Does it get more iconic than Elton John?
I have to admit, before the gig I questioned if Elton the man could live up to Elton the myth. I won’t keep you guessing. In the flesh, he is bigger, bolder, and brighter than I could have hoped. He holds the audience in the palm of his hand, for every precious second.
Sir Elton is scheduled to begin at 8pm. There is no warm up act; a statement of intent in itself. This is his farewell tour, and he’ll do it his way. The fully seated Arena is packed. An enormous screen fills our vision, with a multi-coloured animation of Elton heading down a Yellow Brick Road and the word ‘Farewell’ floating above it. We wait. Anticipation sparks through the air, bouncing off flashing headbands, sparkly glasses and feather boas, to create a festival feel unusual to find at an indoor gig.
The longevity alone of this performer, over 50 years in the business and going strong, is awe inspiring. Add that to what he means to people for being a trailblazer and the sparkling icon we needed him to be, and you have the recipe for an emotional night not to be forgotten.
At five past, Elton walks on stage to take his place at the long, black, imposing piano. He pounds on the first key with drama to massive applause; the second and pauses to soak it up; the third and he stands for a complete ovation; and the fourth to ensure the crowd is at peak frenzy. Then he sets into a blistering ‘Bennie and the Jets’. No one is left in any doubt. This is going to be epic.
Many in the audience bought tickets for this show four years ago, and Elton says he appreciates them waiting for him. He says, “It’s been an awfully long time since you bought tickets, there was Covid and my hip, Thank you for holding onto the tickets, I hope we have great fun.”
The first few songs are a warm embrace of the audience. Elton and his band play together like a group of men who have known each other all their lives, because they basically have. Later, when he introduces each member individually, he tells us three of the six have been with him since 1969, and how grateful he is for them. This band, he says, “kicks ass like no other before”.
Just when we’re getting used to the magnificence that is Sir Elton with his troupe, he switches it up for ‘Border Song’. The band disappears, and it’s just him with his piano. He tells us the story of Aretha Franklin covering the song, and what it meant to him so early in his career. How awed he was by her performance six months before her death. His genius is never more clear than during this soulful rendition.
As the first notes of ‘Tiny Dancer’ ring out, cheers echo around the stadium. The band is back, and for the first time it’s obvious why three drummers and sets of drums are needed. The variety of percussion emanating from the stage is a spectacle and sound bath to behold.
Throughout the night, each song could easily be viewed as a stand alone production. This is emphasised by most songs receiving, if not always a full – then a large – ovation. The visuals on the giant screen, though more often than not animations, have a completely different look and feel to one another. From the dark and gothic images of blood and chains used for ‘Have Mercy on the Criminal’, to the retro comical beach pics used for ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’, each collection makes their song even more vivid, and tells a story of their own.
For the briefest of seconds I wonder why it feels like aliens are landing, then I realise we’ve reached ‘Rocket Man’. Lights crash down around us, sound assails my ears, and then follows, arguably, the performance of the night. The spacey visuals and sing-along first lulls everyone into a blissed out trance. Then the band decide to have fun with us with a seemingly unbridled, having-the-time-of-their-lives, instrumental outro.
Three times the crowd cheers for what we think is the end, only to be brought back for more. When it finally does end it takes us all by surprise. It’s the cheekiest of cheeky grins Sir Elton flashes at the crowd, that tells us we were in safe hands all the time, he knew what he was doing. To bring the crescendo to an end he walks the length of the stage and back encouraging our cheers to continue. It really feels as if he’s loving this as much as we are.
I can tell from the accents and conversations I’ve overheard that the audience have travelled from all over Ireland to be here. Throughout the night, Sir Elton peppers his performance with meaningful touches to show he knows where he is, and appreciates us. He gives a shout out to U2, who he says are like “family” to him, and dedicates ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’ to them. He tells us, “Coming to Ireland has always been a pleasure, something I look forward to.” And he thanks us “for years of loyalty and love”. My favourite touch, though, is his green velvet robe and sparkly green glasses for the finale.
The gig is brought home with the riotous joy of ‘I’m Still Standing’, ‘Crocodile Rock’, and ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’. Everyone is on their feet dancing. Guitarists Matt Bissonette and Davey Johnstone take their opportunity to rock out at the front of the stage. John Mahon on percussion spins and does tricks with his drumsticks like they’re just an extension of his hands. The gig ‘ends’ and confetti flies from the roof to celebrate just how lucky we all were to be here tonight.
Of course, we call out for ‘one more tune’, but there is never any doubt. The finale begins with ‘Cold Heart’, a remix version he did with Dua Lipa in 2021. He merrily sings along with the backing track, with Dua Lipa on the big screen, and takes the opportunity to interact with the audience, pointing and smiling, his fingers free from the keys. This is followed by his first ever hit ‘Your Song’, the linking arms and swaying moment for us all, before he finishes with ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’.
Sir Elton leaves us with the feeling that we were part of something really special tonight, magical even, not only for his musical wizardry, but because great art inspires. He bade adieu with these words, “Kindness is what makes the world go round. You never hear about kindness in the Daily Mail. You only hear about hate. So keep on being kind, keep on loving, keep on being generous, because that is what sums you all up. Good night, take care of yourself.”