Concert Review: “Rocketman: Live in Concert”

For one night only, “Rocketman: Live in Concert” celebrates the life of Elton John with a live orchestra and a special performance by Elton John and Taron Egerton.

On the morning of Sept. 4, I opened my phone to news of an upcoming event called “Rocketman: Live in Concert.” “Rocketman,” a musical biopic of Elton John’s life released earlier this year, was to screen in its entirety at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on Oct. 17. The showing would be accompanied by live music from The Hollywood Symphony Orchestra and a performance by John himself and Taron Egerton, the actor who plays John in “Rocketman.”

Fast forward to over a month later, I was sitting on an Amtrak train to Los Angeles instead of in my political science lecture. The lengths and costs I took to attend were almost as excessive as John’s ‘70s outfits, but I didn’t want to miss a chance to see John live before his retirement from touring in 2020. This event was different from his normal concerts, so I didn’t entirely know what to expect. From the excited, buzzing atmosphere that night, it seemed that others felt the same way.

The concert could easily be mistaken as a very early Halloween party. Fans of all ages recreated many of John’s iconic looks: children posed in bedazzled Dodgers’ uniforms, an adult man waddled in a full Donald Duck costume, and elderly women milled around with big glasses and feather boas. But while eccentric articles of clothing were abound among the crowds, the venue itself sold no event apparel besides a lanyard that came with a copy of John’s just-released autobiography, “Me.” I forked over the money. I was already too deep into this.

The show began with an introduction by “Rocketman” director Dexter Fletcher, who praised the profound impacts of John’s career, alongside John’s lifelong songwriter and friend Bernie Taupin. Then, in all its unabashed theatricality, the movie played. Rocking, fan-favorite musical numbers like “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” and “Honky Cat” combined seamlessly with the energy of the live orchestra. Key moments of the movie and John’s life, like him meeting Taupin, writing “Your Song,” and coming out as gay, sparked cheers. When John’s mother told him he’ll never be loved, shouts of “we love you” rose. My favorite audience reactions were the hoots and whistles during the sex scene.

But despite fanfare at certain points of the film, I was surprised by an otherwise general lack of enthusiasm in the audience. Most people mumbled lyrics under their breath, instead of going full-on sing-along. There were even people who were upset because they had misinterpreted the nature of the event. Some expected John and Egerton to perform the songs during the screening. More than a few thought that the concert was a stop on John’s farewell tour. During the 20-minute intermission, several disgruntled people took the “Goodbye” in “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” literally.

As for the movie itself, “Rocketman” is a good movie; it’s fun, emotional, and well-acted, but its formulaic structure leaves it short from being great. So for me, rewatching it on a faraway screen with a partial view, sadly reminded me how much my wallet was burning. The orchestra itself was spot-on to the film’s soundtrack and score. It was undoubtedly impressive, but without much of an audible difference, I felt as if I was just hearing the recorded audio from the film. But visually, witnessing an orchestra go ham during “I’m Still Standing,” complete with a mini light show, was a thrill.

Finally, what we had all been waiting for, happened. Before the credits could roll, an announcement that “the legend himself and the performer who embodied him so perfectly” loudly boomed around the outdoor amphitheatre.

Everyone let out a collective scream. People jumped up and fumbled for their phones as if all their energy had been reserved for this very moment. The movie was brushed aside like it was a two-hour opening act.

Elton John, in a sparkly red and white ensemble, and Taron Egerton, in a GQ-worthy white suit, held hands as they took the stage to sing “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again.” Sitting on stools and swaying to the beat, the two men proudly watched each other take turns singing, waved at the starstruck orchestra, and beamed at the adoring audience. It was impossible to wipe the grin off anyone’s face from seeing the beloved duo belt their hearts out to the upbeat, heartwarming song.

After the song, an excited Fletcher appeared, hugged the men, and, to the shocked gasps of the audience, welcomed Bernie Taupin to the stage. Taupin thanked the orchestra, John, and Egerton for their musical talent. Then there were more surprise appearances and speeches by Jamie Bell, who played Taupin, Bryce Dallas Howard, who played John’s mother, and music producer Giles Martin.

Eventually, Egerton took the mic. “I, over the course of promoting this film, have sang a few times with Sir Elton John, but there’s one song we’ve never done live, and I’ve always wanted to.” Ignoring the sudden screams from the audience, he shot a look at John beside him. “So I think we should do it.”

Without further ado, John went and sat down at a piano behind him. Then, cries of recognition and delight filled the cool night sky as he played the first notes of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” Egerton tenderly sang the opening verse, followed by John. Though he had released the song in 1974 as a tenor, John, now a baritone, gave the song a new, incredible amount of power and soul, nailing every note and sending shivers across the crowd. The song built up into a rich crescendo, joining Egerton and John together in the stirring chorus.

The two of them exited right after the song ended. As always, Elton John had delivered an unforgettable performance. As everyone stumbled out in an awestruck daze, the venue handed people special posters commemorating the event. Overall, the joy of watching “Rocketman: Live in Concert” with an audience of old and new fans and being blessed with the presence of Captain Fantastic himself was an experience that can’t be better described than magical. It’s going to be a long, long time ‘til I get over this.

Grade: B
Date: October 17, 2019
Location: The Greek Theater