space look nice in context to today's US elections.

thanks, Jana.

Venere's picture

Staxguy....Bizarre, and yet strangely funny and entertaining. Well done.

Anton's picture

Really, now someone's hair cut or wardrobe is a musical critique?

"Dude looks like an old lady" is the new way to approach the guy's music?

Y'all are a bunch of sophistes.

" of the pre-Socratic philosophers who were itinerant professional teachers of oratory and argument and who were prepared to enter into debate on any matter however specious."

Venere's picture

I probably should have left it at "bizarre and entertaining", but it was so out of left field that I liked it in a sort of Hunter S. Thompson way.

Anton's picture

I wonder if he thinks Steven Tyler looks like his meemaw.

Thus, Aerosmith is refuted. ;-D

Allen Fant's picture

Another nice piece of writing -Jana.
EJ has been around for a very long time and touring even longer, what took you so long to see the Man in concert?

Marc210's picture

He has written some good tunes, like 'Your song' or 'Nikita', with lyricist Bernie Taupin, and he still sings some live. Cos I saw Sonic Youth and Nirvana and they didn't play some of their hits ('Youth against fascism', 'Dirty boots', 'Smells like teen spirit' to name a few).

jporter's picture

I was 13 years old and my older sister was listening to Elton John on our family's system. I believe it was A Single Man. When she left the room I replaced that album with the Dead Kennedys Plastic Surgery Disasters. Ah yes...That was a fine day indeed.

stevenorene's picture

People started booing him in Fort Lauderdale about 8 years ago during his Peachtree Road tour. It was very sad. The front row was incredibly rude to the point he stopped playing. I thought he was great, even though I am not a huge fan. I did not want to attend a "greatest hits" tour, I got that from the Police and that was horrible, less than 1 hour of music and they walked off.