Sir Elton John. Here he was, onstage in Costa Rica for the first time. He stood on his piano – and almost fell – and commanded thousands of fans to their feet in Ricardo Saprissa Stadium. With a sparkling jacket, one shiny earring and awesome support from his band, John’s enthusiasm budded into each song. Five decades of touring, and he looked ready for five more. The next go-around, one hopes, will include more stops in Costa Rica.
The legendary British singer-songwriter wowed a packed audience in Tibás, north of San José, on a frigid Friday night during the singer’s virgin concert in the country.
The show opened with acclaimed pianist and Culture Minister Manuel Obregón playing a wordless 30-minute set of peaceful compositions. A symphony of nature sounds and images from Costa Rica played over the backdrop. Two charming young cellists from Croatia took the stage next, and demonstrated how versatile the cello can be. Their immense talent and enthusiasm carried what could have been a gimmicky set of covers of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal,” U2’s “With or Without You,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.”
Then, in a move seemingly to steal Elton John’s thunder, the cellists moved into the first few notes of “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting).” The opening chords hummed as guitarist Davey Johnstone walked onstage, followed, moments later, by Elton John. The 10,000-plus concertgoers stood and waved and shouted about why Saturday ought to be a great time for a brawl.
The next track, “I’m Still Standing,” introduced John’s excellent foursome of backup vocalists, including Rose Stone, co-founder of Hall of Fame funk artists Sly and the Family Stone, and her daughter, Lisa. The group also included the band’s original drummer, Nigel Olsson, alongside longtime guitarist Johnstone.
The performance included hits “Tiny Dancer,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Candle in the Wind” and “Bennie and the Jets.” The two-hour concert went by quickly. The set list focused mainly on “Greatest Hits” and a couple of new releases. An extended version of “Rocket Man” stood out with its elevating piano solos and monumental harmonies at the song’s close. The delightfully vulgar “The Bitch is Back” and the carnivalesque “Crocodile Rock,” during which the crowd provided the irresistible refrain of “laaaaa-la-la-la-la,” closed the set.
The audience asked for an encore with an enthusiasm uncommon at Costa Rica concerts. Meanwhile, as supporters chanted for more songs, the video board panned to show President Laura Chinchilla seated front and center. John returned within minutes to croon two songs from the Disney classic “The Lion King,” beginning with “Circle of LIfe” and transitioning into the Oscar-winning “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
The 64-year-old showman thanked everyone who came to the stadium, and called his final song a tribute to every fan in attendance. That dedication was of course made with the gorgeous “Your Song.” For one night, 42 years after the song’s debut, Elton John offered it to Costa Rica. It sounded sublime.
Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)
I’m Still Standing
Madman Across the Water
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Candle in the Wind
I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues
Gone to Shiloh
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
Sad Songs (Say So Much)
Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
Take Me to the Pilot
Bennie and the Jets
The Bitch Is Back
Circle of Life/Can You Feel the Love Tonight