Where do you find a headliner who can draw a crowd and command an audience’s attention on a night when seemingly every star in the galaxy is in Hollywood for the Academy Awards ceremony?
If you’re Elton John, you look no further than your bathroom mirror.
The 68-year-old English singer, songwriter and pianist, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, five-time Grammy Award winner and Academy Award winner once again hosted his annual Oscar viewing party benefit for the Elton John AIDS Foundation on Sunday, capping the philanthropic portion of the evening with an upbeat set packed with several of his signature hits.
It was his second performance of the weekend, following his surprise free show on Saturday in the parking lot of the former Tower Records store in West Hollywood, his thank you to the city and its residents for hosting his AIDS Foundation event for nearly a quarter century.
Sunday’s concert followed a dinner and silent auction, attended by nearly 1,000 people, that added another $6.2 million to the total that John has raised for the foundation, a figure that West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath said on Saturday has topped $300 million over the years.
He performed similar sets both days, opening with his sassy 1974 hit “The Bitch is Back” and continuing with “Bennie and the Jets,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Rocket Man” and “Your Song” while also dipping into his latest album, “Wonderful Crazy Night,” for three new songs.
Sunday’s performance took place in a massive tent set up at West Hollywood Park, and John was backed by his regular touring band, which includes bassist Nigel Olsson and guitarist Davey Johnstone, who have been supporting him since the early 1970s.
Saturday’s audience got a guest duet with Lady Gaga on “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” while Sunday’s crowd got “Philadelphia Freedom” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues.”
John wore a glittering jacket studded in jewels and emblazoned with the words “Captain Fantastic” on the back, harking back to his mid-1970s career peak and the title of his 1975 album, “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” references to himself and his longtime songwriting partner, lyricist Bernie Taupin.
He offered up often dazzling work at the keyboard, providing an extended improvisatory introduction to “Levon,” from his 1971 album “Madman Across the Water,” and stretched out solo sections delivered with much the same intensity and energy that characterized his performances nearly half a century earlier.
He often stood up from his piano bench at the end of numbers, grinned or growled and thrust his fists in the air in victory gestures, also thanking fans at both shows for supporting his AIDS Foundation.
Both sets concluded with one of his most forceful rockers, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” on which audience members joined in loudly on the song’s repeated refrain “Saturday...Saturday....Saturday night’s all right.”
Doing a good deed should always look like this much fun.