HONOLULU - For 75 minutes it was just Sir Elton and a grand piano and a sold-out audience of thousands of adoring fans Wednesday night at the Blaisdell Center Arena.
And then virtuoso percussionist Ray Cooper stepped on stage, and for another mesmerizing 90 minutes we were treated to one of the most memorable shows in recent history.
Elegantly attired in black tails and rose-tinted glasses, Elton John invited the crowd to join him on a unique journey that embraced many of his great hits and, "some new ones and some that are more obscure."
JON WOODHOUSE photo
A former Royal Academy of Music student, Elton commanded his Yamaha grand, often launching into epic piano solos, with elaborate arrangements of familiar songs that either ventured into elegant, neoclassical territory or joyous, rocking boogie-woogie.
The solo recital context provided the British superstar with room to revamp his material and imbue each song with extra soul and passion. Even though he has sung hits like "Levon," "Tiny Dancer" and "Border Song" countless times, somehow he managed to impart deep emotion and meaning to every word.
It was an extraordinary feat, and fans lauded this legendary knight with standing ovation after standing ovation.
Taking time to connect with his audience, Elton early on pronounced Honolulu as one of his longtime favorite cities. Introducing seldom-played gems like "Weight Of The World," he provided some insight, explaining how it celebrated how happy he is now.
"I've had some crazy years, but now I'm very content," he revealed.
One of the 10 best-selling recording artists in history, Elton can draw from more that 50 chart-toppers and a catalog of hundreds of memorable songs in concert. For this almost three-hour-long Honolulu show, he graced us with around 30 songs, closing his solo performance with a profoundly moving "Your Song," dedicated to all his loyal fans.
And then "Funeral for a Friend" introduced legendary percussionist Cooper (who has played with the likes of George Harrison and Eric Clapton), who has performed sporadically with the pop icon since the late 1970s. The duo collaborated in September for a benefit concert at London's prestigious Royal Albert Hall, which The (U.K.) Times noted evoked "countless ovations," and The (U.K.) Guardian proclaimed, "Elton John and Ray Cooper together were brilliant."
Immersed in a massive percussive rig, even a simple tambourine in Cooper's hands becomes a magical instrument. Intuitively linked with his star partner, this flamboyant alchemist artfully flavored each song with perfect accompaniment, whether a marimba accent on "Come Down in Time" or a crescendo-smashing giant gong on the evening's rocking finale, "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting."
Memorable moments abounded. "Take Me to The Pilot" was transformed into an extraordinary tour de force, with the masterful entertainer opening in classical territory and then rocking out with some rousing gospel embellishments. "Levon" was amazingly powerful; "Crocodile Rock" saw Elton conduct enthusiastic fans on its "La-La-La-La" chorus; and a fabulously funky "Philadelphia Freedom" drew the crowd to their feet for another of the evening's many ovations.
Elton returns to the Blaisdell Center Arena for one more show at 8 p.m. Saturday.
* Music columnist Jon Woodhouse can be reached at email@example.com.