(photo credit: ANDREW POTTER)
For someone whose music is as feel good as his, Elton John ironically seems to court controversy, especially when it comes to Israel.
Minutes after arriving at his Tel Aviv hotel in 1993 ahead of a show in Park Hayarkon, John fled back to England on his private plane, apparently outraged over airport snubs and the slew of paparazzi mauling him at the hotel. It took an appeal by then-president Ezer Weizman to convince the legendary singer/songwriter to return a day late to make up the date.
Seventeen years later in 2010, John returned for a sold-out show at Ramat Gan Stadium. This time, the BDS pundits were out in full force, urging the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame hit maker to shelve the concert and take a stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
After the show’s revved-up second song, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” John responded to those efforts with a short speech that melted Israeli hearts: “Shalom. We are so happy to be back here! Ain’t nothing gonna stop us from coming, baby,” spouted John with a pumped fist in the air. “Musicians spread love and peace and bring people together. That’s what we do. We don’t cherry-pick our conscience.”
The love and peace – without any whiff of hullabaloo – will be in abundance when John makes his encore appearance in the country on May 26 at Park Hayarkon. Now 68 years old, the bespectacled piano-playing tunesmith is somewhat of an elder pop statesman, the feather boa outfits and tabloid lifestyle taking a back seat to musicianship – a huge back catalogue of classic songs and allaround entertainment.
Like the 2010 show, next week’s concert is expected to last more than two and a half hours and delve into John’s deep catalogue of enduring pop and rock standards, including “Your Song,” “Tiny Dancer” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”
John’s band will include longtime members Nigel Olsson on drums and Davey Johnstone on guitar, adding historical continuity to one of rock’s most storied and celebrated careers. Unwilling to rest on his laurels, John has been in high creative mode over the last few years, and both Olsson and Johnstone appear on John’s 32nd studio album released in February, Wonderful Crazy Night, featuring songs all written with his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin.
John’s third straight album working with co-producer for the stars T Bone Burnett, following 2010’s collaboration with Leon Russell, The Union, and 2013’s ballad-heavy The Diving Board, Wonderful Crazy Night conjures up the rocking melodicism that characterized early classic albums like Tumbleweed Connection and Madman across the Water.
Although he’s not burning the singles and albums charts anymore, John has refused to be lumped on top of the oldies heap and resting on his formidable laurels. As a result, he’s stayed relevant and managed to score high-profile outdoor shows in contemporary settings normally reserved for trending artists half his age.
“We chose to hold the show in the park in the tradition of some of Elton’s biggest shows in recent years, including this year’s appearance on the grass at the New Orleans Jazz Festival and last year’s headlining show at the Bonnaroo Festival,” says Shuki Weiss, the promoter of John’s Tel Aviv show.
John spent much of February and March performing a greatest hits show in Las Vegas and at Radio City Music Hall, but next week’s Tel Aviv show will mark the official start of the Wonderful Crazy Night tour, which will see his five-piece band appear throughout Europe and the US until the end of the year.
Fans should expect to hear some of the new material, but the bulk of the show will find John and audience in full sing-along synchronization, with “Levon,” “Rocket Man” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” echoing in the balmy Tel Aviv night air. And there’s nothing controversial about that.