Over The Weekend: Elton John and Leon Russell at the Fort Worth Convention Center

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Elton John and Leon Russell
Fort Worth Convention Center
November 13, 2010

Better than: living your life like a candle in the wind.

The backstory behind Elton John's most recent tour isn't really about Sir Elton at all, actually: He's touring, you see, alongside Leon Russell, with whom he collaborated for his latest release, The Union, his first studio release in four years, which is meant as a sort of homage to Russell, one of John's biggest influences and a greatly underappreciated legend in his own right. John's gone out of his way to emphasize this much in the press, too, trying to earn the notable session musician and songwriter his just due.

Make no mistake, though: Sure, Russell performed 30 minutes of his own material and another hour of the two's collaborative efforts on stage at the Fort Worth Convention Center on Saturday night, but this night, try as John might, wasn't about Russell.

Elton John, to no one's surprise, went right ahead and stole the show.

Because, even at 63 years old, John remains quite the showman. He might not be, well, as limber as he once was, but he's no less enthusiastic. Positively beaming and clad in a custom black suited embroidered with flowers, hearts, a pistol, and the word "Love" in script across his sleeve, John stayed seated on his piano bench for only the most fleeting of moments, energetically bouncing to his feet to perform each of his faster-paced arrangements and leaping up at the end of each and every song as if it were his last, all-too-willing to bask in his audience's appreciation and to return to favor as well.

And, considering that he played 90 minutes of his own material on top of the hour he performed with Russell, it's not like his fans had any reason not to be pleased. No, John can't hit the high notes like he once could -- "Tiny Dancer" and "Bennie and the Jets" both came in severely lower registers than in the ones in which they became famous -- but his voice retains every bit of the character it has always boasted.

So, too, did Russell's, actually. After opening the night with 30 minutes of his own material as audiences were still trickling into the theater, which was then followed with John warming up the crowd with a half-hour of his own songs, Russell returned to the stage to perform 11 songs from The Union. John, beforehand, almost apologized to the crowd for what he admitted to be a rather indulgent offering, once again acknowledging his affection for Russell, and how pleased he was to have had the chance to work with him again so many years after Russell has allowed a young Elton to open for him on tour in his early career.

But there was no need to apologize: Backed by as many as 12 musicians, the two shined together, despite the crowd's unfamiliarity with much of their material, and with John's voice interplaying impressively with Russell's near-Willie Nelson vocals for an, at worst, enjoyable and tasteful trans-Atlantic piano rock collaboration. And, though he barely spoke, instead leaving the emceeing in John's more-capable hands, Russell managed to match -- and maybe even top -- John visually. His own white attire, coupled with his flowing white hair and beard, and contrasted by his pitch-black aviator sunglasses, may have actually topped John's in terms of flamboyancy.

Russell seems to know well the deal behind his pairing with John -- he diligently played his role and graciously left after its conclusion -- just as John knows his responsibilities to his audience. After Russell exited the stage, John returned to his wheelhouse, offering up fine takes on "Levon," "Candle in the Wind," "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues," a particularly energetic "The Bitch is Back" and, for the night-ender, "Your Song," all of which came on top of a setlist that had already seen such mega-hits as "Rocket Man" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."

All these years into his career -- and some 39 years after last playing the Fort Worth Convention Center -- John knows what he's doing. And though, at times, thanks to his near-constant mugging for the crowd, it felt like a victory lap, it was an exuberant, celebratory one. 

And how: Toward the end of the night, John stood atop his piano, pumping his fists to rile up the crowd, looking very much like the king of his domain. This night may have been aimed, at least in part, to crown Russell for his achievements, but there was no doubting who the true royalty in the room was.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
This was my second time seeing Elton John perform live, and in both cases, it's been as part of a collaborative bill. That first time came a few years back for his "Face to Face" tour with Billy Joel -- an inspiring pairing, for sure. But this time, with a lesser revered musician beside him, Elton John's genius stood out far more.

By The Way: The Fort Worth Convention Center holds some 9,000 attendees, and was quite full, if not completely sold out for this show. Quite the upgrade in audience size for Russell, who, last time he came through the region, played to an intimate, not-close-to-sold-out show at the Granada Theater, which holds about 1,100 or so. I'd never been to the Fort Worth Convention Center before this show and I had not a clue as to what it would be like. To be honest, though, I kinda dug it; the building's not exactly the greatest venue, but it's a charming one that hasn't aged badly.

Random Note: Major props to the security guards at this show, who, rather than bug people trying to get close to the stage to see Elton John up close, graciously allowed the ones holding cameras to walk right up to the front of the house and snap a few shots before kindly asking that they move along back to their allotted seats.

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