Pop & Hiss

Elton John says thank you to West Hollywood with a surprise free concert

Elton John returned to a site in West Hollywood on Saturday that once was a regular stop whenever the British rock star came to Los Angeles: the former home of the city’s Tower Records store, where he gave a free concert as a thank-you to the community.

John, 68, played for about 70 minutes to a crowd of a couple thousand onlookers in gratitude for the city annually hosting his Academy Awards viewing party that raises money for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. 

John and his five-member band performed on a full stage erected in what once was the Tower Records parking lot. “I could have probably bought Los Angeles for the money I spent in Tower Records,” he said with a broad smile from his bench at a Yamaha concert grand piano.

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The concert, which began at noon, was announced only the night before to avoid overcrowding, a spokeswoman for the singer said. As it was, the five-time Grammy Award winner had no trouble filling the space in front of the stage set up for him and his band.

John dipped into his deep songbook for hits including “Bennie and the Jets,” “Rocket Man,” “Your Song,” “Tiny Dancer” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” the latter the vehicle for a duet with his only guest at the show, Lady Gaga.

A bumper crop of cellphone cameras sprouted into the air in front of the stage and stretching back toward Sunset Boulevard, which had been closed for about three blocks to accommodate the overflow crowd.

His set also included several songs from his new album, “Wonderful Crazy Night,” including the title track, the ballad “A Good Heart” and a love song, “Blue Wonderful.”

West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath introduced John, telling the audience that over the last 24 years, his AIDS Foundation has raised more than $300 million for research and treatment.

During the show John also noted that it was only a short distance away, at the long-running folk-rock Troubadour nightclub, where he made his acclaimed U.S. debut in 1970.

“I was terrified,” he said. “We didn’t know what to expect, because we had never been to America before.”

Those performances ignited U.S. music industry interest in John, and he quickly became a major star here.

He then performed “Your Song,” his first U.S. hit, noting that it was among the numbers he played at the Troubadour almost 46 years ago.

Fans jammed the parking lot and the streets surrounding the site, which is now owned by Gibson guitar company as part of its West Coast headquarters. Others looked on from the rooftops of nearby hotels, and still more took in the show from their backyards in the hills above.

A spokesman for the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Department said the event “went smoothly. There were no problems.”

John concluded the performance with his 1973 hit “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.”

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For the Record

Feb. 29, 8:32 a.m.: An earlier version of this article listed Elton John's age as 66. He is 68.

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