There is a scene in the bonus video on the new Blu-ray of Elton John's The Million Dollar Piano concert where one of the designers of the sets essentially tells Elton -- in selling in his plans for the show to be -- that he needs to be the king of Las Vegas. That detail is a key thing to remember in appreciating this document of Elton's spectacular run at Caesar's Palace : his understanding of the stage size, the need for spectacle yet the show had to rock to be true. The result: a compelling, fun and enjoyable concert experience Blu-ray which commemorates the spectacular run of shows he done over all those years, all featuring a remarkable custom made piano that literally cost $1 million to make. More on that in a bit.
If you've seen or heard Elton's prior Vegas show, The Red Piano (which I reviewed here on Audiophilereview last year) this show takes things up several notches and amazingly doesn't feel like a retread. He does many of the big hits you'd expect but this show went heavier on some of his early classics with three tracks from Madman Across The Water ("Levon," "Tiny Dancer," "Indian Sunset"), two from Honky Chateau ("Rocket Man," "Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters") and even a killer version of "Better off Dead" from Captain Fantastic.
The really great thing to embrace when diving into newer Elton in concert: the arrangements of the old songs are not 100-percent recreations of the studio recordings which makes a show like this all the more special. You have some of the finest musicians playing this amazing catalog of music -- heck, Rose Stone (of Sly & The Family Stone) was in his band as was the legendary percussionist Ray Cooper -- performing on a state-of-the-art , world-class stage. Yet, there they are happily rocking out like they were playing the coolest after hours club.
Ok, so maybe they are not bar-band loose, but the point is the Las Vegas flair doesn't over take the music -- it complements it. Elton delivers the goods, making sure the music still rocks and that everyone has a fun time along the way.
I had the good luck of scoring tickets to one of these shows in 2013 and can attest that this video really captures the spirit and grandeur of the event. I remember coming out of show in awe at just how amazingly the show really rocked genuinely -- it wasn't all watered down. It was fun!
And that sense of fun comes across on the Blu-ray.
So, since this is Audiophilereview and all that, you probably want to know how it sounds? Pretty fantastic for the most part. The mix is lush, sounding fine in DTS-HD Master Audio or LPCM Stereo. I'm guessing but it I suspect this is a digital recording, yet the detail and crispness are complemented by a pleasant sense of warmth and musicality. Perhaps my only disappointment is that the 5.1 mix is fairly standard, using the surrounds just for room ambiance and such. That is fine in this instance where you pretty much want to keep your attention front and center where the on screen action is.
My only real gripe about this disc is that it is an incomplete representation of the show (at least the one I saw) -- gauging from set lists I've found online it seems that several songs in the regular set could/should have been included. But perhaps there were reasons (notably the passing of bassist Bob Birch). That said, songs like "Daniel" (which Elton talks about during the show which doesn't actually seem appear on the disc). Oh, and you don't get to see Elton's stunning sparkling pink sport coat that I saw him perform in, but I can understand them not including that in the Blu-ray -- it would become a nightmare of smearing on many video screens, especially on regular DVD.
Oh, and about that Million Dollar Piano... this video and show is something of a promo for Yamaha who created the pretty remarkable piano used in the staging -- a wonder of plexiglass, LCD displays and computer technology which allowed it to become a living breathing part of the Elton John stage show. There is a fascinating mini documentary on the Blu-ray which details its genesis and creation including some very touching footage where the woman who designed the piano in Yamaha's labs in Japan gets to meet Elton and witness her creation come to life on stage for the first time. Elton demonstrates a lot of what the piano can do during the show so I won't spoil it for you but rest assured it is pretty cool. Now if they can wed that sort of technology onto a sweet electric guitar, that is something I'd want to get....
Well, if I had a million dollars lying around, that is....
I can dream, right?
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com.