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Friday, 11 December 2015 |
Complete this sentence: Elton John is…
It’s sad that in music, you really only get to be known for one thing. David Bowie is an artist. Robbie Williams is an entertainer. Paul Kelly is a songwriter. Andrew Lloyd Webber is a composer. Rick Wakeman is a pianist.
Elton John is all of the above – which isn’t to say that some of the other names are not but his reputation for flamboyance and excess can overshadow the fact that he has excelled in all the fields mentioned for nearly fifty years. If you stop to think about it, he is probably responsible for more instantly recognisable tunes of the last half century than anyone this side of Lennon and McCartney.
While I doubt Sir Reg loses any sleep over the amount of respect he gets as a serious artist, he certainly deserves more and that’s how I approached this show. Musically, if nothing else, tonight we are in the presence of a bona fide living legend.
The show begins on a dramatic note with ‘Funeral For A Friend,’ the recorded introduction segueing into the live arrangement. At the conclusion of ‘Love Lies Bleeding,’ the people in the floor seats give a standing ovation, which they will continue to do after every song.
The band are all in sharp suits and ties while Elton wears a bright purple coat with “Captain Fantastic” emblazoned on the back and so many bright sequins that it often looks like it has laser lights attached. His vibrant jacket is obviously a nod to his three time platinum selling 1975 album, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.
They waste no time in launching into ‘Benny And The Jets,’ the crowd not quite taking the hint for the call-and-response the band were hoping for at the end. This is followed by ‘Candle In The Wind,’ with many in the audience waving their phone lights in the air – the 21st century cigarette lighters for power ballads.
The staging is quite minimal. There is a video wall behind the band, live video screens either side of the stage – both fairly standard for a show of this size – and a chandelier arrangement high above the stage. Aside from that, the staging seems almost austere, especially for an Elton John rock show but they are pacing themselves and the audience. With the piano arranged lengthways across the stage, Elton takes care to always acknowledge the quarter of the audience he has his back to first at the end of each song.
The chandelier begins to descend during ‘Tiny Dancer’ but otherwise, the first hour almost feels like a relatively no-frills Elton John concert.
That all changes when ‘Philadelphia Freedom’ starts and the show really begins to hit its straps. The chandelier descends further and the video wall which had been under-utilised until now begins playing some awesome graphics to accompany the song.
The video continues through ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ with some clever visual references to other album covers and there is some beautiful satellite imagery during ‘Rocket Man.’
The show is billed as the “All The Hits” tour, which I took as a coded message to people who only know the radio songs or fans who haven’t heard a new Elton John album since Sleeping With The Past. That they would not be subjected to a showcase of new songs from his forthcoming album Wonderful Crazy Night, or a complete performance of the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album – either of which would have made excellent shows. It is a bit of a misnomer, if only because if he were to play ALL the hits, we’d have been there well into Saturday morning. I was pleased though, to hear some less obvious selections including ‘Believe’ and a lovely solo version of ‘The One.’
It was disappointing to see so many people get up to leave during ‘Hey Ahab,’ a song from The Union album he made with Leon Russell. I know that a two and a half hour show is a long time to go without a pit stop, especially if you’re old enough to remember Elton John in the 70s and the seats at Rod Laver Arena can be pretty hard. I just found it a little disrespectful, especially after a heartfelt introduction where Elton described how kind Leon had been to him in the early days in America and how making the album had been a personal highlight of his career. Too bad for them that the missed a highlight of the show, both musically and visually. It was followed, appropriately enough, by ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.’
‘Your Song’ was dedicated to Tony and Bruce, who had written to Elton saying that they had come from Tasmania to see the mainland-only tour.
After the beginning of ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,’ fans were allowed to approach the stage and the front rows effectively became a general admission area. It was most suitable for the closing numbers, ‘The Bitch Is Back,’ ‘I’m Still Standing’ (which featured another great video collage of Elton through the eras), and of course the rambunctious, ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.’
Naturally, all the smartphones came out at this point and despite signs around the arena warning No Video. Percussionist John Mahon obligingly took fans’ phones and got some on-stage footage for them. It is good to see that Elton it still touring part of his original 70's band with Davey Johnstone on lead guitar and Nigel Olsson on drums, as well as Matt Bissonette on bass guitar and Kim Bullard on keyboards.
The band left the stage immediately at the end of the last song to wait for the inevitable encore requests. Before the full band returned Elton came out to sign autographs for those lucky enough to make it to the edge of the stage. While every international touring artist likes to tell crowds the affection they have for Australia, Elton John really does make us believe it.
‘Crocodile Rock’ provided the encore, and then they were gone as quickly as before. Ever the consummate performer and master entertainer, Elton John knows how do give the audience everything they want and leave them wanting more.
Our complete photo gallery of Elton John is available here:
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