One Night Only: The Greatest Hits
Ignoring the slightly misleading album title — these tracks were culled from a TWO night stand at Madison Square Garden, the fact that this is Elton’s fourth live collection, and that the performances are not all the same as the ones that were broadcast on the recent television special of the same name — there’s nothing inherently wrong with this generous 17 cut, 76-minute traipse through John1’s ’70s and ’80s hit-filled years. His nine piece band, featuring longtime John associates Davey Johnstone on guitar and Nigel Olsson on drums, is tight and rehearsed, the song selection, although obvious, is filled with non-stop singalong ditties, and the guest stars, including Bryan Adams, Kiki Dee (who was likely resuscitated from mothballs for this gig), and Mary J. Blige (who almost steals the show dueting with Elton on “I Guess That1s Why They Call It the Blues”) goose the 50-something John, the recent recipient of a pacemaker, to provide enthusiastic interpretations of tunes he’s probably sick to death of by now.
All grousing aside, this is a wonderful, even joyous collection of classics that have been, and will remain, radio staples for the foreseeable future, all performed with obvious affection and infectious energy. Elton’s in pretty good voice throughout — he squeaks by on a couple of high notes on “Rocket Man,” but otherwise sounds unruffled by the years and various substance addictions — and the arrangements remain true to the original versions that we, and the sold out crowd, know by heart.
But the nagging frustration that these all well-worn chestnuts (only the dour Lion King offering of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” dates from the past decade), the performances generally don’t deviate substantially from the already definitive studio versions, and the overly familiar, no-brainer set list (how about even one tune from Tumbleweed Connection or Madman Across the Water? And couldn’t John have found a few more high-profile duet partners other than the obscure Roman Keating and Anastacia?) leaves this as an enjoyable, but ultimately unchallenging and unnecessary concert souvenir.
Sure, it delivers exactly what it promises, and these performances are far from lackluster, but there’s little here that anyone but established fans will crave. The rest of us can stick with any one — or all three — of John’s existing hits collections when we1re looking for a tuneful blast from our AM radio past.