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Old Songs (Say So Much): Elton John and the Joy of Nostalgia

02/07/2014 05:37 EST | Updated 04/09/2014 05:59 EDT

When I was a kid in the late '80s, The Who went on tour to celebrate their 25th anniversary, and we all mocked them for it. Certainly the band set themselves by singing "I hope I die before I get old" but mostly it was because kids don't understand nostalgia. They're simply not old enough.

I didn't have a proper nostalgic concert experience until years later when I went to see The Pixies play their first (and now un-ending) reunion tour. The joy I got from hearing the pioneering alt-rockers play both versions of "Wave of Mutilation" simply would not have existed if I hadn't been such a huge fan of the song and the memories it evoked of the person I was when I endlessly played Doolittle and watched my VHS copy of Pump Up The Volume.

I've since enjoyed the same experience seeing The Breeders, Depeche Mode and other bands that meant so much to me in my youth.

That, however, was not the case for me when I entered Toronto's Air Canada Center on Feb 6 to see Elton John, but it was for almost everyone else there.

Obviously, I know Elton John and his music. As the man himself pointed out onstage, decked out in an expectedly sparkly suit and ruby slippers, he's being doing this for about 45 years. In fact, he's sold 300-million albums and landed 50 Top 40 hits, including a 31 year run between 1971 and 2000 in which he had at least one song in the Billboard 100.

But the parts of his legacy that are mine -- the Princess Diana version of "Candle in the Wind," the duets with Eminem and Axl Rose, the AIDS activism, the posse cut "That's What Friends Are For" and, of course, The Lion King soundtrack -- are not the reasons why Elton John will be forever remembered. (OK, except maybe the Diana one, which remains his best-selling single.)

I know the older songs -- I did have parents with an enviable vinyl collection -- but ultimately my first memory of Elton John is his Muppets appearance.

So his concert meant something different to me than much of the sold-out crowd that filled the hockey arena. They much older than, say, the audience at Kanye's "Yeezus" show, which was the last I'd attended there. There was almost no security, people took pics with Blackberries rather than iPhones and the crowd sat for most of the show. (This I rather liked, actually, following a hard day at work.)

But when they stood, holding each other close while crooning along to "Tiny Dancer" or shouting back the chorus to "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)," their minds were mixing the present music with past memories that gave the moment an added power.

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Elton John's Hits Through the Years

Lacking that perspective -- aside from some light reminiscing during some of my parents' favourite Elton tunes, like "Your Song," or "Rocket Man," or "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" -- I got to view it in the present-tense.

And it was still pretty powerful. Credit John's 47-years-and-counting collaboration with Bernie Taupin, which has led to some of modern music's best songs, but don't discount his 66-year-old stamina. For over two-and-a-half hours, John now-slightly-pudgy fingers wailed away on the piano, mixing rock, blues and jazz influences into pop perfection, while his voice remained surprisingly strong even if his high notes are lost to history.

He played a number of deep cuts -- "Holiday Inn," "Mona Lisas and Madd Hatters" -- and a number that may or may not have been deep cuts. I knew over half of the 28-song setlist, but not that much more.

But that's fine, because the concert wasn't for me, not really. At one point, Elton said "I was going to play a new song but it's a waste of time because you don't want to hear a new song."

He was right -- and he can hardly complain considering the tour is to promote the upcoming re-release of his epochal 1973 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album, the first four songs of which he used to kick off the night.

But he can also hardly be bummed about that when he gets to end the show with an arena full of loving fans joining him en masse to sing the la-la-la-las of his 42-year-old classic "Crocodile Rock."

Elton John au Centre Bell