Sat, Sep 25, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Elton John bitches back and sings his heart out

The English entertainer made up for his earlier comments about the press being pigs by putting on a great show

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

He's still standing, tall. Elton John entertains at his Chungshan Stadium concert in Taipei.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Elton John took the stage and belted out The Bitch is Back at Chungshan Stadium on Thursday night. But the first round of applause came afterward at the expense of the press.

"I've been to more than 60 countries and I've never experienced such a rude welcome," he said of the photographers and television crews that descended on him at the airport. "They shouldn't be allowed to disturb people like that."

The audience couldn't have agreed more, they cheered and those journalists at the airport John had ealier termed "vile pigs," they presumably snorted.

Then we were all treated to a helluva rock-and-roll show that demonstrated why Elton John has been drawing audiences for longer than many of his fans have been alive.

He took his place behind the piano and ripped into Bennie and the Jets, Levon, Daniel and Philadelphia Freedom, warming up a crowd that sat in a steady drizzle.

Next he worked through a lengthy jam of Rocket Man complete with a Far Eastern Air jetliner flying meters overhead to land at Songshan Airport. It was a magic moment that couldn't have been timed better and it earned John his first standing ovation. He thanked the crowd and all that business at the airport was forgotten.

Elton John's next record, Peachtree Road, will be released in November and he treated the crowd to the album's first single, which is already getting radio airtime in the US and England, Answer in the Sky. He wrote it with long-time collaborator, Bernie Taupin, and it was the first song the audience didn't sing back to him lyric-for-lyric, though it won't take long before that changes.

There's a loyalty among fans of Elton John that seems to transcend the man and his music. His fan club recently completed its second annual charity drive, Lunches Around the World, and collected nearly US$40,000 to give to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

There's loyalty among his band members, too, whom he introduced partway through the evening. His drummer, Nigel Olsson, played on his first album, Empty Sky. Guitarist Davey Johnstone signed on with Madmad Across the Water in 1971. Keyboardist Guy Babylon and bass player Bob Birch both joined in the early 1990s. And percussionist John Mahon is the new guy, having played on John's 31st album, One Night Only.

After the introductions, there was another two hours of songs starting with Take Me to the Pilot, Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word, Sacrifice and Candle in the Wind and then Funeral for a Friend and Love Lies Bleeding. If there was anyone still sitting at the keyboard introduction of Funeral for a Friend, they were dancing in the aisles by the end of Love Lies Bleeding and didn't stop dancing through I'm Still Standing, Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting) and Crocodile Rock.

Elton John ducked backstage to change into a blue track suit while the audience chanted for an encore. They got it in the form of Pinball Wizard and Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me but wanted more. The rain had stopped -- at least for a short time at least -- and Elton John signed autographs for the folks in the NT$6,000 front-and-center seats while the rest of the house called out for more.

"Thank you, Taiwan," Elton John told the crowd. "Thanks for being such a great audience, for staying through the rain and for being so understanding. I wish you all love, health and happiness. I can't wait to see you next time."

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