Okee dokee folks… Forty seven years ago, July 4, 1976, I saw Elton John at Schaffer Stadium in Foxboro, MA. To date this is the biggest concert I have ever attended. As I recall there were 80,000 people there. I could be wrong, it was a long time ago. I was a huge Elton John fan back then. As time passed Elton seemed to fade and so did his appeal. I saw him again right at the beginning of the 80’s and that was it for me. I remember walking by the stage, probably to take a photo, and Elton reached down and offered his hand. I shook Elton’s pudgy hand! He was at a dip in his career at that point. I wasn’t much of a fan of his music once he split with Bernie Taupin and started into his schmaltzy fare. I know many people who would disagree with me and sold out stadiums for his farewell tour reinforce that. I liked the Elton John of the 1970’s. Fortunately for me, and other fans of Elton’s early work there is Rus Anderson’s The Rocket Man Show. The Rocket Man Show touched down at Providence Performing Arts Center a few nights ago, Friday, June 16. If you enjoy the 70’s work of Elton John then this was just what you needed!
I spoke with Rus last year for my Roots Report Podcast and he filled me in on just how he wound up doing The Rocket Man Show. It really wasn’t planned. He just happened into it. He was a young musician from Scotland attending college in Florida and playing music to make money. He played piano and sang so he naturally gravitated towards Elton’s music. He found that he performed and sang similar to EJ and he decided to create a show. Elton John seemed to think that Rus Anderson was doing him justice and hired Anderson to recreate some of the legendary concerts he played, on video, for his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour. He dealt with Elton’s team and Elton John himself. If you happened to go to any of Elton’s farewell shows then all of the videos that were played of old shows was Rus Anderson recreating them for the screen. He looks and sounds just like a young Elton. Add to that Rus Anderson owns many of Elton John’s early stage costumes!
The curtain rose on The Rocket Man Show to the keyboard instrumental of “Funeral for a Friend ” at PPAC. This revealed a stage set that was an homage to the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road double album that Elton John released in 1973. The band rocked right into “Love Lies Bleeding ” just the way it was recorded on that album. Anderson was feathered from head to toe in his gold 7 inch platform shoes once owned by Elton.
Rus was accompanied by his Florida based band of guitar, drums, bass and two back-up singers (his wife and sister-in-law). The played hit after hit: “Honky Cat”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “Daniel”, and an extended version of “Levon”. During the guitar solo Anderson changed into another of EJ’s costumes. They followed with “Tiny Dancer”, and a song that Elton wrote for Billie Jean King, “Philadelphia Freedom”.
At this point the band left the stage and Anderson went into a very long, and oftentimes funny, story of how he connected with Elton John. As interesting as this is I think he should start presenting a severely abridged version and add more songs! He finished the first set with the song that launched Elton’s US career when he performed it at the Troubadour in LA -”Your Song”.
The second set started with “Pinball Wizard” which John covered for the Who’s film, Tommy. Interwoven in the Rocket Man rendition was a little bit of The Who’s “Can’t Explain”. He continued on with “Grey Seal”. The lights went down and audio from the Apollo 11 moon mission played. Immediately after the “That’s one small step…” passage the first notes of “Rocketman” rang out and Anderson appeared in yet another outfit-sequined tux and tails. The back up singers waved their phone lights encouraging the audience to do the same to mimic the 1970’s feel of the Bic lighters that illuminated arenas of the past. Etlon John’s adopted middle name (his real name is Reginald Kenneth Dwight), is “Hercules”, Elton Hercules John. “Hercules” was the song that Anderson followed with. “Candle in the Wind”, the Marilyn Monroe inspired song, brought out one of the back-up singers in a Monroe wig and white dress to wander about the stage and lean on the piano as Anderson sang. That brought the second set to a close. The hardcore Elton John fans in the audience wanted MORE! I spoke with one person who was sitting near me who had seen Elton 150 times! A short drum solo and encouraged “woo-ing” by the guitar player gave Anderson just a little more time for yet another costume change. He came out swinging a banana on a string, yes, Elton did this, too. They got the crowd bopping with “Crocodile Rock” and all sang the “la-la-la-la-la -la’s”. They concluded the encore with B, B, B, “Bennie and the Jets”.
This was the second time The Rocket Man Show has been to PPAC. I have been to both. As a fan of the 70’s Elton this show is great. That is all he does-1970’s Elton. He does make ONE exception to the 70’s set and performs “I’m Still Standing” but he goes no further. This show is the Elton John with outlandish costumes, looney lenses, and extreme substance abuse. Anderson covers the costumes and the glasses and mimics the crazy behavior (without the substance abuse, but makes reference to it) and prances about the stage. The show is a LOT of fun and quite enjoyable. If it comes through town again do yourself a favor and check it out! Get on PPAC’s mailing list or read my column for upcoming shows!
I would like to conclude with a bit about tribute acts. When I posted the photos and mentions about the show a couple of folks jumped on and made derogatory comments about tribute shows. I have to stand up and defend these shows for TWO reasons. First, I play in a tribute band, Forever Young – Neil Young tribute and have for over 17 years. I do it because I love the music and it’s fun! Secondly, tribute acts serve a purpose. Some bands no longer tour or if they do they skip songs that folks WANT to hear. They provide a lot of entertainment for people who never got to see a favorite band or just love the music. The folks who don’t care for tribute acts think that it takes away from the original music scene. Not true. Most of the people who would go to a tribute band are not forsaking original music in favor of tribute music. Either they have no interest in the original music and wouldn’t go anyway or they are just a music fan and will go hear any kind of music they like. A lot of folks, like ME, write and perform original music and still go out and play that IN ADDITION to the tribute music. Being in a tribute band actually has INCREASED the audience for my original music. If people like the tribute band they can become interested in what you do on your own as well. And it provides necessary income for performers which allows them more freedom to pursue their original music. The music business is in a tailspin and artists do what they can to survive playing music. Whatever the reason is that people go out to see tribute music or play it, it doesn’t matter, the music makes people happy! End of rant.
Follow my column and podcasts for more events as they are added over the summer! Stay cool. That’s it for now. Don’t forget you can listen to my podcasts at: motifri.com/rootsreportpodcast. You can also find my concert photographs (including The Rocket Man Show at PPAC) at motifri.com/fuzeksfotos. Thanks for reading and listening. johnfuzek.com