Sir Elton John has released 32 studio albums in 46 years, a vast catalog that has produced dozens of hits and classics. Friday night at Kanza Hall, an all-star band of Kansas City and Lawrence musicians plumbed the earliest part of his career paying tribute to the artistry of John and his collaborator, Bernie Taupin, while raising money for the Steps of Faith Foundation, which assists amputees. By all measures, the evening was a rousing success.
The house band comprised members of Summer Breeze, a seven-piece band that pays tribute to soft-rock, or “yacht rock,” music created by artists like Christopher Cross, Toto, Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins and Hall & Oates. Friday night, they deftly navigated the transition to John’s much of it drenched in soul and heavy blues.
Summer Breeze was joined by a host of guest musicians and vocalists, including members of the Get Up Kids, Be/Non, the Architects, Outhouse and Federation of Horsepower. The bar was set high right from the start: a true rendition of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” with lead vocals by Summer Breeze member Chris Siegge. Gregg Todt (Federation of Horsepower) followed with a hard, gritty version of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” that aroused the first of many widespread sing-alongs from a crowd that indulged enthusiastically in the music all night.
From there on, there were many stellar vocal performances amid the 20-song set list, which went as far back as the “Elton John” album and dipped a couple times into his ’80s music. Brandon Phillips (Architects) on a deep-dish-soul version of “Levon”; Brodie Rush (Be/Non) on a lively version of “Philadelphia Freedom”; Chris Tolle (Federation) on “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”; Siegge and Allison Brinblecom on “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”; and David Wayne Reed on “Rocket Man,” which inspired one of the loudest sing-alongs all night.
There were several moments of levity and child-like glee, two of them courtesy of members of the Get Up Kids: Matt Pryor on “Crocodile Rock” and Jim Suptic on “I’m Still Standing.” Other notables: David George’s “Son of Your Father,” a deep-cut selection from the outstanding “Tumbleweed Connection” album; Isaac Flynn on a brassy, horn-fed version of “Honky Chateau”; and “Step Into Christmas,” a buoyant holiday song from the bonus version of “Caribou,” performed by Summer Breeze drummer Billy Brimblecom Jr. and his wife, Allison.
The musicianship was stellar all night, especially among those manning the baby grand piano, David Greenwood, and keyboards, Chuck Whittington. John’s compositions are laden with lively and complicated piano and keys; thus they did much of the heavy lifting.
The evening ended with a celebratory version of “Tiny Dancer” that featured all 20 performers. It was a fitting close to a night that fulfilled two noble purposes: Pay respects to one of the greatest artists of our time and raise money for a foundation that helps those in need.