Shuffling onstage like a Faberge teddy bear enrobed in a glitzy dressing gown, his sequence encrusted frock coat festively twinkling in the darkness- it’s time to step into a Sir Elt’s Christmas. With his piano stool firmly affixed to the floor to avoid any further legs akimbo escapades like last week’s tennis tumble he launches into the proggy wig out of the ‘Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding’ segment from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Its elongated piano noodlings may not have been the intro expected but any fears of an ‘eclectic’ set list were demolished by the familiar 70s thump of glam-chugger ‘Bennie and the Jets’.
Sadly Bennie in all her electric boots and mohair suit glory could not raise more than a smattering of polite applause from the bizarrely rigid audience (who would make the Late Late show zombies look like overheated One Direction fans) it can be difficult to summon an atmosphere in cavernous arenas but when an artist as vibrant and flamboyant as Dame Elton is glittering on stage bauble-like banging out an exhaustive array of solid-gold hits, it seems strangely inconsistent that a large percentage of the audience seem like they’d rather be listening to the CD in their car on the way home. Perhaps the insistence on an all seated show inhibits the more enthusiastic fan or maybe Elton John aficionados show their appreciation by being in a near catatonic trance-like state? Reginald soldiers on regardless, doling out a perfunctory ‘Candle in the Wind’ and a blistering ‘Levon’ in quick professional succession before delivering an emotional ‘Tiny Dancer’ with a heartfelt dedication to six year old cancer survivor Lily-Mae Morrisson and her family.
Mining the brilliance of the Bernie and Elton ’70s songbook, peerless beauties are served up like a never ending selection box. The soft rock swoon of ‘Daniel’ with its breezy flute-style mellotron injecting a dose of summer wind into the bone-chilling night, before the majesty of ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ is unleashed in all its Technicolor pomp, sounding excitingly fresh and vital for a song celebrating its 40th anniversary. Although somewhat distractingly its psych- splendour is marred by the introduction of possibly the cheapest looking visuals this side of Winning Streak, a symbolic tour of Elton throughout the years ending with an image of his children appearing from an unfurling sunflower. Yes, it may be all about the serious business of ‘the music’ for Elton but the employment of an artistic show director such as Kylie’s inventive powerhouse William Baker- could give a live performance of this magnitude the visual gravitas it deserves instead of the disappointment of it looking like a dodgy screensaver from the bleak Encarta days.
However, crappy visuals aside nothing can take away from the glowing warmth of pop at its most perfect when Elton casually drops in show highlight ‘Rocket Man’, his voice weathered and weary adding another dimension to the stinging lyrics of isolation and loneliness. Any artist with a piano can be compared to Elton John these days but until Gaz Barlow manages to create something sonically bursting at the seams with a colossal sense of yearning and melancholy that are crammed into ‘Rocket Man’’s five minutes he might as well just go back to tax diddling and Tory trumpeting.
The crowd finally awakens during a finale of fun time hits with Elton jumping from his seat to encourage a rash of ferocious Mam Dancing to the vicious ‘Bitch is Back’, a silly ‘Crocodile Rock’ sing-a-long and the coked-out ‘I Will Survive’ rage of ‘I’m Still Standing’. Finishing with a Vegas-style Lion King mega mix of ‘Circle of Life’ and ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight?’ it may not have been the festive cracker some desired but instead was a comforting aural hug goodbye from pop’s own Father Christmas, spreading some much needed sparkle into the bitter December eve and managing to thaw out some frosty hearts in the process.
Elton John photographed for State by Kieran Frost