tue 26/05/2020

Elton John’s iHeart Living Room Concert for America, YouTube review - the real star was a Mayo Clinic doctor named Elvis | reviews, news & interviews

Elton John’s iHeart Living Room Concert for America, YouTube review - the real star was a Mayo Clinic doctor named Elvis

Elton John’s iHeart Living Room Concert for America, YouTube review - the real star was a Mayo Clinic doctor named Elvis

Sir Elton John: this time we can't stand by

Not so much phone a friend as iPhone a friend

Available in Britain now on YouTube for only a couple of days, Elton John’s iHeart Living Room Concert for America was put together in less than a week and was broadcast in the US on Sunday evening. In normal circumstances, the slot would have been occupied by the iHeart Radio Music Awards, which were to have been carried live from the Shrine Auditorium in LA.

Available in Britain now on YouTube for only a couple of days, Elton John’s iHeart Living Room Concert for America was put together in less than a week and was broadcast in the US on Sunday evening. In normal circumstances, the slot would have been occupied by the iHeart Radio Music Awards, which were to have been carried live from the Shrine Auditorium in LA.

When the ceremony cancelled earlier this month, Fox execs wondered what they might replace it with – what would be appropriate given the encroaching horror? And if they could put something together, would the public be forgiving about performances that were not up to scratch? How would amateur video look on TV? And would musicians want to allow the cameras into their homes, even if they were in charge of the filming? However good the latest iPhone camera, it’s a leap of faith.

No doubt it was another check-your-egos-at-the-door-moment, as per the famous instruction for the recording of “We Are the World” – except this time nobody was physically rubbing designer-draped shoulders with anybody else and the front doors were their own. Not everyone dressed up for the camera, though Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day had put on a little make-up and mussed-up his hair, and Mariah Carey had clearly spent some time in front of the mirror while watching her kids, to whom she paid tribute.

Sir Elton John was the evening’s MC, sitting in his white LA kitchen (there was an interesting lamp fixture) and briefly at a black desk, and calling up his “good friends”. He had dressed down, which is to say there was no flamboyance – he sported a blazer, understated specs and nicely coiffed hair. “Once we get through these tough times, better days lie ahead,” he assured everyone, introducing a music programme “from our homes to yours”. We had to do something, he said. It couldn't be like the AIDS crisis where we just watched helpless as people died. A UK tax-payer, Sir Elton expressed the hope that, when the crisis was over, life would be "nicer and fairer, and the have-nots will have a little more than they have now".

Inevitably it was uneven musically and technically, and the numbers that worked best were the genuinely home-made contributions, singers sitting in front of a fixed camera – unplugged, informal, just doing their bit without fuss and fandango. The solo acts and duos came off well, while bands who were multi-streamed looked contrived. The Backstreet Boys, playing “I Want It That Way”, were beamed in from living rooms across the country. Likewise, Tim McGraw perched on a diving board in his lush Nashville garden for “Something Like That”.

Billie Eilish (an ad for home schooling, Elton pointed out to worried parents) and brother Finneas performed from their sofa, studied casual. Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes were more elegantly arranged and turned in an exciting performance of “My Oh My”, Mendes teasing wonderful sounds from his Spanish guitar. One of the evening’s highlights, Sam Smith sang a cappella from his bedroom in London, finger-clicking his only rhythm section, on “How Do You Sleep”. From Hawaii, Dave Grohl offered “My Hero”. Wearing giant blue shades and seated on a sofa in her white New York City living room, H.E.R. debuted “Keep Holding On”.

Almost every artist offered a little homespun philosophy and Alicia Keys, whose contribution featured multiple camera angles and dissolves, dedicated her latest single “Underdog” to first responders. Released in January, the lyrics were eerily prescient.

Along the way, celebs including Ellen DeGeneres thanked everyone on the front line of keeping Americans safe and fed. Lady Gaga, from behind her Aviators, advised on “finding joy every day – do whatever you can in your communities” and described her "good friend" Elton as "the host with the biggest heart". Lizzo entreated us to “call a friend”, adding that “we can’t let the fear spread faster than the virus”. Medics, workers in factories and at home turning out face protection, truck drivers – all were given a voice. A young nurse, talking to a dash cam, cried as she talked about having spent the day “working in a war zone”, alone with two critical patients and limited supplies. This, she sobbed, is “my new normal”. Such moments genuinely tugged at the heartstrings which is no doubt why, within 24 hours, the initiative had raised more than $8 million.

Sir Elton played us out, with a verse of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me,” the keyboard normally used only by his sons for their piano practise. He was outshone by Dr Elvis Francois, the fortuitously named singing orthopaedic surgeon from the Mayo Clinic, who performed “Imagine”, accompanied by Dr William Robinson on piano, dressed in their scrubs and watched by an audience of similarly attired (and tired) colleagues. With his good looks and great voice, Francois has already become a YouTube sensation. There should be a fundraising record.

A young nurse cried as she talked about having spent the day 'working in a war zone', alone with two critical patients and limited supplies

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters