On August 25, 1970, Elton John made his U.S. debut in a legendary six-night sold-out run at West Hollywood’s Troubadour. John’s eponymous first album—which was released in the states on July 22—had landed on the Troubadour owner Doug Weston’s desk with a request for the undiscovered pianist to play a date as his club. Weston, upon hearing it, immediately booked him.
The band consisted of Nigel Olsson on drums, Dee Murray on bass, and Elton John was playing the house piano that his idol Laura Nyro had played just two weeks earlier. The 300-seat club was filled with music industry notables brought in by the label, as well as artists like Quincy Jones, Gordon Lightfoot, Leon Russell, the Beach Boys’ Mike Love and Three Dog Night’s Danny Hutton. Before the show Neil Diamond took the stage to a thunderous applause and introduced Elton: “Folks, I’ve never done this before, so please be kind to me. I’m like the rest of you; I’m here because of having listened to Elton John’s album. So I’m going to take my seat with you now and enjoy the show.”
Elton came out on stage, sat down at the piano and with no banter launched into “Your Song” solo at the piano, with Dee coming in on bass midway through. Next was “Bad Side of the Moon” with Nigel kicking it off with a drum intro, and the crowd was officially sold.
In addition to the first two songs, the set list included: “Sixty Years On,” “I Need You To Turn To,” “Border Song,” “Country Comfort,” “Take Me To the Pilot,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” and “Burn Down the Mission.” Of these songs, just five were on the only Elton John record actually available for sale at the time. One song was a Rolling Stones cover, one was the b-side to his “Border Song” single, and two were from an album that would not reach American ears for another five months.
After the first night, Robert Hilburn, music critic for the Los Angeles Times, wrote: “Tuesday night at the Troubadour was just the beginning. He’s going to be one of rock’s biggest and most important stars.” And as Hilburn predicted, in 1990 Rolling Stone magazine declared these shows to be among the 20 most important concerts in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.