Elton John - vocals, piano; Dee Murray - bass; Nigel Olsson - drums
Guitars are tough. No one will argue that fact. The good ones are made of little more than wood and metal and are designed to make awful noise - screeching, rumbling, wailing, chugging, skronky, angular, awful noise. And it's great. But piano? Aren't those for parlor recitals and dance choreography? Nay! Says Elton John. That bundle of pine and ivory was meant to rock!
In late 1970, Elton John was not yet a household name in the States, nor had he garnered much attention back home in England. That would soon change however, as "Your Song" made its way up the charts and his reputation for electrifying live performances spread. A chance encounter at a failed record audition four years earlier had introduced John to lyricist Bernie Taupin, the man with whom he would co-write some of the biggest hit songs of all time. Their initial collaborations yielded a truck-load of sappy ballads recorded by other "artists," but also a number of more substantial songs that would comprise Elton's debut record, Empty Sky, and its follow-up, Elton John. The latter was appropriately self-titled, as the more lush production and complex arrangements it contained introduced the world to its namesake's trademark sound.
Opening for The Kinks in this Fillmore West appearance on his first U.S. tour, Elton John the man deserts the grandeur of Elton John the record in favor of a leaner presentation, accompanied only by his keystone rhythm section, Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson; but the songs don't suffer for it. These three guys make more commotion than the jumbo jet that brought 'em here! Elton explores the full dynamic range of his instrument from soulful torch songs like "Amoreena" to roof-blowin' rockers like his ultra-loose interpretation of Sly Stone's "Higher," or both with "Sixty Years On." The trio even gives the Stones a run for their money, delivering a low-down and dirty version of "Honky Tonk Woman" with burlesque exultation.
While many performers take years to find their voice, Elton John seemingly came out of nowhere fully formed and ready to take on the universe in the name of piano-men everywhere. This concert proves that he didn't need the elaborate costumes or Oscar-winning soundtracks to establish himself as a major star; all it took was 88 keys and a stage.