Elton John at the O2 Arena
How to do justice to the legend and icon that is Elton John, performing as he was last night, one of his final ever gigs as part of the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, in just a few hundred words? Of course, the question is rhetorical, as none can fully capture the experience, only convey a glimpse of the towering talent and warmth of heart on display in the cavernous O2 Arena.
The famed singer-songwriter made a point of acknowledging right off the bat that many of the audience had been waiting a full four years for this night to happen, with the pandemic for one being the cause of delays and postponements. His way of apology? A promise to “make it a really good show”. On that, he truly did deliver.
Staged at his trusty piano, donning his trademark statement glasses and sequined jacket get-up that had some enjoyable variations throughout the night, with his similarly-aged-and-talented band behind him, the set-up was refreshingly straightforward. Visuals on the screens alternated between videos of brightly-clad dancers, archival footage of his old gigs and clips from 2019 biopic Rocketman, while live footage of John singing and close-ups of his nimble fingerwork on the keys were displayed in stunning technicolour or black and white in tandem with the mood. The most flashy stage antics came when the piano moved from one side to the other while he performed. No further bangs and flashes were needed – these songs spoke for themselves.
Highlights are hard to choose as it was solid gold from end to end. He began by belting out Bennie and the Jets, demonstrating his voice has lost none of its unique quality and power, a fact that sadly is not universally true of artists of his generation. Indeed, the taint of melancholic sadness that this may be one of his last live performances was compounded by the fact he’s still totally top of his game. But perhaps his decision to step back from touring life while he could easily continue is what adds to his aura of grace.
With such a decades-spanning back catalogue of tremendous hits, one could feel among the audience how each track held its own subjective significance, the crowd brimming with nostalgia and burning with emotion as they hung off his every searingly-affecting lyric, whether I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues, Tiny Dancer or I’m Still Standing. There was a collective welling-up with Candle in the Wind, recalling as it did not only Marilyn Monroe but Princess Diana’s passing, while Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me brought to mind the dynamite duet version with the late, great George Michael. Undoubtedly a peak amidst peaks was Rocket Man, arguably one of his very best, in which his vocals soared, with not an ounce of energy or passion held back.
Between tracks, there were gems of anecdotes and heartfelt reflections of the hundreds of gigs he’d played, people he’d worked with and highs and lows of his career, as well named mentions of his biggest fans and fellow band musicians. His beaming expressions, alternately professing earnest sentiments and playfully egging on the crowd, encapsulated his uniquely flamboyant yet down-to-earth, monumentally famous yet humble, disposition. When he spoke out to the audience for a final time, it genuinely seemed as though he was speaking personally to each and every attendee: “I’ve got a good heart, a good head and a good soul and you’ll be in it,” sharing how much he’ll miss performing.
By the encore, almost all bums were off seats, his version of Cold Heart with Dua Lipa a reminder that he’s kept his music bang up to date with his recent collabs, then a final release of sentiment came with the endearingly naive and much-covered Your Song. His final departure came with the titular Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, seeing his figure retreat into a Who Framed Roger Rabbit-esque animated wonderland wearing an “Elton John”-emblazoned red bomber jacket to close out what was undeniably a glittering barnstormer of a performance. Now that’s what you call an exit.
Photo: Elton John’s press material
For further information and future events visit Elton John’s website here.
Watch the video for the single Hold Me Closer here: