- 25 Mar 21
To celebrate Elton John's 74th birthday, we're rewinding it back to June 2019 – when he brought his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour to the 3Arena, Dublin.
We get a bit of an orchestral overture before the striking opening chords of ‘Bennie And The Jets’ and then there he is, Elton Bloody John, resplendent in a glitter trimmed - of course – tux. Naturally, he knows exactly where the cameras are, and gives the assembled photographers his trademark mouth open in a roar pose. The song slows slightly for those huge chords in the chorus and then our man gives the first piano work out of the night. It might not be the thing that comes to mind when you think of him, but Elton can play that piano, and his voice is in great shape too, positively howling it out. There’s something in the song’s tale of a fictional band that reflects John’s career, the young lad from Pinner who imagined himself into the biggest rock star on the planet, responsible for some unbelievable record sales back in the day. The song finishes and he absolutely milks the applause, and why wouldn’t he? He’s earned it. The crowd adore him, and he adores them right back.
Billed as John’s Farewell tour, and there’s no reason to doubt him, this is not quite his last Dublin show – he’s due back here next year – but it’s as near as makes no difference. After ‘All The Girls Love Alice’ – featuring tubular bells for Christ’s sake – he enthuses about his love for Dublin audiences and thanks us for buying a ticket. Then it’s ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’ with laugh out loud visuals of less than glamorous couples in love, i.e. real people. It’s both funny and touching. The keyboard solo doesn’t quite match Stevie Wonder’s harmonica solo on the record but what could? The band sound as incredible as one would expect although it would seem the bass player managed to slip the sound man a fiver for some extra attention. Before ‘Border Song’ he tells the story of Aretha Franklin covering the tune and the confidence it gave to himself and Bernie Taupin. You can hear what Aretha heard in it in tonight’s performance. It’s an incredible piece of music but it sounds like ‘Baby Shark’ when it’s followed by the immortal, pedal steel led ‘Tiny Dancer’. I could tell you about the Los Angeles scenes being played out on the video screens but, to be honest, I wasn’t paying any attention to those. I was thinking about the good woman beside me, I was thinking about old times, I was thinking about my friend Coffey singing this to me at two in the morning, and I was roaring along to the chorus with everyone else. If this song were all he did, then that would be enough. I was welling up, and I wasn’t on my own.
‘Philadelphia Freedom’ played out in front of what looked like one of those old United Colours of Benetton ads – all tinfoil pants, fake smiles and daft hats – but that didn’t take away from the song itself, with all three percussionists working hard. Elton goes walkabout to soak in the applause again, saving it up perhaps for when this tour finally draws to a close. Back to the percussionists: when you first look at Ray Cooper you might think there’s a fella getting a lot out of just slapping a tambourine but his work here on various instruments – congas, bells, you name it – during the three-part opera/movie ‘Indian Sunset’ is really something to behold. It’s no wonder he’s worked with Elton for so long. ‘Rocket Man’ sports a beautiful acoustic guitar/piano coda – an extended flight, if you will - and the honky-tonkisms of ‘Take Me To The Pilot’ carry Elton all the way back to that fantastic 17-11-70 three-man live album from when he was just getting going.
The hits just kept on coming – ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ with its animated backdrop of Captain Fantastic falling foul of temptation, a positively epic ‘Levon’ going double-time for a hoedown before taking off altogether for an extended jam that found room for the ‘Saturday Night’s Alright’ riff and a blast of ‘Ticket To Ride’, Elton shaking his tired and burning hands out at the song’s end, and a solo ‘Candle In The Wind’ with the piano gliding across the stage. Then we get the full Pink Floyd/Yes (Close To The Reg?) treatment for ‘Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding’ – thunder! Lightning! Dry ice! Lasers! This is what we paid for.
Elton has now changed out of his tux into a flower-strewn sports jacket, pink trouser and red shoes. To look at him is almost to feel sad as you ask yourself “Why the hell am I living in black and white when there’s characters like this in the world?” ‘Burn Down The Mission’ brings out the New Orleans/Jump blues feel and finishes with an effect that makes Elton’s piano appear to be on fire, which, in a way, it is. After ‘Daniel’, ‘Believe’ is dedicated to the noble work of the Elton John Aids foundation. He then goes into ‘Sad Songs’ and the crowd can sit no more, the floor is invaded by dancers and nobody says boo to them.
When John expresses his gratitude to the crowd for “everything you threw my way” and thanks us all “from the bottom of my English heart” he gets a blast of ‘Ole, Ole’ in response and he’s visibly moved, even tinkling out a bit of the tune on the ivories. He’s shooting fish in a barrel now – ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’, ‘The Bitch is Back’ and ‘Crocodile Rock’. The arena is hopping, the floor very much moving underneath us in the stands. The camera is turned on an overjoyed crowd including a half mortified, half delighted Bono enjoying a night out. If anything he takes it up a notch for ‘I’m Still Standing’ and then ‘Saturday night’s Alright For Fighting’ which has confetti falling from the ceiling and Bruce Lee kicking arse on the screen. What more could you possibly want?
For the encore, he’s in a green dressing gown with pink trim because, as I said earlier, he's Elton Bloody John. He hardly needs to open his mouth at all for the closing ‘Your Song’ and, of course, ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’, the throng only too delighted to do the heavy lifting for him. If this really is his final time out on the road then this is a lesson, a masterclass, in how to say goodbye. Guilty pleasure? Madam, I never felt guilty about a pleasure in my life. Absolutely marvellous.