Las Vegas, the city of spectacle, is the perfect host-city for Elton John's most recent set-show, "The Million Dollar Piano." This sensory feast replaced Elton John's former show, "The Red Piano" at Caesars Palace. Its seemly extravagant title is in fact an understatement. Decked out with video panels along the body of the instrument, the million dollar piano actually cost 1.4 million dollars to create. Beyond the piano, the venue is also fitted with dozens of high definition screens, spotlights, and, of course, a host of talented musicians.
At the age of 65 Elton John displayed amazing vitality and command onstage through the entirety of the two hour, uninterrupted concert. His years of experience showed in the fluidity of the program; the timing and balance of hits, lesser-known songs, ballads, and upbeat tunes was optimal and satisfying.
One can imagine that one of Elton John's greatest challenges has been in performing his songs on an entirely new instrument. John's voice has darkened in timbre and deepened dramatically in register since that days of "Tiny Dancer" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," yet he has reworked and reharmonized his world-renowned hits to great avail. "Bennie and the Jets" was one of the few songs that lacked its usual groove when stripped of its wistful high register, but the slight rasp in his strong voice made the more cranking hits "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" and "I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues" particularly electrifying.
That being said, the highlight of the night was in one of the program's lesser-known songs, the ballad "Indian Sunset." It is a shame that "Indian Sunset" has been overshadowed by his catalogue of hits, as it is one of those rare gems that is practically guaranteed to be more poignant live than recorded. Elton John carried the mournful melody stirringly in this very exposed song while long-time collaborator Ray Cooper accompanied on percussion with his signature intensity.
Drummer Nigel Olsen, a member of the original Elton John Band, was a pleasure to hear. His more nuanced style contrasted Cooper's unwavering vigor.
Elton John's ability to reinvent even his most famous songs make his his performances a new experience every time. Almost every song is extensively embellished with colorful runs and syncopations on the piano, but his musicianship is accentuated even further by his ability to perform both alone and with the full ensemble.
As a whole, "The Million Dollar Piano" was truly an immersive experience. The visuals ranged from a gorgeously detailed sunrise to subdued mood lights, the instrumentation (including 3 percussionists, 2 cellists, a bassist, a guitarist, and an extra keyboard player) was huge, and the vocals (which were provided by nearly all the instrumentalists as well as 4 backup singers) were full-bodied.
"The Million Dollar Piano" will be featured at Caesar's Palace from March 29 until April 26. Fathom Events' broadcast of "The Million Dollar Piano" will feature once more in select theaters on March 26.