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Elton Goes to College

Elton John
Larry Busacca, Getty Images

Elton John played a special show Monday for a mostly student audience at the University of Southern California in L.A. He and his full band performed with the school’s orchestra and choir and he also was interviewed. Film composer James Newton Howard, a onetime USC music student who arranged for and played on a number of Elton’s albums in the 1970s and ’80s, conducted the orchestra.

The three-part show began with Elton, his band and the orchestra performing a half dozen songs from the first half of the 1970s, including “Your Song,” “Tiny Dancer” and “Philadelphia Freedom.” That was followed by the interview, which was introduced by T-Bone Burnett, who produced Elton’s new album The Diving Board, which comes out next Tuesday.

In addition to questions about the making of the album, the interview, with Grammy Foundation VP Scott Goldman, touched on many topics. Among them: Elton’s introduction to the piano, his songwriting process, his unique long-running writing partnership with Bernie Taupin, his preference for listening to new music over old, the need to listen to all genres, and how important it is to him to keep being creative musically. “If you want to coast and just play ‘Bennie and the Jets’ the rest of your life, you can just [buzz] off,” he said of himself. “Coasting is dangerous.”

Next up came five songs from The Diving Board, done with the orchestra and choir, including one, “The New Fever Waltz,” that had never been performed live before. Then it was back to playing the hits with his band, closing out with a half dozen of them and encoring with a version of “Rocket Man” that was done solo except for an appearance by guitarist Davey Johnstone on one verse.

Sir Elton was clearly energized playing in front of the mostly young audience and wasn’t shy about telling them to take advantage of their youth. “You can change the world,” he said. “I have faith in the young.” The show was filmed, so expect to see it released in some form at a later date.

Meanwhile, Elton has announced a short tour for November that includes a stop in the Twin Cities and in Lincoln, Nebraska:

11/14 – Washington, DC – Verizon Center
11/16 – Atlanta, GA – Philips Arena
11/20 – Columbus, OH – Nationwide Arena
11/22 – Saint Paul, MN -  Xcel Energy Center
11/23 – Lincoln, NE – Pinnacle Bank Arena
11/24 – St. Louis, MO – Chaifetz Arena
11/27 – Philadelphia, PA – Wells Fargo Center

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