Elton John: The Million Dollar Piano Blu-ray Review: Fans Should Invest in It

From 2004 to 2009, Elton John served a five-year residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. That evening of music was dubbed The Red Piano. After a hiatus, Elton returned in 2011 for another residency with The Million Dollar Piano, which repeated two-thirds of the previous set list but expanded the number of songs played. Now available on home video, a performance recorded in February 2012 features Elton playing some of his biggest hits alongside a few deep cuts.

The show begins with Elton taking the stage in a glittery cape that would have made Liberace proud. During much of the concert, Elton is supported by guitarist/musical director Davey Johnstone, bass by the late Bob Birch, percussionists Ray Cooper and John Mahon, drummer and original Elton John Band member Nigel Olsson, and four back-up singers, Rose Stone, Tata Vega, Jean Witherspoon, and Lisa Stone. Occasionally joining the arrangements are Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser of 2CELLOS. They all sound in fine form throughout.

The first song is “The Bitch is Back” and Elton’s vocals come through with great strength. However, on the next, “Bennie and the Jets,” it’s quickly apparent the 65-year-old can’t hit the high notes he used to when the song was recorded and understandably so. At this point, I was feeling exhausted due to director Chris Gero’s overuse of gliding camera shots and quick cuts. I have no idea why he doesn’t let the viewer watch the musicians play. Personally, I don’t need perpetual movement nor frequent cutaways, especially to shots above the theater’s top balcony or the bottom of a cello, to entertain me. That’s what Elton and the band are for.

The Yamaha piano Elton plays has a great tone. As heard on the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, it comes through with a great dynamic range of its own and can be heard above the rest of the band in the mix. What drove the sticker price up to a million are the over 68 LED video screens on the side that show images of its own or ones that blend in with the large screen at the back of the stage. It seems an odd choice because it’s more of a distraction.

“Tiny Dancer” finds Johnstone creating some lilting slide guitar but some of the song’s noted tenderness is missing due to the loud, forceful arrangement. Thankfully, we get to hear Elton’s softer side during a short interlude where he showcases more variety of emotion in his phrasing. It begins with a solo rendition of “Your Song,” which he credits everything in his life and career, thanks to his partner, lyricist Bernie Taupin.

After a great rendition of “Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters” with Johnstone on what sounds like a mandolin, Elton has chosen some lesser-known songs not usually played in this type of setting, but from the passion in his performance, it’s obvious they mean something to him even if they aren’t beloved hits. Joined only by Cooper, they play “Better Off Dead” and “Indian Sunset.” The piano and percussion blend together so well it’s no wonder they have been performing as a duo since 1977.

Towards the end of the set, “Crocodile Rock” becomes a big singalong and got many on their feet dancing. Then some audience members are invited on stage for “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting),” but rather than enjoy and experience the moment, a number of idiots record close-ups on their phones. Too bad they weren’t escorted out. Elton left, the band stayed, and they encored with “Circle of Life,” a terrible choice to end the evening because in contrast to the high energy songs that closed the set it was very anti-climactic.

The video has been given a 1080i/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The image comes through with great clarity. The colors are vivid and the blacks are inky. The detail is also impressive as seen in the fine details, like the tiny gems on Elton’s jacket, and sharp edges. There are two audio tracks, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0. I prefer the former, which finds the surrounds enveloping the listener in the music and offers a fuller sound.

The disc comes with two extras: the self-explanatory “Making The Million Dollar Piano” (1080i, 23 min) and four songs performed “Live in Kiev” (1080i, 21 min) on 6/30/12. Three of them aren’t played during MDP: “Candle in the Wind,” “Sacrifice,” and “Sad Songs (Say So Much).”

Buying The Million Dollar Piano is a great investment for Elton John fans.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site.

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