Sunday, Feb. 15, 1998 | 9:23 a.m.
Elton John did his best to give a crowd-pleasing performance, but it sure was a hard crowd to pleasure. It took two hours of his nimble fingering and fire-stoking love songs before the Saturday night Eltonites were finally satisfied.
John, who played to a sold-out Valentine's Day crowd at the MGM Grand Arena obliged his audience with an evening heavy with romance - if not passion.
He played his hit "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from Disney's "Lion King," while animated lions frolicked on the large screens above and couples snuggled below. He sang "The One." The couples swayed. He lamented, "Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word." They clung. He sampled one off the new album, called "Something About the Way You Look Tonight." They cooed.
But it wasn't until John arrived at the 22nd song of the night, "Bennie and the Jets," that his admirers were finally roused to their feet, emitting communal shrieks of joy which echoed throughout the arena.
Kicking back the piano bench, dropping to his knees, and then to the floor, John's extended hand never stopped diddling the ivories of his black Yamaha, to the crowd's delight.
Finally, at the end of the number, he threw himself backwards with a flourish onto the top of the piano like an Olympic high-vault jumper - and lay there exhausted.
It was a rare moment in a night of pure exhibitionism by John, 50, who is on the second leg of his national tour celebrating his 30-year association with songwriter Bernie Taupin and publicizing his latest album, "The Big Picture."
Wearing unspectacular spectacles and a light-colored suit (with only a glimpse of a pink rhinestone collared shirt peeking from beneath), John's performance at times was as uncharacteristically subdued as his wardrobe.
Despite giving a full two-and-a-half hour concert fulfilling his audience's every need - reliving tunes from his endless play list, such as "Tiny Dancer," "Daniel," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," and "Honky Cat" - at times, the legendary performer seemed a bit perfunctory, not straining his voice beyond a low range, perhaps in an effort to preserve his voice for his VIP private concert the following evening.
And as expected, John did not perform any version of "Candle in the Wind," his anthem to Marilyn Monroe which, of course, was famously updated this year to "Goodbye England's Rose," John's dirge for Princess Diana and the best-selling single of all time.
The only real moment of poignancy was when John took it down a notch to "do some more reflective songs," and sang a powerful rendition of "The Last Song," which he dedicated to all "men, women and children with AIDS" - a long-time cause John has championed with his own foundation.
But when he took the mood back up, declaring simply, "Party time" and following "Bennie" with "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting," an encore of Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire," "The Bitch is Back" and his standard closer, "Your Song," there was no doubt that his swooning audience had finally been satiated.