May 31, 2007
So then, when last we spoke before I slipped inadvertently into weblogging silence, we were on the topic of Elton John and his Vegas extravaganza, The Red Piano. Some three weeks on, you might well ask: "So, How Was The Show?" And I might well reply: "Oh, what a decadent spectacle!" and then hasten to assure you that, fond though I am of the ocasional decadent spectacle, the description is not, I fear, meant in this case as a compliment.
What you get for your 'spensive ticket to The Red Piano is Elton John and band (Davey Johnstone and Nigel Olsson from EJ's 1970s stadium-packing glory days, assisted by a new bass player and second percussionist) in a comparatively intimate state of the art auditorium -- the Colosseum at Caesar's Palace, which was constructed for the purpose of housing the soon-to-end extended performing residency of Celine Dion -- roaring with great enthusiasm and at top volume (it's a rawk show, for sure!) through most of the expected hits. Yes of course he opens with "Benny and the Jets" and yes of course he ends with "Your Song." No problem there: Elton has recorded a slew of good tunes over the years and he remains a performer who really wants his audience to know that he's there to please them, so he sings and plays his crimson instrument with vigor. The troubles with The Red Piano are not musical, but lie in its theme and design.
The best known technical feature of the Colosseum is a Colossal high resolution video screen, which its creators at Mitsubishi proudly declare to be the largest interior video display in North America. Through most of the peformance, this 110' -by-34' technical marvel is filled to bursting with imagery concocted by photographer/director/designer David LaChapelle, whose MySpace page features the motto:
"Good taste is the death of art."
Although Sir Elton Hercules John would appear to be on top of the world these days -- wealthy, comfortable, busy, with a knighthood and a happy marriage to the man he loves -- LaChapelle, presumably with the full endorsement of his star, has chosen to emphasize the most bleak aspects of Sir Elton's personal history: drug abuse, depression, suicide attempts, fawning hangers-on, the barren emptiness of fame as exemplified by lookalikes for the younger Elton and Marilyn Monroe, and so forth. Also naked breasts. Loads and loads of naked breasts, mostly on the video screen but also including an enormous inflatable pair that descends from the ceiling as the performance barrels toward its conclusion. And a good deal of dancing in the "hurl yourself/your partner round about the floor and walls" school.
The curious can find much-reduced versions of several of the Red Piano videos via YouTube and Google Video. In fact, I have found a number of them for you:
- "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" -- a scantily clad couple has a bit of a knockdown dragout in a motel room as the sun, yes, goes down and comes up again and goes down again. In performance at Caesar's, a live feed of Sir Elton singing the song is digitally inserted into the television set at lower right.
- "Candle in the Wind" -- Featuring that Marilyn Monroe lookalike, obviously. Actually a pretty convincing recreation of late period Marilyn, about which I for one cannot bring myself to care. Your mileage may vary.
- "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" -- [Unequivocally Not Safe For Work] The true nadir of the evening: Elton's youthful doppelgänger sticks his head in the oven. His soul emerges in the guise of an angel-winged boy toy, who is then beset in various ways by a grotesque topless allegorical succubus figure -- with a dayglo albino afro wig, a kilo or two of eye makeup, and scientifically enhanced breasts roughly the size and consistency of bowling balls. She may represent cocaine or she may represent deep-seated misogyny or she may just be there to make the rubes' eyes bug out, who can say? Eventually angel/soul triumphs, our hero does not kill himself, and a fairly good if frequently overrated pop song lies forever ruined. I'd say this must be seen to be believed, but really there's no particular reason that it must be seen at all.
[And they said Bill Viola's Tristan videos were "irredeemably tacky. . . ." Ha!]
MORE, BETTER: While researching the video links for this post, I discovered that David LaChapelle was hired on a year or two back to prepare a set of promos for ABCTV's Lost when that series premiered in the UK. I remain a fan of that show, and the LaChapelle adverts are appropriately off-kilter. Here is an omnibus edition of those Channel 4 spots, accompanied by a musical selection from Portishead. Grab your eyeliner, everybody, and let's dance!
An alternate version with dialogue from the cast -- which serves to show how much remains unanswered by the series, three seasons on -- can be viewed here. "All of us are Lost," indeed.
[UPDATE 060207 1008 PDT]: P.S., perhaps as a palliative for the damage done by LaChapelle (he doesn't say specifically), A.C. Douglas has posted a right and proper Elton John video -- for a song that is perhaps the most glaring omission from the set list of The Red Piano -- at Sounds & Fury.