From Goodbye Yellowbrick Road to Goodbye Elton

Everyone gets sick, even superstars. Such was the case on Saturday night as Elton John brought his ‘The Final Curtain’ tour to Charlottesville’s John Paul Jones arena. John said after the opening song that he was fighting a horrible flu and apologized up front for what promised to be an interesting night vocally. His voice was rough, especially when speaking. When singing, he managed to hit most of the notes, and I give props to his band for picking up the slack on what was clearly an off night for Elton.

John has said in press releases for the tour that it ‘goes without saying that [he] wants to spend more time at home and less time touring,” He’s slated to play Vegas for two weeks in April and tour Europe throughout 2016, but this time around may well be his final US Tour, and most certainly his last appearance in the state of Virginia.

So, how does one celebrate and encapsulate a career spanning 46 years and over 60 albums? You play the hits almost everyone knows! Opening with the always spine-tingling instrumental ‘Funeral For A Friend’ and then “Love Lies Bleeding,” it was made clear that Elton was still going to be able to deliver on a night when almost any other performer in the same condition would have canceled the show.

Elton’s band, which still features original member Nigel Olsson on drums and Davey Johnstone on guitar were in stellar form, even handling almost all vocals on ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ when Elton’s voice, or lack thereof, prevented him from attempting any of the high notes.
The stage set up was sparse with only a huge chandelier hanging that changed colors throughout the show, and the low screen backdrop made the stage appear similar to The Hollywood Bowl, with a high arch at the back of the stage.

I must mention one change from previous dates on the tour. On almost every stop prior to Saturday, the song ‘Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters’ had been featured. However, because of Elton’s flu, the song was replaced with ‘Daniel’; not a bad replacement as I had not heard him sing that song live before. Highlights for me included ‘All the Young Girls Love Alice,’ ‘Levon,’ ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock And Roll).’

I was honored to see this show with my friend, and Elton John Superfan, Dana. If this indeed was my final time seeing Elton, I’m very glad I saw this very unique show with her.

Set list (from

Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Bennie and the Jets
Candle in the Wind
All the Girls Love Alice
Tiny Dancer
Looking Up
A Good Heart
Philadelphia Freedom
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)
(Intro featured extended Piano Solo)
I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues
Your Song
Have Mercy on the Criminal
Burn Down the Mission
Sad Songs (Say So Much)
Blue Wonderful
(Dedicated to Elton’s eldest son, Zachary Jackson who was in the audience)
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
The Bitch Is Back
I’m Still Standing
Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n Roll)
Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting
Crocodile Rock

Al Stewart at The Beacon (Hopewell) 03.13.16

Al Stewart is one of those artists whose name instantly evokes the 1970s. He had been a singer/songwriter since the mid-60s, releasing albums that were full of stories, but no radio friendly songs. Then in 1976, Stewart suddenly had a Top Five album on the US Charts and a Top Ten Single with ‘Year of the Cat,’ a song that sounded like nothing else on the radio.
That song, along with a few others from the 70s, are what most know Stewart from, but his catalog is one that didn’t stop in 1979 when the radio listening public (and most record buyers) stopped paying attention. When Sunday’s show at the Beacon Theatre in Hopewell was announced last summer, I was shocked, and I knew that I had to attend.

The Beacon Theatre is a lovely performance space, probably holding no more than 500 people including the balcony seating. The sound quality was fantastic and a great surprise. I highly recommend seeing a show there.

One of the hallmarks of Stewart’s two most popular albums (Year of the Cat and it’s 1978 follow-up ‘Time Passages’) is synthesizer and saxophone. Being that he currently tours with only one other musician (virtuoso guitarist Dave Nachmanoff), it was apparent that the evening’s performance would sound very different from the recorded versions, and that excited me.

Early in the set, Stewart provided his philosophy of songwriting: “Write about topics no one else writes about, use words no one else uses and you won’t sound like any of the thousands of other singer/songwriters out there.” The evening’s song selection was proof positive that following that philosophy has served Stewart well. And he even admitted that sometimes he ‘gets lazy and sloppy and ends up with a hit’ when introducing ‘Time Passages.’

Throughout the 90 minute show, Stewart told very funny stories about his songs (Who knew that the song ‘Broadway Hotel’ focused on sex, a suicidal woman and cheeseburgers?) and offered tight acoustic renditions of his songs. It made for a very memorable evening and a performance I felt very fortunate to witness.

With the synthesizer and saxophone stripped away, Stewart’s songs resemble the story songs of Harry Chapin and John Prine, albeit from Stewart’s unusual point of view. If you only know Al Stewart from ‘Year of the Cat’ or ‘Time Passages’, I highly recommend finding a copy of ‘Past Present and Future’ from 1973 or ‘Sparks of Ancient Light’ from 2008; both are primarily acoustic albums with only a bit of synth on the former album, and I think both records are good starting points for those that wish to explore the wonderful stories of a very underrated songwriter.

Photo by Dana Kisr

Photo by Dana Kiser

House of Clocks
Flying Sorcery
Palace of Versailles
Arrows & Targets
On the Border
Last Train to Munich
Time Passages

Set Two
Warren Harding
One Stage Before
Midas Shadow
[song I didn’t recognize]
Broadway Hotel
Year of the Cat

End of the Day


Thank you for reading, and thanks as always to Dana for sharing this show with me.