Thursday, October 11, 2007

Review of Carnegie Hall Tribute

You wouldn't think Elton John and Bernie Taupin would have a lot to complain about in their careers. But Elton has gone on record grousing that his songs haven't been covered by enough other artists.

Wednesday night's tribute concert to his work at Carnegie Hall went at least a small way toward repairing that slight.

No fewer than 21 acts rummaged through the pair's catalog, unearthing songs from the famous ("Rocket Man") to the more obscure ("Amoreena"). Dominating the bill were either older stars who've been off the chart for a spell (Shawn Colvin, Phoebe Snow, Roger McGuinn) or cult acts prized by the cognoscenti (the Pernice Brothers, Jill Sobule, Aimee Mann).

The latter sort gave Elton's mainstream-leaning material more edge than it originally had, while the former lent his catalogue some quirky historic context.

The show also had a cause to flog: New York's Music for Youth, which funds music education for city kids who might otherwise turn a bad way.

The music focused on reinvention, too.

Elton's main instrument, piano, took a backseat to acoustic guitars in most arrangements. Pop and rock receded while country and folk marched forward. Rarely have these songs sounded so American.

And shorn of Elton's shall we say eccentric pronunciations, Taupin's lyrics received more articulation and consideration, which must have pleased him no end. (Bernie was in attendance - Elton was not).

The auburn voice of jazz singer Lizz Wright found a crushing new sensuality in "Come Down in Time."

Sobule delivered "Levon" with such deliberation that it practically became an art-song. Other artists played shell games with genre. Snow turned "Empty Garden" into a gospel raveup. McGuinn gave "Friends" a folk-rock jangle.

There were some duds: Howard Jones rotely tinkled out "Tiny Dancer." and the Pernice Brothers had no point of view on "Country Comforts."

But one-named newcomer Buddy made up for it by delivering "I'm Still Standing," as if he were about to crumble into dust. His quiet resolve communicated an entirely different kind of strength. Like the best performances here, this proved a great song can take any makeover.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's odd that you have a picture of Page McConnell playing, yet no mention of him by name in your description. He is a fantastic--yet underrated--musician whose contribution (Amoreena) was a valuable addition to the show.