Too old to rock? Elton John, in town tonight, turning back the clock
Looking back at some great rock-n-roll performances from Elton John to Rod Stewart
By Steve Metsch
On a bike ride this morning, thinking about tonight’s Elton John concert at Soldier Field, I couldn’t help but start wondering how long the rockers of our youth can keep going?
It’s something to consider as my summer has been spent seeing rock stars older than my 61 years, including a couple that are just a few years younger than my folks.
Sir Elton, 75, bills this as his farewell tour. Take that with a grain of salt. Back in October 1982, I saw the farewell tour of The Who at the Rosemont Horizon. Forty years later, Pete Townshend, 77, and Roger Daltrey, 78, are still touring, bringing their songs to the United Center in October.
Back in May, my wife and I flew down to Orlando to catch Paul McCartney in concert. Macca’s voice isn’t what it used to be, struggling to hit high notes at times, but, heck, the man is 80 and has the energy of people half his age. Keep rocking, Sir Paul.
I’ve seen Sir Elton three times in concert. Each was fabulous. I have no reason to expect anything less. I’ve avoided looking at set lists from this tour, wanting to be surprised. It’s old school. Before the Internet, we had no idea what to expect. I prefer it that way.
I’ll post a review of tonight’s concert in a few days. Meanwhile, here’s a look at the aging rockers, warts and all, whom I’ve seen recently.
CHEAP TRICK: The pride of Rockford opened up for Rod Stewart at Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Tinley Park on July 16. Three of the original members are still with the band.
Lead guitarist Rick Nielsen is 73. Lead singer Robin Sander is 69. And bass guitarist Tom Petersson, who had heart surgery not long ago, is 72
Checking in with 13 songs, I saw no signs of their slowing down. Zander’s son is now on guitar. Is that to help Nielsen? I’m not sure. Rick can still crank. The younger Zander sang one song, and one of Nielsen’s son is the drummer.
Cheap Trick played some songs that have to play: Opening with “Hello There,” playing “Dream Police,” “The Flame” and “I Want You to Want Me.” Their signature song, “Surrender,” still sounds great.
Those were very good. But what I really enjoyed was when they went deeper into their catalogue.
A rockin’ extended lead-in for their cover of “Ain’t That a Shame” was brilliant. “California Man” is always a treat. The same goes for “Big Eyes.” Zander, one of the best voices in rock for a long time, still sounds terrific.
Being a big fan of Cheap Trick, I’d have loved another half-hour or so. But they were the opening band. They played a bunch of diferent songs the next night in Decatur, said friends who attended. They still enjoy touring. It shows.
Grade: B+ (They’re all alright)
ROD STEWART: The legendary rocker, 77, was in fine form on a warm summer night.
One thing I like about Rod Stewart is he’s not afraid to play other people’s music. Many of his hits are covers.
Rather than start with one of his hits, he covered Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” with great results and the female singers resembled women in that song’s video. He later covered CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” and Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately.”
With such a rich musical history, he’s able to dig deep for some gems. “You Wear it Well,” was the night’s second song, “Maggie Mae” was played. But do we really need the lyrics posted on the screen behind the band? I’d think anyone who’s heard a radio the past 50 years knows the lyrics by heart.
Stewart’s voice was raspy as ever – in a good way – and strong. He didn’t have any moments that made listeners cringe. And much like McCartney, has an engaging stage presence. He also takes breaks now and then, leaving the stage to his backup singers. He’d often return in different clothing. . I think he once had his hair washed as he returned wearing a cap. Again, it was a warm night in Tinley Park.
I loved when Stewart dusted off “The Killing of Georgie,” a seldom-heard gem. “Hot Legs” was fun as ever. The afore-mentioned “Have I Told You Lately” was perfect. “Your’re in My Heart,” his love song to soccer, was beautiful.
We saw Stewart last October in Las Vegas. We were impressed. This concert was even better.
Grade: A (Not ready to make a living out of playing pool)
BRIAN WILSON: The mastermind of The Beach Boys, the guy who wrote all those wonderul pop songs in the 1960s and early ’70s, opened up for Chicago at Tinley Park on July 24.
With all due respect, and he deserves a ton of that from everyone, I think it’s probably time for Wilson to stop touring.
We saw him a few years ago at the Rosemont Theatre and he was engaging. He told stories and sounded pretty good singing. I can’t say the same after the show in Tinley Park.
Using a walker, Wilson slowly made his way to the bench at a white piano in the center of the stage.
He opened up with “California Girls” and sounded okay. After that, Wilson left most of the singing to fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine, 79, who still sounds good and is loaded with energy. Wilson would sing a bit on some songs, but often left that to Jardine or Jardine’s son.
At one point, my wife leaned over and asked “is Brian doing anything?” Frankly, it was hard to tell.
He struggled singing “God Only Knows,” one of the greatest songs ever written. The crowd gave a standing ovation when the song was over, but it sort of felt like a lifetime achievement award.
Kudos to Blondie Chaplin, a longtime friend of the Beach Boys, who belted out a great renditions of “Sail On Sailor.”
With Jardine taking the reins, the show closed in rollicking style with “Good Vibrations,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “Surfing USA” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.” Folks were dancing. Smiling. Singing along. We saw a beach ball bouncing around. While it was fun listening to those Beach Boys classics, but I think the time has come for Brian Wilson.
Grade: C (Park that little deuce coupe in the garage)
CHICAGO: This is a tough one because only three of the original members are still in the band. All that are left are brass section members Lee Loughnane, 75, and James Pankow, 74, and keyboardist Robert Lamm, 77.
The remainder of the band is younger, but many have been with Chicago for years. They’re good musicians and singers, no doubt. But is it really Chicago when so few original members are still in the band?
That said, it was a great night of music, checking in at just under two hours and filled with most of the band’s biggest hits.
Loughnane and Pankow did most of the chatting during the show. Where was Lamm? An unexplained absence.
It was definitely a treat to hear “Dialogue Parts 1 & 2 ” and “Count On Me” on a breezy warm night. “Old Days” sounded terrific as ever. So did “Make Me Smile” with the band’s vaunted brass section taking center stage.
A new song, “If This Is Goodbye” is from the band’s new album, its 38th album. Mind blown.
Finishing the night with “25 or 6 to 4,” I could not help but wonder if the late Terry Kath would still be cranking on lead guitar if not for his unfortunate death at age 33 in 1978.
All in all, with a mix of new, kinda new and old members, Chicago has still got it.
Grade: A (no reason to leave us now)
Bottom line: If you want to see aging rockers, I strongly advise you do ASAP. There’s no telling how long they’ll be around, or when Rod Stewart decided to stay home with his impressive model train layout. Seriously, Google it. Amazing.
The secondary market has tickets for Elton John tonight. You may have to dig deep, but it’s a perfect summer night on the lakefront. This may be indeed be his farewell tour. Then again, The Rolling Stones keep rocking. They just finished their European tour in Berlin a few nights ago. Mick Jagger is 79 , Ronnie Wood is 75 and the Energizer Bunny of Rock, Keith Richards, is 78.
Keith, of course, is expected to outlive everyone.
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