Elton John will perform at 1st Mariner Arena this Saturday. It'll be 40 years after he first performed in the city, at the Mill Run Theatre, on his first American tour.

Since then, he's performed scores of times in the area, most recently two years ago in Washington with Billy Joel. But the last time he played Baltimore proper was in 1999.

On tour lately he's been performing his greatest hits, but also selections from his excellent collaboration with Leon Russell, "The Union."

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The album, a mix of boogie-woogie flourishes, blues, and classic rock, finds Elton showing off the kind of swagger he hasn't in years.

In songs like "Hey Ahab" his writing is playful and clever, and his performance is as euphoric as the Elton of old. Elton and Leon, by the way, will perform together on Saturday Night Live later this year. Fingers already crossed for an Elton-Stefon pairing.

"The Union," which includes vocal cameos by contemporaries like Neil Young and Brian Wilson, was nominated for a Grammy earlier this year, but lost to, ugh, another Herbie Hancock record.

Still, those who've seen Elton in concert say anyway that's where he's in his element, donning the kind of get-ups that would make Kylie Minogue blanch. While reporting a story about 1st Mariner Arena's 50th anniversary, Chris Kaltenbach talked to Pat O'Malley, a former sports reporter for the Sun, who recalled seeing the singer in the early 70s.

"He started yelling back at security," O'Malley said. "He told security to get out of the way, and they did. The next thing you know, he did 'Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting,' and there were a couple hundred fans up on the stage…It was wild — really wild."

Can Elton still deliver those kinds of spectacles? When was the first time you saw him in concert and what was the experience like? Will he change the lyrics to "Candle in the Wind" again to honor Liz Taylor?

Update: A slightly longer preview of the show and review of "The Union" is here.

Photo: Elton John and Billy Joel performing in Washington in 2009 

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