Elton John: Dream Ticket Review
The Elton John - Dream Ticket boxset collects three Elton John concerts and one video collection into a 4-DVD boxset. All recorded between 2000 and 2002 and featuring a fair amount of duplication in tracklisting, the concerts don’t give a great representation of Elton John performances over the years, but each of the shows is in some way unique and special and sufficiently varied in presentation to make each of them worthy of inclusion here.
One Night Only (2000)
Elton starts his Greatest Hits Live concert at Madison Square Garden showing some early nerves under the pressure of recording a live album and DVD after apparently having had technical problems the previous night (one night only?). Musically however, the show starts off impressively, running through side one of Elton’s classic ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ album. As a lapsed Elton fan from the seventies myself, this is the kind of start that’s going to win old fans over, as the band kick off proceedings with the marvellous instrumental opening to Funeral For A Friend and then rattle through Candle In The Wind and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. After that, things settle down and the music similarly becomes a little blander for my taste, with too many synth-pop songs, with even good songs like Rocket Man and Crocodile Rock rendered indistinguishable from the other throwaway pop tunes, with edges smoothed out by synth-washes.
There’s no arguing with the track selection though, from the early seventies material that Elton’s reputation is built upon, through his eighties re-invention and nineties revival through The Lion King soundtrack, everything of importance is covered. The band is in fine form, Elton is in good voice (although he can no longer reach the falsetto heights of his earlier material) and they concentrate on delivering a strong musical performance over making an elaborate show. For long stretches however, there’s not much here to keep you attention visually. You’d almost be as well off listening to this on CD and be spared the sight of older musicians with mullets (it’s saying something when Elton John has the most credible hairstyle on the stage) and frequent embarrassing crowd shots of an older audience rocking out. However, a selection of guest performers liven up proceedings occasionally, particularly towards the end of the show – Billy Joel on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is great, an appropriate choice for the song, Mary J. Blige collaborates on I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues, Ronan Keating makes a fair stab at Your Song, but is overshadowed by Elton’s own vocal sections, Bryan Adams appears for Sad Songs, Anastasia, I have to admit, absolutely rocks through Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting and Kiki Dee returns as Elton’s original duettist on Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.
Musically a very strong show, One Night Only benefits from a robust musical performance and the variety of guests contributing – fair play to Elton for sharing the limelight on a major show like this. While I’m no fan of much of the later material, finding little that is musically challenging or adventurous, the audience love it and Elton gives them what they want. That’s what it’s all about and that’s what you get here – entertainment delivered with the utmost professionalism.
The Royal Opera House (2002)
This is a BBC recording of Elton’s fundraising concert at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden to raise money for The Royal Academy of Music, of which Elton is a past-pupil. Recorded with a full orchestra it’s a nice change of pace, giving a little variety to the performances included in this set, although it is a little too genteel and reserved a performance, never really showing any real spark of life. Judging by the celebrity audience, this is one to rattle the jewellery to. (There’s one thing worse than watching extras from ‘Friends’ rocking out in the One Night Only show and that’s watching very old, rich people in tuxedos “getting down”).
The orchestral arrangements however rarely add anything new to the songs performed here, though it does give a beautiful sweep to Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word and has a stronger presence on Philadelphia Freedom, and there is a rousing choral section on Burn Down The Mission - but for the most part the orchestra is underused here and often fails to blend with the band.
Recorded in a candlelit amphitheatre in Turkey for a web broadcast, the Ephesus concert features a solo Elton John at a piano for a two-hour set. Due to the nature of the show, it generally features a slower paced set of ballads and mid-tempo classics revisited. While many of the songs are the same as tracks on the other DVDs in this set, like the Royal Opera House show, the straight piano/keyboard arrangements (some of them sounding boosted by additional synthesisers) make this sufficiently different from the other versions.
The show however lacks much variation of pace, switching between love ballads and honky-tonk jazz – but for every Rocket Man (in an extended arrangement), Philadelphia Freedom and Burn Down The Mission, we get a less compelling Nikita, Sacrifice, Circle of Life, The One or a Blue Eyes. I’m aware that these songs are very popular however, so how much you will enjoy this show will depend on your liking of mid-to-later-period Elton John ballads.
Elton delivers them however with typical professionalism with little in the way of introductions or audience chat, never giving the impression that that the songs are anything less than heartfelt or that this is just another show (and filmed in an ancient amphitheatre, it’s hardly ever going to be “just another show”).
Elton in Four Decades
Elton introduces three songs from each decade, with the assistance of contributors to some of the songs and the videos. The selections are curious, skipping over many famous songs from the 70s and 80s, but it seems to reflect where Elton has been recently fairly well.
Elton talks about how excited he was when he first wrote the song, knowing it was something special. The song is then shown through numerous clips of it being performed over the decades. You don’t really get a chance to listen to the song being performed here as the clips focus on the various costumes Elton has worn over the decades.
Recorded live at Wembley 1984, this is an extended improvisation section without any of the song itself. Pointless.
Mona Lisa and the Mad Hatters
An unusual choice, selected here because of its appearance in Almost Famous. Cameron Crowe talks about his liking of the song here. The video is an excellent stripped-down live performance from 1972, as it should be done.
I’m Still Standing
Elton mainly talks about shooting the video in the south of France, but the video isn’t shown, replaced by an Are You Ready For Love?-inspired video of Elton through the decades, created for the opening of his Vegas shows. The video is good, the music – an inadequate live recording of the song – is not.
I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues
A multi-clip version of performances from live shows illustrates Elton’s comments on the different ways the song can be played.
Another rarity, this is the song Elton wrote for John Lennon, performed on Saturday Night Live.
Steve Wright championed the song as a single, while Elton wasn’t so sure of its potential. I have to say I agree with Elton’s inital thoughts on this one. The original video is used here.
Can You Feel The Love Tonight?
More dreary balladry, Tim Rice and Elton talk about how this song was nearly left out of The Lion King and went on to win an Oscar. The video uses clips from the film.
Elton talks about his dislike of making videos. This Metropolis-influenced one wasn’t without its problems, but Elton regards it as one of his best.
I Want Love
Elton and artist Sam Taylor discuss the video for this one. The video stars Robert Downey Jr. lip-syncing to the track.
This Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore
Director David LaChapelle talks about getting Justin Timberlake to stand-in for this one. Great video and great song – a return to form for Elton.
Are You Ready For Love?
An old song recently revived, Elton reflects on the sessions with Thom Bell that produced this, both of them quite pleased that their work finally got recognition 27 years later.
Caveat - Universal only provided the site with 4.7GB DVD-Rs of the discs in this set, so I can’t say that the quality seen on the review discs matches the final discs.
The video quality of One Night Only is horrendous – tons of artefacts, colour bleed, chroma noise and it’s soft and fuzzy. The drum riser causes frequent horizontal line-breakup, while the bright lights on Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting causes serious pixilation. This could certainly be down to the quality of the discs provided. I would expect a DVD with a two and a half hour concert to be dual-layer disc, so my review disc has surely been over-compressed. The concert is transferred at a 1.75:1 anamorphic ratio.
Presented in 1.75:1 anamorphic, the Royal Opera House DVD has superb image quality – a nice, sharp, crystal clear anamorphic transfer. On my copy of the disc there is some minor shimmer and artefacting, but this could be down to the quality of the review material, which is not an actual retail copy of the DVD.
Ephesus is shown in 4:3 aspect ratio, as would be expected for a show intended for webcast. The picture quality on my review disc looks quite good as far as colour and clarity are concerned. The transfer problems – an overall softness, less than fluid movements and constantly shifting macro-blocking artefacts in backgrounds – are probably as much down to the compression of the 2-hour show onto a 4.7GB DVD-R. I can’t say for certain how this looks in the actual DVD set.
The video quality on Elton in Four Decades is fine throughout – early concert performances show video artefacts, but later promo videos and the interview footage are reasonably clear. The transfer is 4:3, as most of the video material would be at this ratio.
Each of the DVDs come with Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes. The surround mix doesn’t suit One Night Only, the stage positioning of the musicians not matching the spread across the speakers – it’s a bit disconcerting to hear a guitarist playing behind you while he is in front of you on the screen. The DD 2.0 mix sounds like a more natural option, but in fact it lacks the power and verve of the 5.1 mix, drums particularly sounding sharper and more accurate on the surround mix. The actual quality of the sound is fair – it’s a bit fuzzy and over-compressed, with no great clarity or dynamic.
Again, both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 mixes are included on the DVD for The Royal Opera House show. The 5.1 mix is quite good if you want to hear the show that way, though it sounded a little artificial to me. It does create an effective concert hall feel, but with the orchestration positioned often on the rear speakers, the effect is distracting, out of place with the image and fails to blend with the band. On the other hand, the orchestration is submerged in the Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, so the 5.1 is probably the better option. The quality of the sound recording for the show is reasonably good, but there’s never any great depth or warmth to the sound.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is better suited to the Ephesus show, being more appropriate for the in-the-round performance in the amphitheatre. The surround mix carries the audience noise and some subtle reverb to the rear speakers without any of the distracting placement of the 5.1 mixes on the other concert DVDs. The actual sound quality is just above average, showing no great depth or clarity. It’s an authentic ‘live performance’ sound and it is certainly more than adequate, but it lacks a certain sparkle.
The sound quality of Elton in Four Decades is reasonably good throughout, with concert footage and video music sounding clear. Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 mixes are included and both perform well. The 5.1 mix is subtle and works without you being drawn to its presence.
The only extra features on any of the discs are Costume designs of Elton through the years on the Elton in Four Decades DVD, using photographs and text. Not of any great interest.
Live At Madison Square Garden, NY, 2000
Funeral For A Friend (Love Lies Bleeding) - Candle In The Wind - Bennie And The Jets - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Someone Saved My Life Tonight - Little Jeannie - Philadelphia Freedom - Tiny Dancer - Can You Feel The Love Tonight? - Daniel - Rocket Man - Club At The End Of The Street - Blue Eyes - I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues - The One - I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That - Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word - Sacrifice - Come Together - Your Song - Sad Songs (Say So Much) - I'm Still Standing - Crocodile Rock - Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting) - The Bitch Is Back - Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me - Don't Go Breaking My Heart
The Royal Opera House 2002
Rehearsals / Interviews - Sixty Years On - Take Me To The Pilot - This Train Don't Stop There Anymore - Carla Etude - Tonight - Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word - Philadelphia Freedom - Burn Down The Mission - Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me - Your Song - Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)
The Great Amphitheatre, Ephesus 2001
Introduction - Your Song - Someone Saved My Life Tonight - Daniel - Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters - Honky Cat - Rocket Man - Philadelphia Freedom - Nikita - Sacrifice - Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word - I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues - This Train Don't Stop There Anymore - Burn Down The Mission - The One - Blue Eyes - I'm Still Standing - Crocodile Rock - Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me - Circle Of Life - Candle In The Wind
Elton In Four Decades
Your Song - Rocket Man - Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters - I'm Still Standing - I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues - Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny) - Sacrifice - Can You Feel The Love Tonight? - Believe - I Want Love - This Train Don't Stop There Anymore - Are You Ready For Love ('79 Version Radio Edit)
Elton’s larger-than-life ‘Tantrums and Tiaras’ persona has come to overshadow his music in recent years, and predictably with a new album hitting the shelves this month (Peachtree Road, reportedly a return to form), his outbursts have once again been making the headlines. Watching Elton John perform on-stage though brings back the fact that, regardless of what you think of his music (and personally, I find little of it of interest after the 1970s), he delivers a powerful concert performance, putting everything into a show and being the consummate musician and entertainer. I don’t know whether it’s value for money, considering the price he charges for concerts these days, but this DVD set is certainly good value for fans and maybe even lapsed fans will find more than a few things of interest here.