Current Issue #488

Elton John at Botanic Park

Elton John's Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour
Ben Gibson / Chugg Entertainment
Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour

Adelaide gets a dignified sign off from the rocket man as Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road makes its way around Australia.

Farewell tours are always dicey propositions. Either it turns out to be a false alarm and the artist is back 18 months later, or they risk drawing everyone’s attention to how age and health is taking its toll on a once great performer – or, in the recent case of KISS, both.

But this global sign-off lap by Elton John has an undeniable air of finality about it. He and his husband have a family now which can’t help but change priorities, but also it’s clear that this is not the sprightly performer of old. These days even Elton John’s motorised piano moves very slowly, like a mighty Roomba gently tidying the stage, and at the end of the show he literally steps into a perspex stairmaster to ascend for his final bow.

But dear god, as this 25 song set makes clear, the man has earned it.

Hell, he pulls out Benny And The Jets as his opener. In fact, most of the set consists of songs which lesser artists would save for the big closing number, each performed as though it was the last song they’d ever play.

The other indicator that this is indeed the last hurrah is his band, half of which are effectively Elton’s own Spiders From Mars. White-gloved drummer Nigel Olssen, livewire guitarist/bandleader Davey Johnstone and show-stealing percussionist Ray Cooper have been in the Elton John Band since the early 70s, and seeing them on stage now is a thrill in itself. It’s not often you see a 68 year old man rip out a screaming guitar solo on a gold lamé Les Paul.

And it’s a perfect soundtrack for a balmy Adelaide night in the park lands: after Benny we get All The Girls Love Alice and I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues, Tiny Dancer turns up early as does Rocket Man, there’s a mid-set bracket of ballads (Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word, Someone Saved My Life Tonight – with a full-on nightmarish psychedelic animation based around the Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy artwork – and, naturally, Candle In The Wind) before the first costume change into Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding and we start on the home stretch.

While the band is great, Elton is in solid form throughout this almost three hour performance. His honky tonk is still aggressive and his voice strong, and if he can’t quite hit those high notes anymore percussionist John Mahon is on hand to slot in. And although Elton’s pretty much stationery, the visuals and Cooper’s enthusiastic performance more than make up for it.

As retrospectives go, there’s a tacit admission that his earlier stuff is his most loved. There’s exactly one song representing the last 25 years of John’s output – 2001’s I Want Love – but when he starts into the undeniable bracket of The Bitch Is Back, I’m Still Standing, Crocodile Rock (with a fairly insipid singalong from the audience – c’mon, Adelaide, lift your game) and the closing Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, who’s going to notice, much less object?

There’s a mighty brief pause because curfews are curfews, and then the band are back for Your Song and, of course, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. And then Elton’s in the stairmaster, waving farewell to Adelaide for the last time, going back to his plough.

Elton John performed at Botanic Park on Wednesday 4 December

4 – 5 December

Andrew P Street

Andrew P Street

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Andrew P Street is a freelance writer whose books include The Short And Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign Of Captain Abbott (2015) and The Long And Winding Way To The Top (2017).

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