Two piano greats make beautiful music together

Fri Nov 5, 2010 4:12am EDT
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By Shirley Halperin

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Elton John was feeling reflective on Wednesday night.

Taking the stage at the Hollywood Palladium for the fifth date of his nearly sold-out tour with Leon Russell, a revered session man, arranger, singer and skillful piano player who's enjoying a long overdue resurgence, he made sure to thank some of those who'd helped him along the way: Like Neil Diamond, who gave John's first record a spin long before anyone knew his name, and the Troubadour, where he played his first L.A. show 40 years ago, along with the man who booked that gig, Howard Rose, still his agent.

That feeling of appreciation, at least as far as the crowd was concerned, was mutual. John and Russell, both seated at grand pianos (Russell requires a cane to stand or walk) and facing each other, performed songs from their new album, "The Union," with gusto to a room packed to the gills not only with fans, but a handful of famous faces (among them: actors Benicio Del Toro, Kelly Lynch, Peter Gallagher and John Stamos, and producer T-Bone Burnett).

John and Russell were backed by four fierce background singers and a killer band complete with a full horn section (at one point during the show, John marveled at having a "tuber" on the stage) which only accentuated the pair's piano leads on songs like the moving "Never Too Old (To Hold Somebody)" and "In the Hands of Angels," which Russell wrote and John described as "a gift," both off the 18-track "Union."

The last third of the nearly two-hour show was devoted to John's solo work, which he doled out with the sort of humility and pride you rarely see from a superstar of that stature. Songs like "Tiny Dancer," "I Guess That Why They Call It the Blues," "Sad Songs (Say So Much)" and 1974's "The Bitch is Back" had audience members twirling each other in the aisles. Pretty soon, it felt like one giant Bar Mitzvah fit for a king -- or, in John's case, a knight.

Perhaps most touching for all, however, was a dedication John made just before playing his 1970 hit "Your Song." "I'm touched," he told the crowd. "Throughout the years, I couldn't' have done it without you guys. You bought records, you paid money for tickets, and you supported me through thick and thin." To which a collective "we" would like to say, "you're welcome!"

<p>British musician Elton John (L) greets U.S. musician Leon Russell on stage at the start of their concert promoting their new album "The Union" at the Hollywood Palladium in Hollywood, California November 3, 2010. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>