Elton John at the 3Arena, 9th December 2014
After health scares in 2013, and falling publicly on a tennis court last week, it was fantastic to see Elton John at the very top of his game in the 3Arena on Tuesday last.
The near-capacity crowd was seemingly in agreement, as the London master of melody wowed us with a well-chosen set-list, choc-full of big hits, classic album cuts – particularly from his great early ‘70s albums – and some longer epic numbers.
He opened with one of those long songs, feeling his way nicely in to the complex piano passages and rock-opera of Love Lies Bleeding/Funeral for a Friend.
Elton’s band have been with him for years (over 40 years in some cases), and were as tight as you would expect, but never complacent or stale. Guitar is always second priority to piano in an EJ band, but Davey Johnstone still adds a lot to the show, offering subtle guitar backing when needed and on occasion being a bit more showy. The drummer and percussionist also impressed, with a second keyboard player adding shades, harmony and effects behind Elton.
And what about the voice? These days Elton’s voice is still strong, expressive, and probably at its best in his middle range. This is very apparent on at least two of the big hits – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Tiny Dancer – where he skips the famous high notes, but the arrangement is so strong that it doesn’t matter. The latter of those two songs is preceded by a mention of that song’s huge recent charity success in the ‘Song for Lily Mae’ Irish campaign.
Most of these songs are important touchstones for many music fans who came of age in the ‘70s and ‘80s. All performed very well, with old familiars Your Song to Rocket Man being major highlights of the concert. Prior to Your Song, Elton pays tribute to Bernie Taupin, his co-writer through all these decades.
The show is boosted by very impressive lighting and the occasional use of video, but the concert is mainly about the music and the singer, who seems to be in excellent humour as he works the crowd, and only speaks when he has something genuine to say.
Musically, it is interesting to observe the influence of Elton John and his band(s) on other acts such as Phish. This is particularly evident when you hear and see the great piano-centred jamming tonight on songs like Levon.
From here Elton goes on to give us more epics such as Burn Down the Mission , more hits such as the swinging Sad Songs (Say So Much), and out and out rockers like Crocodile Rock and Saturday Night.
The final song of the night – Circle of Life – is perhaps not the best song he ever wrote. But that fact notwithstanding it brings to a close both this fine concert and Elton John’s touring year with satisfying effect.