I really loved the heyday of VH1 Storytellers in the late ’90s. Sure, it had its slow moments, but when it was on, it was on — hearing Adam Durtiz talk about who Mr. Jones really is or watching Lenny Kravitz talk about his hot chick drummer was always a treat.
So I was pleasantly surprised last night at a small event at USC where Sir Elton John himself turned what was billed as a small showcase of new songs and an introduction by mega-producer T-Bone Burnett into a full-on concert and storytelling extravaganza.
John opened the night with older tracks like “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Levon,” closing out the first part of the night with “Your Song,” which he said he knew when he first got the lyrics from collaborator Bernie Taupin that “I’d better not mess this one up.” The evening continued with a Q&A and a preview of songs from his new album, The Diving Board (produced by Burnett). While he joked that everyone gets up to pee when new songs are trotted out, no one in the packed auditorium moved a muscle. He closed out the evening with more classics performed with incredible energy and exuberance, wrapping with an aching, soulful rendition of “Rocket Man.”
I’ve always liked Elton John, but in a “my mom had the vinyl and I love Almost Famous and, sure, I know all the words to ‘Benny and the Jets’” kind of a way, not in a “he’s a musical genius” kind of way. But watching him jam on the piano in a signature sparkly black suit backed by the USC orchestra and witnessing the pure joy he had playing for a group of college students (who were on their feet and dancing by the middle of the show) made me a convert.
Below, a few highlights of the night and tidbits we learned during the Q&A with the Grammy Foundation’s Scott Goldman about why Sir Elton is still rockin’ it at 66.
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