Monday, July 26, 2004 | 8:07 a.m.
Some fans of Elton John wondered if he would use his return engagement at Caesars Palace on Friday night to jump into the political maelstrom that seems to be picking up steam across the nation the closer we get to the November presidential election.
Outspoken Linda Ronstadt made national headlines a week ago when, during an engagement at the Aladdin, she dedicated "Desperado" to filmmaker Michael Moore, whose documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" is severely critical of President Bush.
That was nothing new. She has made a dedication to Moore at each of her recent concerts. But things got a little out of hand in Vegas.
There were cheers and boos, followed by the storming out of the theater by more than 200 Bush supporters -- followed by Aladdin President Bill Timmins announcing that he had ordered security personnel to escort Ronstadt off the property after the concert and told her never to return.
John has been known for making political statements of his own in the past. During the premiere of "Red Piano" in February he made negative comments about Bush. There was a smattering of cheers and boos, but no one walked out -- possibly because the price of John tickets are in the $100 to $250 range, compared to Ronstadt's $35 to $80 admission charge.
John said in an article in the August issue of Interview magazine (which is now on sale), "There's an atmosphere of fear in America right now that is deadly.
"Everyone is too career-conscious. They're all too scared. I don't know if there's been a time when the fear factor has played such an important role in America since McCarthyism in the 1950s as it does right now."
So was he going to use the 22,500-square-foot stage at The Colosseum as a bully pulpit to defend Ronstadt or to comment on other politically sensitive issues?
Wearing black tails (with writing on the back) and a knee-length pink shirt and red bow tie, the knight from England strode across the massive stage, sat down at his red piano and banged out "Bennie and the Jets."
And then he addressed his fans.
"Welcome to The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, home of Celine Dion, and sometimes me," John said. "This is a fun show ... and we're just going to get on with it."
It may have been my imagination, caused by the recent events, but it sounded as if there was a note of frustration in John's voice, as if he wanted to say something more but didn't, maybe because too much had been said already and it was time to defuse the issue.
Lots of applause followed his comment as he launched into "Philadelphia Freedom."
At the end of the second song he thanked the fans for coming and then introduced the next number -- "Believe."
"It's a song with a positive message," he said, "because we live in very negative times."
Giant inflatable red roses grew across the stage as he sang the lyrics:
"I believe in love, it's all we got / Love has no boundaries, costs nothing to touch / War makes money, cancer sleeps, curled up in my father and that means something to me / Churches and dictators, politics and papers, everything crumbles sooner or later / But love, I believe in love."
A political statement? Are we grasping at straws here?
His final address to the audience came as he introduced the last song, "I Want Love."
"I'm dedicating this song to all of you," John said. "I've been coming to America for 34 years. It's fashionable to knock it, but this country has been so great to me."
There were no boos during the evening, only ovations and appreciation shown by fans to John -- and appreciation by John to his fans. No inflammatory statements, no walk-outs, no demonstrations -- just a great concert.
It was an evening of mutual love.
John frequently addressed the audience, showed them respect, reached out to them.
My biggest complaint about Ronstadt's concert was not her political statement, but that she put on a substandard performance, stood aloof from her audience, seemingly disinterested in whether they were there or not. She seemed to be there for her pleasure, not theirs.
Many entertainers who perform in Vegas charge among the highest prices in the world for admission. The audiences should expect every performer to give 100 percent of his, or her, ability.
John did. Ronstadt didn't.
John put on a party. Ronstadt went for a stroll.
Director David LaChappelle's sets -- giant inflatable breasts, huge inflatable phallic symbols (bananas, apples, cigarettes), a giant set of feminine legs, balloons and confetti filling the air -- and creative videos dominate the stage, looming behind John and his band for almost every song, most of which are his biggest hits from the '70s -- "Rocket Man," "Tiny Dancer," "Daniel," "Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)," "Candle in the Wind," "Pinball Wizard" and "The Bitch Is Back."
"The Red Piano" continues to be one of the most exciting shows in town, if not the most exciting.