It's a given that Elton John can play his musical contemporaries under the piano. So when John indeed played from under the piano during a rousing version of "Bennie and the Jets," the display was further musical testimony of his unmatched skill.

It’s a given that Elton John can play his musical contemporaries under the piano. So when John indeed played from under the piano during a rousing version of “Bennie and the Jets,” the display was further musical testimony of his unmatched skill.

After a 30-year reign, lesser performers would have by now become content to rest on their laurels and merely phone in perfs designed to herald the release of a new album.

But John worked as hard as any something-to-prove newcomer during his nearly three-hour show Friday at the Forum, the first of two sold-out gigs at the venue and the latest stop on his current roadshow.

It’s too bad the audience didn’t work as hard as John.

Perhaps it was the celebrities who dotted the house or the 40-plus median age of the audience. The normally jaded L.A. crowd seemingly reached new levels of cynicism as many of them sat on their collective hands throughout much of John’s set.

Drawing from his hefty repertoire of classics and a spate of tracks from his latest release, “The Big Picture” (Rocket/Polydor Records), which included the recently released single “Something in the Way You Look Tonight,” John led an unerring and at times full-bore presentation that, for most in the house, served as a road map to adulthood.

Whether it was “Daniel” or a blistering version of “Take Me to the Pilot,” during which ax men Davey Johnstone and John Jorgenson impressively made their flying V guitars ring throughout the venue, John and company made all the right moves during the perf.

John’s dedication of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” to the late Carl Wilson — John called the Beach Boys the “most innovative band” in the music business — and perfs of “The One” and “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” also exemplified the set’s emotional underpinnings.

But John’s enthusiasm and mastery were perhaps best illustrated when he returned from backstage during an encore break and handed a tour baseball cap to a 10-year-old boy in the third row who had been energetically responding to each of the evening’s songs.

The gesture, coupled with John’s performance of the show-closer “Your Song,” — argua-bly one of the greatest songs of the rock era — demonstrated unequivocally the timelessness of John and co-writer Bernie Taupin’s material, while also explaining why challengers of the pair have been few and far between during the past three decades.

Elton John

The Forum; 21,203 capacity

Production

Presented by Avalon Attractions and Universal Concerts. Reviewed Feb. 20, 1998.

Cast

Band: John, Davey Johnstone, John Jorgenson, Bob Birch, Guy Babylon, Charlie Morgan, John Mahon, Billy Trudel.
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