If you have never seen British pop star Elton John perform, naturally you want to see the gifted songwriter play his many hits. John recognized the F1 US Grand Prix fans at his show last night at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) were largely race fans not necessarily concertgoers. Thus he decided to play a greatest hits setlist. The diminutive piano player ran through 21 songs in two hours while dressed in a glittery black coat emblazoned with Rocket Man across his back. Backed by longtime collaborators, John and his band jammed, played sing-alongs and made fans forget about the soggy, muddy conditions that plagued COTA all weekend.
Performing on the temporary Super Stage between turns 11 and 12, the “Rocket Man” kicked off the show with appropriately titled, The Bitch is Back then turned to oft-covered classic tune, Benny and Jets. He then took it down a notch next with monster hit, Candle in the Wind. John hit the sweet spot of the performance with a string of great songs that cemented his status as one of the world’s greatest pop songwriters with Levon, Tiny Dancer, Daniel, Philadelphia Freedom and asked fans to sing along with him on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road if they had “…any lungs left after the race.”
Even at 68 years old, John’s voice is still commanding and strong if slightly weathered. His stage production was tasteful and visually appealing without being overwrought with pyrotechnics and LCD screen elements. Instead, John chose to let his considerable body of work stand on it’s own. Frankly, we appreciated that the emphasis was on the music and not spectacle. It was the proper thing to do for a knighted Englishman. The video close-ups on the stage screens of John’s keyboard while his hands tickled the ivory were astonishing. Not only is Sir Elton one of the world’s best songwriters, he’s also a master pianist.
Halfway through the setlist, John finally rolled out Rocket Man, putting a smile on nearly everyone’s face. The deepest cut of the night was a song John co-wrote with one of his idols (as he put it) Leon Russell called, Hey Ahab. Recognizable 80’s radio hit, Sad Songs Say So Much signaled the last quarter of the performance and included a string of great but lesser known songs before finishing with a jamming version of Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.
The Rocket Man left the stage and folks would have happily filed out of the venue at that point but he returned with his band for Crocodile Rock before thanking the audience for coming. On one of the first cool nights in Central Texas, folks shuffled off into the night smiling slightly as they recalled their favorite songs of the evening.
1. The Bitch Is Back
2. Bennie and the Jets
3. Candle in the Wind
4. All the Girls Love Alice
6. Tiny Dancer
8. Philadelphia Freedom (Elton John Band song)
9. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
10. Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)
11. Hey Ahab
12. I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues
13. Your Song
14. Burn Down the Mission
15. Sad Songs (Say So Much)
16. Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
17. Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
18. I’m Still Standing
19. Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n Roll)
20. Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting
21. Crocodile Rock