Elton John Opens Las Vegas Residency With Style

Stories, standards and surprises kick off Caesars run

las vegas elton john nevada million dollar piano caesars
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Sir Elton John performs during the first night of his new show, "The Million Dollar Piano" as he begins a three-year residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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Elton John and Las Vegas were made for each other. He's a hit-making machine who pays off more reliably than the slots – and he has a weakness for shiny things. So early on in "The Million Dollar Piano," his return to Vegas, Sir Elton took an inventory of the other musicians who have played at Caesars Palace since his last residency ended in 2009. "Celine Dion had one child – now she has three," he noted. "Good thing she's not Catholic. Also, Cher's daughter became a man." He continued, "Benicio Del Toro, his father-in-law is Rod Stewart." (Actually, del Toro is the father of Kimberly Stewart's daughter, but is not currently in a relationship with her.) "And I became a father. Miracles happen here, I tell you." He summarized the love life of Shania Twain, due to play the Colosseum next year (her husband, "Mutt" Lange, left her for her best friend, and Twain ended up marrying her best friend's ex-husband), and concluded, "A year through her run, the two guys will run off together."

Photos: Elton John's Outfits Through the Years

Was anything in John's opening night as surprising as Twain's love life? Not really, no. He pleased the crowd with hit after hit, some performed passionately ("Levon"), some dutifully ("Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting"). He skipped "Candle in the Wind," bizarrely closing instead with "Circle of Life" from The Lion King. John also pulled out some surprises, such as "Indian Sunset" (from Madman Across the Water), "Hey Ahab" (from last year's The Union), and 1982's "Blue Eyes" (which served as an extended tribute to Elizabeth Taylor, despite the fact that she was famous for her violet eyes). And when he played the dullish boast "I'm Still Standing," he literally stuck his tongue in his cheek. His supple five-piece band (augmented by two cellists and four backup singers) included drummer Nigel Olsson and guitarist Davey Johnstone, both of whom have been playing with him for four decades. Although John's voice no longer has the upper register of his youth, his fingers remain nimble, and the show's most joyful moments came during his exuberant piano solos.

John's career is built on a spirit of abundance, which manifests itself as both generosity and excess. His songs overflow with melody, and Bernie Taupin's lyrics are as prolix as anyone's this side of Bob Dylan. Now that John's turned 64, he's toned down the stage costumes: after shedding a glittering cape, he performed most of the show in a black suit decorated with gold sequins. Then he changed clothes for the encore: a black suit with red sequins. But the show had plenty of visual stimulation regardless: a garish set, decorated like a Versailles junkyard, and a large video screen that seemed intent on inducing motion sickness. The "million dollar piano" John will be playing for the next three years turned out to be a Yamaha model distinguished by the smaller video screen running along its side. "It has a spin-cycle washer at the back," he boasted. "It has a microwave. The only thing that I was disappointed by – no barbecue."

Set list:
"The Bitch Is Back"
"Bennie and the Jets"
"Rocket Man"
"Levon"
"Tiny Dancer"
"Your Song"
"Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters"
"Better Off Dead"
"Indian Sunset"
"Blue Eyes"
"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"
"I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues"
"Philadelphia Freedom"
"Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"
"Hey Ahab"
"I'm Still Standing"
"Crocodile Rock"
"Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting"

Encore:
"Circle of Life"