Kenny Metcalf electrifies as Elton John

Kenny Metcalf electrifies as Elton JohnKenny Metcalf delivers his stellar interpretation of Elton John to local students. — Photo by Laura Austin

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By BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

If you had wandered into the Parker Performing Arts Center at Burroughs High School last Thursday evening, you might have asked yourself, “How on earth did we book Elton John in Ridgecrest?”

While the Rocket Man himself didn’t actually make an appearance that evening, IWV Concert Association patrons were treated to the next best thing — Kenny Metcalf as Elton John and “The Early Years” tribute band. Metcalf and company performed Elton’s beloved hits, primarily covering material from his 1970 self-titled album to 1975’s “Captain Fantastic.”

Having attended several tribute concerts in the last few years, from The Carpenters to Johnny Cash, I was prepared for some serviceable renditions of Elton favorites, a bad English accent but an altogether enjoyable evening. What I wasn’t expecting was Kenny Metcalf.

Metcalf and his top-notch band nearly transported the audience 45 years into the past and channeled the vibrance and energy of Elton’s legendary performances.

When I caught up with the band after the performance, Metcalf said he had recovered from an autoimmune disease several years prior — a disease that doctors said he was likely to die from. It seemed fitting that he started the performance with Elton’s “I’m Still Standing.”

After Metcalf recovered, a friend told him that tribute bands were where the work was these days, and that “he always did a pretty good Elton.” The rest is history as Metcalf went on to be featured on AXS Television’s “World’s Greatest Tribute Bands.” He’s been the premiere Elton tribute performer ever since, carrying endorsements of AXS as well as Elton’s original producer and lead guitarist, Caleb Quaye.

I couldn’t stop being impressed by the way Metcalf was expertly able to capture the look and sound of Elton John during his early period. I’ve heard a few tribute groups that try so hard to come across as the original but are ultimately unsuccessful — leaving me wishing they would just play the covers as themselves.

But that wasn’t the case with Metcalf, who allowed for the audience to sink into what truly felt like a genuine Elton John concert. But as uncanny as Metcalf’s Elton performance was, he’d have been hard pressed to wow the audience the way he did without his “EarlyYears” band.

Joining Metcalf at the Ridgecrest performance were guitarist Larry Hampton, bassist Brian Paulsen and drummer Mark Kelly. These muscians proved their worth when they effortlessly rocketed into the powerhouse instrumental “Funeral for a Friend,” segueing into “Love Lies Bleeding” (the 11-minute opener of Elton’s magnum opus “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”).

Metcalf piloted the audience through a variety of styles (while wearing a variety of rhinestoned getups) from rockers like “Take Me to the Pilot” and “Crocodile Rock” to lighter-waving ballads like “Candle in the Wind” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” (the only other ’80s tune they played along with “I’m Still Standing”).

But after I saw his performance and chatted with the band, what really struck me came the following morning when they reprised their performance for local elementary-school students. As engaged as the IWVCA’s audience was, it paled in comparison to the students’ joy of seeing these fabulous performers on the stage.

When IWVCA President Julius Botelho got on stage and told the children that “sitting down and being quiet” was unacceptable for a rock concert, I’m sure it made the teachers and chaperones nervous. Because as soon as Metcalf came out on stage in his glittery silver and white suit, complete with cape, platform shoes and oversized sunglasses, the children were standing, dancing, clapping and screaming— there was no containing their unbridled excitement.

Metcalf and crew captivated the children for nearly an hour with music some of them may have never heard, but it didn’t stop them from somehow singing along. They waved their hands to “Rocket Man,” extended their arms to mimic clamping jaws during “Crocodile Rock” and looked like they were having the time of their lives — and not just because they got to miss class.

By the time Metcalf and his band departed to carry on their show in Las Vegas, I’m sure they were as entertained by our youth as we were by the electrifying performance.

IWVCA’s next concert will be Jan. 24 at the Burroughs PAC. The association will host The Maxwell Quartet, a string quartet hailing from Scotland and England (maxwellstringquartet.com).

For more info about the IWVCA, visit iwvca.tripod.com/season.html.

Story First Published: 2018-11-21