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Birthday Boy Elton John brings Leon Russell and 'Philadelphia Freedom' to Wells Fargo Center


Maybe it’s because he was celebrating his birthday. Maybe it’s because he’s a new dad. But after 40 plus years in music, one thing remains clear:

Elton John STILL rocks, and is playing and singing better than ever.Elton John rocks the Wells Fargo Center. Photo:

The music legend entertained the Wells Fargo Center crowd with a mixture of hits and new songs for close to three hours Friday night.

The show was high on energy, fueled mostly by John as he revved up the packed house between almost every song by walking around the stage encouraging the crowd to just let loose. And judging by the fans wearing flashing sunglasses and Donald Duck hats, most of them were more than happy to oblige.

The set list kicked off with John’s standard opener, ‘Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding’ from 1973’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album, followed by ‘Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting’ (also from “Yellow Brick Road.”)  Both songs highlighted John’s vocal prowess, which has literally taken a different tone dating back to or around 1992’s ‘The One.’

Selections from 1971’s Madman Across the Water  were featured next, with John playing ‘Levon,’  the album’s title track, and ‘Tiny Dancer.’ The crowd really broke into a frenzy with the anthemic ‘Philadelphia Freedom,’ and John and his band (featuring longtime members Davey Johnstone on guitar and Nigel Olsson on drums) rocked out (no pun intended) on ‘Rocket Man’ to close out the first the show’s first set.

After a brief piano interlude of The Beatles' ‘When I’m Sixty Four,’ played by John (who turned 64 that day), he was joined onstage by Leon Russell, whom John collaborated with on The Union, the critically acclaimed album  released last October. Russell, the newest member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, joined John for eight songs, starting with the Grammy Nominated ‘If it Wasn’t For Bad.’  

While one can certainly appreciate and respect the musicianship and talent of Russell (who credits John for resurrecting his career), this set would have served better if cut in half. The new songs took the place of concert staples ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight,' and ‘I’m Still Standing.’ By the time John broke into ‘Sad Songs’ however, familiarity set in and the show picked up steam again. And before you send the hate mail, I like Leon Russell. I am simply making an observation from the standpoint of some fans who were at the show.

John was clearly in his element throughout the night, often acknowledging his fans and playing extended piano solos (much to the amusement of his band) on such songs as 'Take Me to the Pilot.' He even jokingly attempted to sing the chorus of set closer ‘Crocodile Rock’ (you all know how that goes). However, John clearly knew better, and left that to the audience.

Much like Paul McCartney, Elton John clearly doesn’t need the money (although word has it that he’s quite the lavish spender), as it was obvious to all in attendance that his genuine enthusiasm is not something you can fake. The fans love him for it, and he loves them right back. This was even more evident when John graciously signed posters, baseballs, and everything in between for close to five minutes prior to the encore of his signature ballad, 'Your Song.'  One fan even gave him a Phillies baby outfit for his new son.

Is there really a better way to end an awesome concert in Philly than that?

Set List

Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting
Madman Across the Water
Tiny Dancer
Philadelphia Freedom
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues
Rocket Man

(With Leon Russell)

If It Wasn’t For Bad
Hey Ahab
The Best Part of The Day
Gone to Shiloh
Monkey Suit
When Love Is Dying
Never Too Old (To Hold Somebody)
Dream Come True

Sad Songs (Say So Much)
Piano Solo
Take Me to the Pilot
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me
Candle In the Wind
Burn Down the Mission
Benny and the Jets
The Bitch is Back
Crocodile Rock


Your Song


Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Thumbnail: Michael Swanger from http://www.dmcityview.com 

Article photo: http://media.photobucket.com/image/elton%20john,%20wells%20fargo%20center/ticketswizard/EltonJohnTour2011.jpg

Special Thanks to Rachel Spivak at Live Nation