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Rocket Man John launches first Chinese mainland concert
By Brian Offenther

"THE Rocket Man" Elton John will be gracing the Mercedes-Benz Arena (1200 Expo Ave, Pudong) tomorrow night, tickling the ivories for his first-ever Chinese mainland performance. The legendary performer needs no introduction, but I'd like to offer a few different observations.

With all of the mega hits, Madonna feuding, royalty consorting and general diva behavior, a lot of young critical music fans roll their eyes at the thought of seeing the pop singer.

However, this overlooks an important part of his career: When he emerged in the late 1960s, his work was as critically acclaimed as it was commercially successful. John Lennon, not one to throw praise around freely, said when he heard John in 1970, "That's the first new thing that's happened since we (The Beatles) happened. It was a step forward."

Perhaps the best example of this is the 1970 album "Tumbleweed Connection," a remarkable achievement that combines a country soul sound with the expressionist lyricism of John's most challenging and interesting work. Not a hit-laden work, a single wasn't even released. It is, to me, John's greatest work, both epic and intimate simultaneously.

So for "Tumbleweed Connection," Elton John didn't go for hit single success. Of course, John is best known for his hits. And what's remarkable about this is that John's hits go beyond any single or even double-album collection. Even his most comprehensive collections overlook many of his finest pop performances.

John's harmony vocal and piano on his old fan John Lennon's "Whatever Gets You Through The Night" helps push the song's message of acceptance, whether of friends and lovers or for everyone, via an old fashioned sing-a-long duet.

Some fans of contemporary music would be surprised to find that John added a layer of piano to two tracks of glam disco band Scissor Sister's 2006 album "Ta-Dah," including to the bouncy hit "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'."

As the title of the song says, sometimes John indeed doesn't feel like dancin' - or singing and playing for that manner. Even for true fans of his music, the unknown of John's diva-like behavior provides an interesting X-factor for his upcoming show.

This is the Elton John who, according to a review in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on May 13, repeatedly threw water and cursed his staff while on stage in Las Vegas.

Whether Elton John dazzles the crowd with his wonderful music or lights up the room with a tantrum, the show will likely be a highlight for 2012 in Shanghai music.

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