Sitting alone at the piano on Wednesday night, Elton John paid tribute to the late David Bowie with an extended instrumental reading of "Space Oddity." The moment came during a special two-hour concert at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, and John stretched out with both delicate melodies and pounding keys, before leading into his own "Rocket Man" with a full band.
It was a mash-up that fans and musicians have attempted for years, but John made it elegantly real, dedicating the moment to "the Starman." As the song ended, the singer-pianist stood and walked across the stage, and was handed a bouquet from the front row. John also spoke of an early connection in the two artists' recording careers, pointing to his search for a producer and arranger to help with his self-titled second album from 1970.
"The songs were very classically orientated," he said of Elton John, which included the career-defining "Your Song," among other hits. "I didn't know who I wanted to use. Then I heard a record which blew me away. It's called 'Space Oddity.'"
The producer of that single was Gus Dudgeon, with arrangements by Paul Buckmaster, and both ended up as key figures during John's first decade of recording. "I have David Bowie to thank for that amazing collaboration," John told the crowd. Earlier this week, he'd posted a note on Instragram, describing Bowie: "An amazing life. An amazing career."
A day earlier at the Wiltern, John recorded a stripped-down performance and interview for a small crowd of fans and guests for a SiriusXM Town Hall taping to air on February 4th. Speaking with Rolling Stone's David Fricke, John said of Bowie: "He was innovative, he was boundary-changing, and he danced to his own tune — which in any artist is really rare."
On Wednesday, John wore a sparkling black jacket, the five-man band coats and ties. The occasion was the coming release of a new album Wonderful Crazy Night — out February 5th — but the two-hour concert was heavy with hits, from "Bennie and the Jets" to "I'm Still Standing."
Producer T Bone Burnett watched the show from near the soundboard. And John was joined during the two-hour performance by a trio of younger hit-makers as singing partners, beginning with Shawn Mendes on "Tiny Dancer." Demi Lovato stood centerstage to sing "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," John's 1976 duet with Kiki Dee, and matched John in volume and energy.
Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump, in black leather jacket and fedora, joined on the rocking "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting." He spent the entire song looking over at John, one hand gripping the mic stand as the bandleader pounded the keys and shouted the lyrics.
Much of the night was devoted to the new album, which John called "a labor of love." From Wonderful Crazy Night, he performed the understated ballad "A Good Heart," but most were uptempo songs: "In the Name of You," "Blue Wonderful" and the title track.
There were many more hits ("The Bitch Is Back," "Philadelphia Freedom," "That's Why They Call It the Blues," etc.), and the night closed right where John's career as a hit-maker began, with 1970's "Your Song" — and that small debt owed to David Bowie.
"Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding"
"Bennie and the Jets"
"I'm Still Standing"
"A Good Heart"
"In the Name of You"
"Tiny Dancer" [with Shawn Mendes]
"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"
"Space Oddity"/"Rocket Man"
"Wonderful Crazy Night"
"Don't Go Breaking My Heart" [with Demi Lovato]
"I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues"
"Sad Songs (Say So Much)"
"Burn Down the Mission"
"Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"
"The Bitch Is Back"
"Your Sister Can't Twist (but She Can Rock 'n Roll)"
"Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" [with Patrick Stump]