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Elton John and Leon Russell at the Hollywood Palladium

Published: 2010-11-05
Leon Russell The Hollywood Palladium is bigger than the Troubadour, but it's a living room compared to the Staples Center. Elton John settled into the relatively small venue on Sunset Boulevard on Wednesday and made it the grounds for a long-anticipated party—a fete for an old ally as well as a kind of reunion with himself.

The evening served as both a slightly overdue commemoration of the 63-year-old John's career-shaping August 1970 Troubadour shows and a release party for “The Union," his album with the 68-year-old Leon Russell, whom he introduced as “my friend and idol."

Russell is one of those musical characters whose influence permeates many corners of the music world, and his boogie-woogie-infused 1970s albums were a major influence on the young John. Forty years later, the lovable Lion King is in a period of personal reassessment. Repaying his debt to Russell, John is getting in touch with the rawer roots of his own almost universally appealing sound. Their album “The Union," produced by the golden-fingered T Bone Burnett, is a critical and commercial success that's gotten John saying that from now on, he'll be making “real music" instead of the Top 40 fodder that made him a household name.

Of course, that fodder is pretty great stuff, and at the Palladium he interlaced some of it into his rollicking performance. Russell too has written beloved hits, including the poignant “A Song for You," which he performed during his brief opening set in a voice as gravelly and picturesque as an old Oklahoma road.

The material from “The Union," which the pair performed in full during the middle of the show, has hooks too, along with spacious arrangements that allowed for much interplay among the members of the large band backing up the soloists. Outsanding numbers like Russell's “If It Wasn't for Bad" and “Hey Ahab," a shaggy rocker by John and his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin, satisfied fans looking for musicianly jamming—but they also boasted memorable choruses, not unlike the ones that brought John worldwide fame.

Russell might have reached that level of stardom, if not for his self-confessed prickliness and resistance to packaging. As a session musician and arranger for artists like George Harrison, the Rolling Stones and Joe Cocker, Russell was a key player in classic rock's marriage of roots styles and modern sensibilities.

Like many outstanding artists who first peaked in the 1970s, however, Russell couldn't rest within a marketable category. His reemergence now, despite the health problems that cause him to walk with a cane and wobble a bit when he sings, is just desserts and well timed, now that the insatiable Internet has led to renewed interest in eclectic artists like himself.


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