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Saturday night’s alright - Elton John at the CIC

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Saturday night’s alright - Elton John at the CIC (edge photo by Kevin Bennett)

BANGOR – Captain Fantastic tripped the light fantastic in Bangor last weekend.

Music legend Elton John played to a sold-out Cross Insurance Center on the night of Nov. 18 courtesy of Waterfront Concerts. He put together a set lasting in excess of two hours, one featuring a selection of the singer’s biggest hits from a decades-long career.

There’s something astonishing about watching a true master of his craft at work. And make no mistake – Sir Elton might be a septuagenarian, but he has lost neither his gift nor his passion for performing. The energy projected from the stage by Elton and his band was immense and infectious, sweeping up the thousands in attendance into an electric whirlwind.

Over the course of nearly two dozen songs, the audience was taken on a musical tour of the iconic performer’s most popular songs from the past four decades, along with a couple of deeper cuts and a pair of tunes from his latest album – all of it rendered with a vibrancy that belied the fact that this was the very last stop on this North American leg of the current tour … and in Bangor, Maine no less. It would be hard to fault him if he and the band were to phone it in a bit and offer up a 75 percent effort.

Instead, we got 140 minutes of exquisite showmanship, consummate professionalism and musical magic. It was the sort of show where literally every song likely served as a personal highlight for some segment of the audience; one got the sense that Sir Elton understood that reality and gave his all to every one of them. Obviously, he’s been doing this for a very long time and can almost certainly turn it on and off at will, but it still seemed genuine, like he was invested in making sure that anyone seeing him live for the first time would be rewarded with a memorable experience.

(This is a sentiment that has probably been over-expressed in recent years, but it still bears repeating: Elton John performed in Bangor, Maine. A decade ago, the notion of a performer of his caliber playing this town would have seemed absurd. And the Bangor of my youth? Forget about it. But thanks to the efforts of many thoughtful and innovative people, the cultural landscape has evolved. Again – it’s a bit broken record-y, but those of us with longer memories are always going to be just a little bit awed by the transformation.)

Choosing highlights is a tricky thing; the truth is that it would be fairly easy to treat every song as a highlight. He led off the set with “The Bitch is Back” and “Bennie and the Jets” – two high-energy and iconic entries in the vast Elton John discography. That one-two punch set the engaged, entertaining tone that the audience would be given all night long.

It’s kind of remarkable to consider just how many incredible songs Elton John has recorded – he and the band laid down some awesome renditions of memorable tunes like “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Crocodile Rock.” There was a rousing take on “Have Mercy on the Criminal.” And there was a beautiful and touching performance of “Candle in the Wind” for the encore that closed the show. He offered up a couple of cuts from the new album – both good; the ballad “A Good Heart” was particularly strong. I could go on and on.

And I will.

My personal favorite moment of the night was the performance of “Levon” – and not just because it’s probably my favorite Elton John song. Not only was it awesome to hear it played live while bearing witness to Sir Elton’s masterful work on the piano, but he and the band decided to take a walk at the end. Solo after solo was trotted out as the entire onstage cohort riffed away with casual excellence, powering through to a magnificent crescendo. Was it a rehearsed part of the performance? Probably, but it hardly matters. What mattered is that it FELT fresh and new. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but I actually love “Levon” more now.

Elton John’s charisma is undeniable; he commanded a room packed to the rafters with thousands simply by walking onto the stage. That presence was only magnified with the gentle humility with which he engaged the crowd. Between each song, he rose from the piano and emotionally interacted with the audience, smiling and pointing and generally being charming. Those moments served to make a full evening feel all the fuller.

All of this is indicative of just how gifted a performer Elton John is. Despite having spent nearly half a century touring, the 70-year-old appears to truly love what he does as much as ever. His smiling enthusiasm never rang false; this is a man whose passion for his craft has yet to dampen. Sure, he might not be able to find the higher vocal ranges like he once could, but he’s a gifted enough musician to adjust accordingly. The performance – the moment – is what’s important.

And in this show, Elton John never once missed a moment. He’s still standing. And for much of the night, so were the 3,000-plus people in the CIC.

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