1. Arts & Entertainment

Elton John brings piano-thumping good time to refurbished USF Sun Dome

Judy Genshaft, center, University of South Florida president, was in the crowd to watch Elton John perform at the refurbished USF Sun Dome on Friday.
Published Sep. 17, 2012

TAMPA — Looking like a well-fed Wizard of Oz in a green sparkly jacket, Elton John flashed a gap-toothed grin, pointed to the sold-out crowd of 9,951 and pounded into Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting — the first song played in the "new" era of the USF Sun Dome, which looked green 'n' sparkly itself.

Never mind that the college playpen, which underwent a major $35.6 million overhaul, has already staged a few events in its now-shiny digs.

Friday's show was the "official" grand opening, and the 65-year-old Rocket Man christened the refurbed joint with close to three hours of robust hits and gorgeous rarities, all of which swirled deliciously in that new arena smell.

No longer does the Sun Dome, which first opened in 1980, reek like a soggy sweat sock. No longer do the creaky seats and bleachers wreak havoc on your hindquarters. No more does the bleak, skin-bleaching lighting remind you of twisted horror flick Seven.

Pretty much the entire joint — from the toilets to the paint job — has been gutted and revamped.

Yes, it's still an athletic center, and many of the changes, including a monstrous center-hung video scoreboard, will be better appreciated at basketball and volleyball games.

But hey, it sure looked sharp at Elton's show.

The vibe was different, too. USF is a big-time university that deserves a big-time arena. And now, after decades of want, it finally has one.

If you want to break in your new house with pomp and panache, Elton John is certainly a good man for the gig. Backed by a band that at times swelled to 11 pieces, including R&B singers and hunky cello players, the iconic British popster smiled, and mugged, and flirted, all the while churning out monster hits: Bennie and the Jets, Tiny Dancer, Philadelphia Freedom.

For Levon, his pudgy yet tireless fingers worked so quickly, so nimbly, it was obvious he was showing off. And why not? The guy can still bring it.

You knew the hits were coming. But the go-go-go concert reached truly special heights when he dipped into the quirkier pockets of his back catalog.

Grey Seal is a ferocious song, a rousing, crescendoing workout, and the fact that it makes absolutely zero sense does not hamper its infectious energy. He dedicated the fragile Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters to a post-Sept. 11 New York City and "the fortitude of people under duress."

And through it all — a juke-joint version of I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues, a full-tilt-boogie rendition of Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding — the piano player worked as if this really were a special night. Honestly? He probably knew he was "somewhere in Florida," and that's about it.

But hey, on this night of fresh starts and sparkly possibilities, why not believe that Sir Elton John, just like the rest of us, was really jacked about the sweet new Sun Dome, too? After all, three decades later, the place is finally pretty darn cool.

Sean Daly can be reached at Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.


  1. Ginger molasses spice cookies LORRAINE FINA STEVENSKI  |  Special to the Times
    They’re loaded with fresh seasonal spices, plus pecans and raisins.
  2. Boys II Men perform during at the Grammy Museum gala tribute concert in 2013 in Los Angeles. PAUL A. HEBERT  |  Invision/AP
    The Clearwater Jazz Holiday and Hillsborough County fair open, plus the Morean Arts Center presents the “Picture My Life” exhibit and silent auction.
  3. Screenshot of Austin Davis from a Vice News documentary on Youtube. Vice News/Youtube
    The 20-year-old Keystone Heights resident has selective eating disorder believed to stem from childhood trauma.
  4. Universal Studios team members walk through the Universal Monsters haunted house at a preview of Halloween Horror Nights 2019. SEBASTIAN ROJAS  |  Courtesy of Universal Orlando
    There are lots of parties this week for both kids and adults, as well as many pumpkin patches.
  5. Hauntizaar, hosted at St. Petersburg venue the Studio@620, will feature Frank Strunk III's Little Creep series of toothy metal smiles on Saturday. Courtesy of Frank Strunk III
    Plus, Zen Glass presents Pendant Palooza and a streetwear popup shop hits Mergeculture Gallery.
  6. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman (77), right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) and center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrate a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during a game in Toronto this month. COLE BURSTON  |  AP
    The Bolts are home for games against the Avalanche and Penguins, plus wrestling and volleyball.
  7. University of South Florida professor Jay Hopler. Courtesy of Jay Hopler
    Plus, Diane Dewey will sign her memoir at St. Petersburg bookstore Haslam’s.
  8. The John's Pass Seafood & Music Festival will return to Madeira Beach for its 38th installment this weekend. But the Friday event, Flavors of the Gulf, is a big draw for gastronauts. SCOTT KEELER  |  Times (2016)
    Flavors of the Gulf and two stone crab fests embrace Florida seafood, plus a mac 'n' cheese fest, Top Local Chef and a gardening class.
  9. From left: Zoey Deutch, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson in "Zombieland 2: Double Tap." JESSICA MIGLIO  |  Sony Pictures
    Plus, the ‘Jay & Silent Bob Reboot,’ Tampa Bay Latin Film Festival and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Western Stars.’
  10. Rocca partner and chef Bryce Bonsack stretches fresh egg yolk pasta that will later become tagliolini at his new Tampa Heights restaurant. LUIS SANTANA   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Rocca’s chef will pay homage to the people he spent months learning from in Monforte d’Alba.