“Thank you Pullman, thank you Washington State,” Sir Elton John said before his final encore at the Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum Sunday evening.
(Photos by Shelly Hanks and Bob Hubner, WSU Photo Services)
He wished the crowd “health, happiness and all the love in the world,” and told them, “This song is for you.” And you can tell everybody this is your song I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words How wonderful life is while you’re in the world.
But several — Hundreds? Thousands? — had already claimed “Your Song” for themselves.
“This is my song,” said Judy Hobson smiling at her husband, Tom, sitting in section 32, halfway up the student section on the left side of the coliseum. The two, part of the first wave of Elton John fans, had been dancing and singing along all night.
But up near the stage — front row, center seats — Melissa Neff, 22, a WSU vet med student, had already claimed the song as hers. Well, hers and “this guy.” Seated next to her was Andrew Albert, 24, of Arlington, WA.
“That’s a money song, especially if you’ve got a woman,” he said moments before the concert started. “I sing it to her all the time.”
About 11,500 people attended the Saturday night concert and 11,100 people attended the performance on Sunday.
On both nights it was 2 ½ hours of nonstop number one hits, from ballads such as “Tiny Dancer” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” to high-energy rock and roll such as “Honky Cat” and “Crocodile Rock.”
Gone are the garish wardrobe choices, and the only oversize glasses were in the audience. His dancing was limited to a few quick steps around his piano bench, but his music proved to be as exhilarating and captivating as everbefore.
Large screens hung from the ceiling showed Elton John and his band, including close shots of his hands, his fingers nearly a blur as they pounded out electric rhythms and soaring melodies on the keys of his glossy black Yamaha.
When the stage finally went dark and the house lights went on, thousands of fans, many of them seemingly euphoric, floated out into the balmy Pullman night.
If two of the Beatles were to be resurrected, and all four of them reunited, and then if they were to perform in Pullman, then possibly, said Leslie Lambert, a 20-year-old WSU philosophy major, it might be a better show than Elton John’s.
“I’ll just throw that out there,” she said, walking down Stadium Way with her parents. “It might.” But clearly, she and many of her fellow concert-goers left the Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum Sunday night believing the Rocket Man had lived up to his reputation and then some.
“Wow, it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Dan Smith, 51, of Lewiston. Smith said he was at Elton John’s concert in Portland the night he debuted Saturday Night’s Alright in the early 1970s, (nearly 15 years before Lambert was born). Was Elton John as good now as he was then?
“Yes! Every bit as good,” Smith said. “This man rocks.”
Elton John spoke very little during the concert, but after nearly every song he stood up and walked from one side of the stage to
the other, acknowledging fans in every direction.
When Elton John launched into “Candle in the Wind,” hundreds of cell-phones, and a smattering of lighters, lit up the arena in tribute.
Fans in the first three rows were allowed to rush the stage for the final songs of the evening, including “Pinball Wizard”, “Bennie and the Jets”, “I’m Still Standing” and “Crocodile Rock.”
The crowd was in full-throat frenzy after the final song, and after several moments, he reappeared. As the crowd continued to cheer, Elton John again acknowledged fans on all sides and began signing autographs — ticket stubs, tee-shirts, baseball caps– for the fans near the stage.
“That was awesome,” said Dan Smith, who with his wife and 11,000 other people was still standing and applauding. “Wow. I’m impressed. In little Pullman he’s up there signing autographs.
“This is the best. A man of his stature calling people up to the stage and then signing autographs.”
Leo Udy, director of the Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum, said he never doubted that WSU could sell out two concerts for Elton John over Mom’s Weekend, but convincing Elton John’s people of that took some doing.
In the end, more than 22,000 people attended the two Elton John concerts.
“They were very surprised,” Udy said, talking about the spectacular ticket sales. “They came up later and said, ‘Well, you were
Tickets for the Saturday show sold out in two hours on January 25, causing a great hue and cry from disappointed fans, particularly students.
Udy said he immediately asked for a second show, but Elton John’s people said no.
“They didn’t want to add a second show and then only sell 4,000 seats,” Udy said. When Udy said there really was enough demand, they responded, “Everyone says that.”
With the backing of the WSU administration, Udy had to come up with a number of contingency plans, including buying unsold tickets for the second concert, but after about a month of negotiations, Elton John’s people agreed to a second concert.
While Elton John’s people were surprised when 7,000 tickets sold on the first day of public sales for the second concert, Udy wasn’t. “We know our market better than someone from California or London,” he said.
While Elton John’s people may not know Pullman, (they requested, and received police escorts to and from the Pullman airport), they know how to put on concerts.
“They were great to work with,” Udy said. “They were good people.”
Elton John and his band flew in for the concerts, Udy said, but his equipment arrived in four buses and was set up and worked by a stage crew of about 40 people. The set up started at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning and it was dismantled and gone by 3 a.m. Monday.
While most of the tickets were sold in Washington State, Udy said he knows of people who flew in from Florida and Alaska for the concert.
At $97 for the majority of tickets, that was the highest price ever for a concert at the Beasley. Tickets behind the stage went for $67 and $47.
And, he said, in the end it was really like any other concert that he and his staff prepare for. Even with a Mom’s Weekend Fashion Show on Friday night and concurrent craft fairs and plant sales on the concourse, Udy said it was a pretty typical Mom’s Weekend.
“We just had it all well-planned and choreogr
aphed,” he said. While it was just another weekend for the Beasley staff, Udy said the event has caused others to take notice.
For instance, Elton John’s agent came to Pullman to check out the venue, and that could open the doors to other mega star entertainers. “This will lead to nothing but better things for Washington State,” he said.