[Review] Elton John: The Red Piano (2008)

A DVD of Elton John’s Las Vegas performance. All sixty minutes of it.

Kronomyth 40-point-pick a number: Cher and Cher alike.

What’s black and white and red all over? The Red Piano, and not Progrography, so you can take my grousing with a grain of salt. When Queen Celine took up residence in the Palace, it raised eyebrows. When Elton John became the second of Las Divas to do so in 2004, it surely signaled the Apocalypse.

Since I am whipped more than the inside of a Twinkie, I took my wife to see this show in 2008. It was good. It was short. I felt sort of greasy afterwards, as if I’d just watched a Dutch porn film with a large leprechaun in it. The Red Piano DVD revived it all for me and, honestly, it did bring back more fond memories than fondled ones.

The shows (I wouldn’t call them concerts) lasted roughly 90 minutes; on some nights, back-to-back shows were scheduled. Since the format and the playlist remained pretty much static from year to year (imagine how tiring it must be to deliver the same quips week after week), this DVD capturing one night’s performance is an accurate representation of any show from any evening. Of course, most of the audience didn’t have the stage-level view of the cameras, so our eyes were often on the large-screen videos and inflatable props. Personally, the show’s sexual overtones left me feeling uncomfortable; by the time the inflatable breasts were pumped up, I felt like I’d wandered into a Coors Light campus party or a Pink Floyd show gone horribly wrong.

The films created by Dave LaChapelle are occasionally very good (“Rocket Man,” “I’m Still Standing”) but the overtly sexual content seems unwarranted (“The Bitch Is Back,” “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”). Then again, maybe I’ve misunderstood the “go down on me” part all these years. As for the music, it’s adequate. Elton John is clearly past the peak of his performances, and the best that can be said of the downward climb is that he’s in good company (Davey Johnstone, Nigel Olsson). For most of the audience (myself included), it was enough that Elton gave a passable rendition, as we were singing along with him anyway.

I can’t see why you’d want to own this DVD if you didn’t see the show, but for the millions who already have, it’s a nice souvenir. The 2-DVD/CD version includes a DVD with behind-the-scenes footage, the original “films” from Dave LaChapelle and an audio CD with the same tracks in the same order. And if you’re still waiting for a “red pianist” joke, there it was.

Read more Elton John reviews

The Songs

1. Bennie And The Jets
2. Philadelphia Freedom
3. Believe
4. Daniel
5. Rocket Man
6. Answer In The Sky
7. Tiny Dancer
8. Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
9. Candle In The Wind
10. Pinball Wizard (Pete Townshend)
11. The Bitch Is Back
12. I’m Still Standing
13. Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting
14. Your Song

All songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin unless noted.

The Players

Elton John (piano, vocals), Guy Babylon (keyboards), Bob Birch (bass, vocals), Davey Johnstone (musical director, guitars, vocals), John Mahon (percussion, vocals), Nigel Olsson (drums, vocals). Directed by David Mallet; show creation and design by Dave LaChappelle; produced by Diane Orrom and Paul Morphus; executive producer: Rocky Oldham; audio produced by Phil Ramone; engineered and mixed by Frank Filipetti; front of house sound engineering by Clive Franks.

The Pictures

Still photography by Carl Studha. Photograph by Thomas Schweigert.

The Plastic

Released on digital video disc on November 3, 2008 in the US (Universal, B0012790-09); RIAA-certified 2x platinum sales. Also released as 2DVD + compact disc in 2008 in the UK (Mercury, 1783245) with bonus dvd and audio cd.

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