Rocket Man, Englishman in NY rock the weekendBy Pocholo Concepcion
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The high ticket prices didn’t stop music fans from watching British pop stars Elton John and Sting in their respective concerts last Saturday and Sunday night, both at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Each show attracted more than 10,000 people, venue management told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
It was John’s first time to perform in Manila, while Sting was on his third visit after having played here in 1994 and ’96.
The crowd could barely contain its excitement the moment John appeared onstage with an 11-piece band that included two young Croatian cellists, Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser. Two of the four backup singers included Rose Stone, a member of the 1960s psychedelic rock band Sly and the Family Stone, and her daughter Lisa.
Also in the band was drummer Nigel Olsson, a member of the original Elton John Band, and guitarist Davey Johnstone, who first played on John’s 1971 album “Madman Across the Water.”
Big, fat sound
What the audience heard was a big, fat sound with elements of R&B, soul, country—the bedrock of rock and roll.
On “Bennie and the Jets,” a song about a fictional band, John played the Yamaha grand piano like he was channeling one of his early idols, the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis.
A number of tunes spotlighted Johnstone’s exceptional skills. He played slide guitar on “Tiny Dancer,” the mandolin on “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” the banjo on “Honky Cat,” and the acoustic guitar on “Daniel.”
The air was filled with nostalgic cheer as John led the band on “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Candle in the Wind,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Rocket Man,” before he introduced “Hey Ahab”—a song from his 2010 album “The Union,” which he cowrote and recorded with another one of his idols, Leon Russell.
John’s vocals, although a far cry from its soaring high pitch at his peak in the 1970s, was nonetheless a warm presence that breathed life into the music, whose lyrics by his longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin were highly regarded for their literary narrative style and wide range of characters.
After signing autographs on CD and vinyl album covers, photos and concert tickets waved by fans near the stage, John said, “I wish you love, health and happiness,” before playing one of his encore numbers, his first hit single that caught the world’s attention, “Your Song.”
Roar of approval
At Sting’s concert, the crowd’s roars of approval matched, if not exceeded, the hot reception John received the night before.
Many in the audience were on their feet right from Sting’s opening number, “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You.”
By the second and third songs —“Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” from Sting’s heyday as frontman of The Police, and “Englishman in New York” from his early solo years—the Big Dome turned into a humongous sing-along party.
The band was a tight unit composed of guitarist Dominic Miller, keyboardist David Sancious, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, violinist Peter Tickell and backup singer Jo Lawry.
The sight of Sting going back to play his principal instrument, the bass guitar (hence, this current tour dubbed Back To Bass), was enough to send his old fans reeling in delight.
The music was a wonderful mix of rock and jazz, with touches of classical that reflected Sting’s eclectic tastes. The energizing beat of ska was heard on “Demolition Man,” while funk riffs and reggae grooves were evident on “Heavy Cloud, No Rain.”
Each musician was spotlighted on various tunes—Tickell playing a splendid violin solo near the end of “Driven To Tears; Lawry wailing like a banshee on “The Hounds of Winter”; Sting and Sancious on an extended jam during a jazz break on “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”; and Miller weaving in and out with his guitar solos near the concert’s end.
On “Roxanne,” Sting’s fondness for jazz became very obvious when he started chanting, “Manila … Philippines … Thrilla in Manila,” amid loud cheers.
The audience went crazy when Sting obliged with one encore after another: the first including “King of Pain” and “Every Breath You Take”; the second with “Next To You”; and the last, “Fragile,” which he dedicated to victims of Typhoon “Pablo.”
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