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Music Review

With his many hits, John rarely misses

Elton John was emphatically energetic Saturday night at the DCU Center in Worcester, playing hours of favorites and hits. Elton John was emphatically energetic Saturday night at the DCU Center in Worcester, playing hours of favorites and hits. (Jay Connor for The Boston Globe)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / March 14, 2011

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WORCESTER — Sir Elton John may have been knighted by the queen and claim a rightful place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but he belongs to an even more exclusive club than those. The piano man is one of a select group of pop musicians who can play a concert that runs just shy of three hours and still leave more than a dozen hits and countless fan favorites off the set list for lack of time.

John innately understands the effort required to retain membership in that club, and Saturday night he made it, giving an epic, indefatigable, and vibrant performance suffused with joy and grace. And as the sold-out crowd at the DCU Center learned, if he might not always include a particular favorite, what he does play and his resistance to phoning it in is plenty good enough.

Backed by a nine-piece band— including four dynamite backing vocalists— John was like a slot machine paying off the hits. In the first hour alone he blazed through “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,’’ “Levon,’’ “Tiny Dancer,’’ “Philadelphia Freedom,’’ “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,’’ “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,’’ and “Rocket Man.’’

At 63, John’s voice sounds as good as ever. Although time has eroded a few of the high notes once within his reach, he finessed them with ease and the deepening grain of his soulful growl and his ability to sustain long notes is a satisfying trade-off. His playing also retains its sizzle, as extended solos, intros, and codas to “Rocket Man,’’ “Take Me to the Pilot,’’ and a fiery “Burn Down the Mission’’ spanned the distance between boogie-woogie, gospel, psychedelia, and the classical concert hall.

Not content to simply revisit the past, midway through the show John devoted a sizable piece of real estate to “The Union,’’ his 2010 collaboration with Leon Russell. In a pleasant surprise he welcomed his idol to the stage. (John inducts Russell into the Hall of Fame tonight). The crowd gave the snowy-bearded journeyman a hero’s welcome as he slid behind a grand piano facing John and showed appreciation and patience as the two dug into seven tracks from “The Union,’’ including the swaggering “If It Wasn’t for Bad’’ and the solemn “Gone to Shiloh.’’ (Sadly, the pair did none of Russell’s classic tunes such as “Delta Lady’’ or “A Song for You.’’)

After Russell left, John switched back to jukebox mode, reveling in singalongs to “Candle in the Wind,’’ “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,’’ “Bennie and the Jets,’’ “Crocodile Rock,’’ and the closer, “Your Song.’’

That last he dedicated to the audience for its loyalty, expressing his gratitude. “I really appreciate you guys so much, more than I could ever explain,’’ he said. Judging by the rapturous response, the feeling was mutual.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com.

ELTON JOHN At: the DCU Center, Saturday