Sunday night's all right for Capt. Fantastic's 60th birthday bash
NEW YORK -- Elton John started planning years ago for Sunday night's party at Madison Square Garden, where he'll celebrate his 60th birthday with 20,000 of his closest friends.
Two years ago, Madison Square Garden entertainment president Jay Marciano recalls, he got a call from Howard Rose, John's agent, asking if the Garden could hold March 25, 2007 -- John's 60th birthday.
"I remember laughing and saying I wasn't even sure I had a 2007 calendar yet," says Marciano. "But I told him that of course Elton could have it."
The world's most famous arena and its single most successful concert artist have been rolling down the yellow brick road together for a long time.
John's first Garden show was on Sept. 23, 1973, when his current radio hit was "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" and Richard Nixon was president.
His show Sunday night will be his 60th. That's eight more than the second-place Grateful Dead and 13 more than Billy Joel, a friend with whom John has several times shared the Garden stage.
Sixty shows also adds up to more than a million tickets.
To mark this milestone Sunday night, the Garden will unveil a commemorative banner in the rafters. The show will also be filmed for, among other things, a two-hour special scheduled April 5 on MyNetworkTV.
"It will be a unique night," says Marciano. "There will be a number of surprises, not all of which Elton has shared even with us."
With resellers asking $1,000 or more for floor seats, fans are clearly counting on something to remember. That's likely to include everything from famous guests to a push for John's long-running anti-bigotry campaigns.
A near-certainty is that the show should be visually memorable, because John took his sense of spectacle directly from his first rock `n' roll idol, Little Richard.
For his 50th birthday, John threw a Louis XIV theme party, for which his costume alone -- featuring ostrich feathers in the train -- cost $80,000.
His stage outfits over the years have included a gorilla suit and a Donald Duck outfit.
But that's not the main reason he could sell out another half dozen Garden shows next week.
"How many artists can do a three-hour show where the crowd knows every song?" says Marciano. "That's what you get with Elton."
Independent concert industry analyst Bob Grossweiner also says it comes down to music.
"Few artists have had his musical longevity or his sustained output," says Grossweiner. "You could argue the quality has decreased, but he still puts out good songs.
"So even though radio isn't that friendly to him anymore, he's still a big concert draw."
Grossweiner calls it an "honor" for New York that John is doing his birthday show here. Marciano says the Garden just has that kind of aura.
"For many artists, playing the Garden is the pinnacle of their career," he says. "It's the biggest stage there is. No one phones it in here. The crowds are great and they expect something great.
"Elton has always said it's one of his favorite places."
Grossweiner notes that for John's first public shows in New York, Nov. 20-21, 1970, at the Fillmore East, he was third-billed behind Leon Russell and McKendree Spring.
"Whatever you think of his music," says Grossweiner, "he's come a long way."
NOBODY PARTIES LIKE ELTON!
It isn't an Elton John extravaganza unless you're in fancy dress. The sexagenarian singer loves an elaborate costume bash, and Saturday night's soiree here in New York -- preceding his concert on Sunday -- promises nothing less.
Details are closely guarded about the A-list party, but looking back at past events may reveal a few clues. Wigs have always been a personal fave of the singer. He and husband David Furnish channeled Marie Antoinette and Louis XIV at a decadent 50th birthday party 10 years ago.
Last Tuesday night in London, Elton had guests dress in outfits from the 1940s to celebrate the big 6-0. Let's hope he steps back in time again this weekend. Seventies disco, anyone?
-- Jo Piazza