The gentrification of rock is something one cannot escape, considering the fact that rock ‘n’ roll first reared its zeitgeist-defining head in the 1950s. With this comes the distancing between rock ‘n’ roll and its original raison d’être as an outlet for teenage rebellion. Still, it must be said that for certain artists now firmly in the twilight of their careers, the music remains the focal point.
Definitely, Elton John – despite the controversies over the years concerning his sexuality, his eating disorders and elaborate stage costumes – is (in the final analysis) all about the music. Certainly there was a certain stiffness about the atmosphere at the Indoor Stadium initially as the front rows of (high priced) seats seemed intent to cross their arms and appear bemused at the phenomenal show that was unfolding before them. This was not helped by the ushers stopping the audience from standing up and dancing in their seats or approaching the stage – presumably that would have disrupted the enjoyment of the high-paying patrons at the front (who were killjoys to begin with)!
None of this was down to the fantastic performances that was happening on stage it must be emphasized. 2Cellos, a pair of cellists from Croatia, kicked off the night’s festivities with virtuositic deliveries of popular rock numbers, in particular Welcome to the Jungle, With Or Without You and Smells Like Teem Spirit. The majority of the 10,000 strong crowd certainly enjoyed the efforts of 2Cellos and demonstrated such appreciation wildly.
The moment 2Cellos finished, Elton and band launched into Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting and it was all systems go! And from then on it was almost three hours of non-stop hits and even more impressive improv moments. For the former, the likes of Tiny Dancer, Honky Cat (!), Candle in the Wind, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Daniel, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, Philadelphia Freedom, Bennie and the Jets brought tears to the eyes. Backed by a crack band that included stalwarts Davey Johnstone (guitar) and Nigel Ollsson (drums), the years rolled back and I certainly felt 15 again!
For the latter, Elton demonstrated his ability to lead a prolonged improv session with codas to Madman Across the Water and most significantly to Rocket Man which ran the gamut from blues, jazz, soul and even prog rock! Definitely, Elton and band were never content to go through the motions but proved what magnificent musicians they all were in the process.
Finally, for the last few songs, the audience were allowed to approach the stage and we were now treated to rollicking renditions of The Bitch Is Back (!) and Crocodile Rock – now this was more like it! Why did the organizers leave this to the end only? If anything that was the main letdown to an otherwise perfect night of awesome rock ‘n’ roll.
And an amazing night it was too – embellished by the presence of actor Kevin Spacey (whom Elton introduced, much to the obvious delight of the audience) – and it was such a pity that it had to end. Sure, I would have loved to hear Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding, Someone Saved My Life Tonight or even Ticking but really there was no arguing with that red-hot setlist. Through it all, it was obvious that Elton was having a ball and there is little doubt in my mind that we will never see an artist like him ever again. I am so very glad that even though it took me 35 years to do so, I finally watch Elton John live. Long may he run…
Thanks to Sammy Shirra-Moore for making this review possible. Pictures by Aloysius Lim/Live Music.