Photos by Dan Soderstrom
The bitch isn’t coming back.
There are very few artists who have the cross-generational appeal as Elton John. He’s loved by everyone from boomers to millennials, largely because he embraces sentimentality with abandon and speaks to our universal experiences. ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’ is a pretty perfect song to wallow in after a breakup. ‘Your Song’ is filled with the wide-eyed optimism of new romance and ‘I’m Still Standing’ matches Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ as the ultimate anthem to being a bad bitch that keeps on keeping on.
We all listen to Elton John because we attach ourselves to the emotion he is singing about and not many do it better or with more conviction. He’s come full circle from being the height of hip in the ‘70s, to deeply uncool in the ‘90s – think ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight?’ – to incredibly cool again in his twilight. But the man has played every country outside the Arctic Circle, he’s ingested every substance known to man, worn more sequins than Ru Paul and, after fifty years, it’s time to close the grand piano for good.
The Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour, which will hang around our long coastline all summer, is his way of saying, ‘Thank you’. Australia has been kind to the old queen and he is a man who, based on this performance, obviously wants to give some love back. He opened with ‘Bennie And The Jets’, the only song that continues to get cooler the more times you listen to it. It’s Bernie Taupin’s piss-take of all the bullshit they put up with together in the music industry, but Elton sings it now from a place of love. Time has dulled his sharp tongue, but age will do that to the best of us.
The stage set up is as extra as you’d imagine it to be, but what quickly becomes evident is that he lacks someone in his team that can tell him when something is a terrible idea. There is a truly baffling music video to accompany ‘Tiny Dancer’ that, with its police car chases and a woman driving around with a vase of a loved one’s ashes, just serves to distract from what is a cracker of a singalong.
During one song, the giant screen shows the band onstage, with simulated fire covering Elton’s piano. The piano, we can all see, is most definitely not covered in fire.
But as cringe-worthy as some of the boomer energy was, Elton is just so damn adorable that it’s easily forgiven. He looks like the shiniest teddy bear ever made. It also helps that the man can play the fucking piano. Like, in one of those has to be seen to be believed kind of ways. What’s actually most remarkable about his playing is how restrained his recorded songs are in comparison, but live he lets the cat out of the bag and goes full Beethoven, beating the ivory keys into submission.
The setlist is perfectly sequenced, balancing the songs everyone is there to hear – the likes of ‘Rocketman’ and ‘Candle In The Wind’ – with deeper cuts, like the prog-rock masterpiece ‘Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding’ and one of Taupin’s cowboy tunes ‘Indian Sunset’.
During the perennially underrated ‘Levon’ from his 1971 masterful album Madman Across the Water, there’s a bridge that sent shivers down my spine. The piano chord suddenly lifts to a crescendo with swirling strings ceremoniously announcing Levon’s birth: “He was born a pauper to a pawn on a Christmas day, when the New York Times said God is dead and the war’s begun, Alvin Tostig has a son today.”
This is one of Bernie’s true moments of poetry and part of the wonder of Elton John’s career is that there are hundreds of these moments hidden across his thirty studio albums to find.
But as we inched past the 2.5 hour mark, a wave of collective emotion swept the crowd as we knew we were creeping towards the end. Opening the encore with ‘Your Song’, Elton made a tearful thank you to the crowd for their loyalty and love over the decades of Australian tours and there were crowd members close by who were openly weeping as the chords of ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ echoed through the stadium.
This time, the bitch isn’t coming back and those lucky enough to witness one of the true musical geniuses of the 20th century will count their lucky stars they were there. We’ll miss you Elton Hercules John, you beautiful, flamboyant queen.
Highlight: The improvised piano-solo outro to ‘Rocketman’ was spectacular.
Lowlight: Most videos on the giant screen were baffling, but the fake Marilyn Monroe lookalike during ‘Candle In The Wind’ takes the cake.
Crowd Favourite: ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ had the geriatric hips shaking in the aisles.