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From Joni Mitchell to Metallica



WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 20: Annie Lennox, Brandi Carlile, and Joni Mitchell perform during the 2024 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song presentation to Elton John and Bernie Taupin by the Library of Congress at DAR Constitution Hall on March 20, 2024 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Taylor Hill/WireImage)

Even on a day when a lot of America hoped to see the solar exit, there’s nonetheless an ongoing want to listen to somebody sing “Don’t Let the Solar Go Down on Me.” That, amongst many different issues, is what’s supplied in tonight’s PBS broadcast of a tribute particular for Elton John and Bernie Taupin, two of the worthiest abilities ever to be awarded the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize. If you happen to’re a fan — and who isn’t?, as they are saying — the two-hour present will present a complete eclipse of all of your different most urgent leisure wants.

Three phrases: “Joni Mitchell” and “Metallica.” If this salute by no means moved out of the M’s, it will be worthy sufficient simply primarily based on these two highlights alone, neither of whom most likely appeared just like the likeliest Elton interpreter. However there they’re, on the exact same bingo card. That’s to not slight very fantastic performances from Brandi Carlile, Annie Lennox and the like — or Elton himself, who closes out this system with a mini-set — however typically it’s the novelties that stick to you when masters stack up towards masters.

In essentially the most memorable second of the night time, Mitchell covers “I’m Nonetheless Standing,” which is as applicable because it sounds, given her bodily restoration lately. It’s additionally a lot funnier than you’re anticipating. Carlile (who assists on vocals, together with Lennox) introduces Mitchell’s cowl model by saying that “it is a track that holds particular which means for her” and that “she was given the inexperienced gentle by Elton and Bernie to vary a number of the lyrics to suit her, which is actually essentially the most Joni Mitchell factor I feel I’ve ever heard of.” From that, you would possibly count on that Mitchell may have rewritten the lyrics to make them extra inspirational by some means — as a result of that is a type of songs that everybody remembers for its uplifting refrain however nobody remembers has type of vituperative verses. However no; Joni’s rewrite doesn’t change the which means of the track in any respect; it simply makes these verses sound much more vengeful, in a plain-spoken type of approach. When Mitchell will get to the brand new traces “My coronary heart’s not damaged and my path is evident / You have been just a bit bumpy detour, expensive” (with a pregnant pause earlier than the “…expensive” completes the rhyme), the digicam cuts to David Furnish LOL-ing, and I used to be proper there with him.

However after all it is inspirational, as a result of Mitchell is basically up and bopping, trying like she’s feeling like a bit of child as a lot as she’s ever prone to. On the finish of the tune, she takes that omnipresent cane of hers and waves it within the air, as a present of energy (or possibly simply to warn whoever did her flawed to vacate the premises). It’s a lot enjoyable, and it sounds nice as a result of Blake Mills — a frequent presence within the public Joni Jams which have gone down — offers many of the accompaniment with an electrical guitar half that turns the tune right into a jaunty blues. Come the tip of 2024, this can most likely nonetheless stand as certainly one of my favourite covers of the 12 months.

Except it’s supplanted by Metallica’s tackle “Funeral for a Good friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” through which no quarter is taken and at the least a bit of blood is drawn. For higher or worse, the opening all-instrumental part isn’t instantly recognizable in Metallica’s transformation, however it definitely is by the point it will get to the principle course, at which level you might be considering: Does it go towards the legal guidelines of nature for Metallica to be enjoying in a serious key? Anyway, it really works, to have Elton’s most hard-rocking track ever go a bit of tougher. The tech group is considered with the response pictures, however absolutely there may be a whole lot of rattling of jewellery happening within the balcony of Washington’s DAR Revolution Corridor, the place a number of the visiting politicos sit, and it’d be good to suppose a few of them have been impressed to deface the loos afterward.

The whole lot else in these two hours was a bit of extra prone to present up in your bingo card for a John/Taupin tribute. After Joni obtained the Gershwin Prize final 12 months, the Library of Congress rapidly moved on to Carlile’s different well-established hero-BFF, and so it’s little shock, and never the slightest bit unwelcome, to see her present up repeatedly right here. Leaving her previous live performance cowl of “Rocket Man” behind (really, nobody does that right here), Carlile’s first choice of the night time is “Madman Throughout the Water,” which is cool sufficient, all the way in which right down to an prolonged coda through which the singer doesn’t have something to do however fortunately stroll forwards and backwards between Sista Strings on one facet of the stage and guitarist Davey Johnstone on the opposite, as they do their respective issues. (Kudos for the frequent use of the two-woman Sista Strings part normally, a pleasant, minimalist callback to the bigger mastery of string arranger Paul Buckmaster’s basic work.)

However the extra beautiful of Carlile’s two track selections is “Skyline Pigeon,” and never simply because it’s under-covered and nice. Context counts for nearly every part with this one, as her rendition caps a phase dedicated to the lengthy historical past of John’s AIDS Basis, and particularly to the HIV-stricken boy that gained Elton’s and the world’s coronary heart within the ’80s, Ryan White. White’s sister reads an open letter that John wrote to his late buddy 20 years after his 1990 passing, speaking about how the demise of an “harmless” helped change hearts and minds, regardless that, in Elton’s phrases, “You reminded America that each one victims of AIDS are harmless.” It’s a worthwhile historical past lesson squeezed into a decent area, even for these of us who want reminders, and the greenback determine cited for what the AIDS Basis has raised — $600 million — is its personal testomony to John’s legacy, aside from the music. John is weeping by way of this phase, and it is going to be Cry Alongside With Elton night time for components of the viewers, too.

Talking of his AIDS Basis, John hosted his annual Oscar-viewing profit in Beverly Hills once more this 12 months, and the dwell entertainer that night time was Jacob Lusk, lead singer of the British group Gabriels… which absolutely had many individuals studying the invitation on the time asking: Who? Fortunately for these of us who didn’t make it to that fundraiser, the “who” is answered in a really public approach on this particular with Lusk’s studying of “Bennie and the Jets” — and it’s magnificent.

Not that you just’d ever need to guess towards Elton’s tastemaker instincts, however every protege has to show himself, and Lusk actually does it right here by doing one thing authentic with “Bennie.” That mid-’70s oldie is a superb however nearly un-coverable track, which nobody might presumably make sound weirder than the unique, and which solely suffers from any try to straighten it out. However Lusk has the voice of an angel — a really loud angel — and the quasi-gospel therapy lastly solutions the long-simmering query of whether or not “Bennie” ought to simply be left alone as a canopy selection or not. Truly, his contribution right here is simply as must-see as Mitchell’s and Metallica’s.

The opposite contributions all fall someplace the serviceable-to-spectacular spectrum. Charlie Puth might be one of many few pop stars round certified to recreate Elton’s piano half on “Don’t Let the Solar Go Down on Me,” even when you would possibly want a track that emotionally intense had been given to somebody with a extra anguished-sounding voice. Lennox, who doesn’t lack for vocal edge, exhibits why the world remains to be hungering for each crumb she often throws out within the tributes she occasionally seems at lately together with her wall-flattening “Border Track.”

Billy Porter, the present’s host, traverses the aisles with precisely the track you already know he’s going to do, “The Bitch Is Again.” (It comes with a reminder that “in 2024 I don’t need you to be offended by the phrase ‘bitch.’ The queer neighborhood makes use of it as a love letter.” Had been we actually fearful about this? Properly, it’s PBS, so OK.) His fringe-y costume and leggy look is probably going an homage to Tina Turner, who used to duet with John on the rocker earlier than that they had a falling out. Maren Morris, who has a pleasant historical past of masking Elton, activates the AC with “I Guess That’s Why They Name It the Blues.” Garth Brooks, a Gershwin honoree of some years again himself, will get double-duty with “Sorry Appears to Be the Hardest Phrase” and “Daniel,” each reminders that, amongst all the opposite issues we overlook to recollect about Garth, he can capably sing absolutely anything from the nice Anglo-American songbook that crosses his thoughts.

Video tributes roll in between songs from the likes of Carole King, who has particular data of what transpires when the music author and lyricist should not the identical particular person, and Paul McCartney, who says he has all the time been a bit of jealous of John being handed a sheet of paper with all of the phrases on it after which spinning gold out of that. (He rapidly hastens so as to add that he doesn’t imply Elton has any much less powerful a job.) That does get to the everlasting thriller of the John/Taupin collaboration, and in speaking about it, John all the time sounds as mystified as anybody else. His means to take typically unwieldy phrases of Taupin’s and instantaneously flip them into classics nonetheless feels a bit of spooky, as he describes it, as if it have been a type of computerized writing, melodically. So long as he’s sustaining even he can’t logically clarify it, it’s not ours to determine.

However it’s ours to rejoice, and it’s a delight to see these two being given their due as a group, whose respect and appreciation for one another has grown over 55 years, by the accounts given. This present can also be implicitly a tribute to the Elton John Band, who carry out behind a majority of the singers earlier than backing a salmon-coated Elton himself for the ultimate three songs, “Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters,” “Saturday Night time’s Alright for Combating” and “Your Track.” If we feared we’d seen the final of them as a selected ensemble at Dodger Stadium in November 2022, Johnstone’s look on this collection as musical director in addition to guitarist is a pleasant assurance that revivals of the previous gang can and can happen.

Producer Ken Ehrlich, of a long time of Grammy fame, has been characteristically canny with the alternatives of tribute-payers right here. However with two honorees this 12 months as an alternative of 1, he additionally is aware of that the most effective tributes that may be paid are those that the composer and lyricist are in a position to pay one another. That comes by way of of their mutual testimonials about one another, however it actually comes by way of with the closing rendition of “Your Track,” through which we get a sight we’ve most likely by no means seen earlier than, between these two usually long-distance collaborators: Taupin, leaning on John’s crimson piano, taking all of it in as stoic, appreciative glances are exchanged. It’s unexpectedly touching to see these two on stage, alone collectively, for the size of a chunk of music. Gracious is unquestionably not the toughest phrase.

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