"Elton has left the building," boomed the voice from the speakers. The announcement, which borrowed from the days of Elvis Presley mania, came at 10 minutes till 10 last Friday night, and served as a fitting way to end Elton John's much-anticipated two-night stand at the Tabernacle. The Elvis reference was appropriate because, like The King, flamboyant John -- who has jokingly referred to himself as "the Queen of England" -- is making his own forays in the glitzy world of Vegas with an ongoing grand-scale production called "The Red Piano" at The Colosseum at Caesar's Palace.
But Luckie Street ain't Las Vegas Boulevard, and the Tabernacle is definitely not Caesar's. Yet it was the decidedly smaller and more low-key venue that Elton chose to debut music from his new album, Peachtree Road. The title refers to the Buckhead address that John has called his American home for the past 14 years.
At a few minutes past 8, the iconic performer walked onstage at the former church and commenced to preach the Gospel according to Sir Elton. Dressed in his "Red Piano" (and Best Buy commercial) outfit -- long tuxedo coat, white shirt, gold tie, striped pants and spats -- he kicked off the evening with the thankful-to-be-alive anthem "Weight of the World."
From there, John and his band performed the next seven tracks from Peachtree Road in order. Showcasing so much new material is a risky endeavor, but the songs from Peachtree held up to the challenge. The second number, "Porch Swing in Tupelo," was a midtempo, country-favored ode to the slow-paced ways of the Deep South. It offered such evocative Southern-fried imagery that you could almost feel the humidity. "The ghosts of the old South are all around me," John sang as he looked toward the balcony seats.
On the third song, "Answer in the Sky," John was joined by the Voice of Atlanta, a soulful choir led by gospel singer Adam McKnight. It increased the celebratory feel of the concert, and the whole Tabernacle swayed to the joyful noise.
Elton then segued into the twang-tinged "Turn the Lights Out When You Leave" and mentioned that one of his influences was country giant Merle Haggard. Each song seemed to come with a backstory. "My Elusive Drug," was inspired, he explained, by his former struggle with drugs and alcohol. This made for a moving moment, but things didn't stay heavy for long. Before singing the funky ode "They Call Her the Cat," he said, "[This is] about a sex change. Not mine, of course."
John proceeded to play a few more cuts from the new album: "Freaks in Love," said to be John's current favorite, "All That I'm Allowed" and "I Can't Keep This from You." But he didn't perform every song from Peachtree Road, because, as he explained, "we didn't have time to rehearse all of them, which is a drag."
The audience didn't seem to mind, however, because John quickly tore into his extensive catalog of hits. He began with a touching solo version of "Your Song," which led into "Philadelphia Freedom," "The Bitch Is Back," "Border Song," and "Levon."
During those songs, the Tabernacle crowd pushed forward, and a number of fans pressed near the edge of the stage for an even closer view. More hits followed: "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," "Burn Down the Mission," and the rousing closer, "Bite Your Lip (Get Up and Dance!)." For the encore, John served up "I'm Still Standing" and ended with a roaring "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting."
Of course, those familiar songs received the biggest crowd response, but it was remarkable how much John's new songs held up to his classic work. It's proof that, after all this time, he is indeed still standing.
Good news for those who weren't able to attend: BBC Radio recorded both performances and will broadcast them Nov. 20. Visit www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/ for details.
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