Where to begin? Maybe at the start, possibly in the middle. But not at the end. As there is no end. To quote French, I'm more of ‘à bientôt’ rather than a ‘au revoir’ person. “Farewell' may have many connotations. If farewell means less regular views than before then so be it. An ending? Not here, not now, not ever.
There's no doubt an Elton 'buzz' coarsing through the vein and arterial flows of many a person right now. Remember when tickets for these shows went on sale? It was like Willy Wonka without the choccy bars. To have bought a ticket was more than the right decision. It was a decision that was right. Did Elton need to do this? No, he owes us nothing at this stage. A lifetime of applause to last him for a million years to use his own words. Even though we did buy the 'dreaded cassettes'! To stage his most carefully coordinated show of flamboyance tailored with panoramic visuals on an uncluttered yet towering stage layout does what it says on the tin. His seriousness of purpose seeped through every part of the production. As it did with the performance of the music.
A huge HD central screen with a grander modern scale version of the old cinema experience. An arrangement of the man playing piano just under the screen. We've come a long way in a 100 years. Films, visuals, montages and strategically interjected stage and crowd shots choreographed in complete sympathy with the music. A tremendous power punch.
One show is not enough to take in or be taken in by the spectacle.
No matter where you were placed in the venue your eyes are drawn in a myriad of directions. In all manner of ways and means whether it be simply making the big screen reflect on to those playing below no technique has been left unused. Over two nights I was able to soak up, nay immerse myself in as much as was thrown at me. To within tipping point of being sensually overwhelmed. Not an easy standpoint to hold to.
Rather than do a song by song synopsis I'll pluck some selected highlights. If you want to know the rest, buy a ticket and go to the show.
It's very good.
Regarding Elton's singing and playing there is no quarter given, taken or asked for. I often wonder who will it most. Elton or us? When he walks around from stage right to left to acknowledge every sector of his public you can see how much of a gee up it gives him. Either way what we've all experienced over the years on both sides of the fourth wall can't be retracted. It is only fit and proper that we should pay our due respects to thank Elton for regularly pitching up in our towns or nearby. He has given himself and us one final chance to deliver a show that is in keeping with the style he has maintained over the decades.
The band. Loyal sherpa’s. As per usual they played their hearts out. The camaraderie between themselves and Elton is based on mutual love and trust. Which seeps down in to the very deep rooted parts of every pore of the music. It would be impossible to quantify what exactly they mean to myself and all the other fans for their individual and collective contributions.
Put it this way. They went far further than putting the ooomph in to try and then coming up with triumph.
Davey's absence has been and will be noted. Was I disappointed? Of course. But health is wealth and everybody wishes him well. But there's only one person to have true validity to stand in for him. John Jorgenson has the shoe size to take those guitar boots walking. He 'gets' the music. His instrument choice is classy beyond words, his style is unique but flexible at all times to maintain the 'Elton sound'. It was a great study in guitar styles to listen how he was still able to recall his own unique licks and grooves from back in the 90's when I had the great pleasure of seeing him and Davey perform together with Elton. When John is back in the band this blog is very happy. If he were to stay when Davey returns get your happyometer out and watch the happiness mercury rise up. Geyser style.
Now on to the show itself.
A quick scan of the setlist shows no dullness of any points which could become sluggish. It falls somewhere on the scale of energy sapping and flat out exhausted. Rate yourself on that imaginary scale. His entrance is sudden; already in place and seemingly already underway. The opening salvo of Bennie and All The Girls Love Alice, especially with the formers opening notes with hanging gaps between them sets out the early stall. Alice gives anybody in doubt as to what the agenda is tonight. Posteriors will be kicked. Ray's tubular bell addition on the two breaks again show that additions as late as now still show how the music is still evolving.
Tiny Dancer, the favourite of the fans in the auditorium, with the delightful pedal steel giving it some great sincerity. Proper American steel played properly. Who spotted the new vocal additions on Philadelphia Freedom? Keen ears will have spotted those.
Indian Sunset. Let's think for a few seconds. Would a mega hit like I Guess That’s Why…, or to use that dreaded cliché the 'deep cut' like Indian Sunset get fulsome applause during it and then a standing ovation at the end? I may have given some pointers here. A genius stroke was at this point of the show to insert an Elton/Ray classic combo exercise in 2 man musical supremacy. Combined ages of...areas of the arena not familiar with the show lulled in to a false sense of security to go for a pit stop. But they stopped in their tracks. Elton's solo, relentless, unforgiving, driven with intensity spurred on by Ray's incessant accompaniment. It seemed to last for ages, stopping suddenly which drew rapturous applause. Captivated attendees waited for the next turn. Bernie's words were seizing the attendees imaginations. Attendees maintained attentiveness. After piano and percussion had been subjected to enough GBH a standing ovation from floor to rafters perfectly sums up why WE know. The song, singer and performance combine with such symmetry that made us fans for life a lifetime ago. Even more were made after that, tonight.
A remarkable achievement. I shouldn't be surprised but Elton can still do that to us in 2019.
Where, but only upwards can be next. Ethereal tuning of long dead transmitters with faulty receivers suddenly kick in to life with 'she'. In that exact moment a grand swell of approval trickled then swamped everyone. Kim's reworking of the synth line alongside his additional programming is a wonderful dreamy, trippy backdrop. Further inspection is required, but maybe later. But JJ did something simple that was unexpected.
He sat down. Albeit briefly.
Let’s delve in here. As Elton explored his musings on the keyboard on the extended portion, JJ took seat on the high point of the stage near Nigel's drums. With a thoughtful look he engaged his acoustic guitar; engaging with Elton's investigative keyboard expressions. Stunning to see two artists using artistic tools as diverse as stone masonry and pottery finding common ground to create an audio piece that both find comfort and succor in. As their work developed percussionists and drummer (not rudely, not for the last time either) intervened and warped everyone back in to orbit.
The visuals for Someone Saved My Life Tonight. Damn. Nigel’s drumming. Double damn. JM's high note singing. Triple damn. Elton's playing...multitude of damns. Elton's brief, not new, but a gentle reminder of to us all that some songs are genuinely about him. JJ's outro solo along with Matt's wonderful snaring of the main melody riff teamed up in to the hard finale with all the percussive firepower that Ray could muster. How much powder does he keep dry throughout a show for all of this?
And then on to Levon. Before I go on I'm going to make an admission here. On both nights it was the musical highlight for me. The second night's version is the best I have ever heard on disc or in person live on stage. The main body of the song was curated admirably. Steady, assured, a calm before a storm of biblical proportions. I and I'm sure a great deal of others knew what was coming next. Imagine not knowing though! Imagine not having a Scobby Doo as to what would transpire when Nigel floored it. At times I feared (without foundation) for Elton's safety. It was if he was on an oil slick running on slicks. Trying to wrestle control of the piano as it went on and on and on and...with the folks of the band mentally daring each other to be the first to jump ship.
And then JJ cut loose.
A heavy chord struck, he marched to the fore of the floor, grabbed the lower neck of his double neck guitar and when off on one. I'm no musician but I've heard plenty. What he did on the solo or how he did it was truly unprecedented. But we do know why. Because he can. It was a sensational, rip roaring aggressive release of musical energy witnessed by all onlookers. Elton's equally executed jam was responded to, in the best possible way, with an almost superior riposte.
A Night Tripper indeed.
For the unexpected listener they've already being ruined. Spoiled almost to excess. But there's more as a man once said. If Hammond Organ played by Kim with long held notes and then speedy hand sweeps across the keys wasn't enough to further confirm the genius of keyboardists then a drummer and two percussionists gave their union something to cheer about. Again, not rudely, vying with each for some sort of stick and drum supremacy. Surely your parsnips are being well buttered. From top to bottom. The sight of Ray, waiting, like a recently released creature back in to the wild to pounce after teasing JM to join him in a duel of whatever weapons of battery they could lay their hands on. As the 'fight' continued the 'peacemaker' in the form of Nigel stepped in to clear the floor for Elton to regain supremacy of all who are beholding to him to close out the contest.
Who needs Game of Thrones when you can play this.
In case you are wondering how this was all held together then Matt deserves our hats doffed to his, never lifting finger without just cause. His changes at times were constant and unforgiving; driven by a desire to keep piano and all and sundry behind him in reasonable check. More than reasonable, down right outstanding.
FFF/LLB. Jeepers. The slow burning then gradual intensifying lead in with genuinely realistic thunder and lightning, vibrations at no extra cost, giving way to a more familiar intro expertly performed with all the correct pauses and increasing flourishes brought forth in a sea of foggy mist. To be quickly burned off by JJ's GYBR custom guitar. Davey may not be here but he was somewhere remotely projecting himself. His characteristic licks were present and true.
Burn Down The Mission rest assured was a triumph too. But the visuals on the outro drew gasps from us all as they appeared. It's an old cliche that Elton set the 'piano on fire' but this time it did happen. I saw the flashes of flame. I felt the heat of the flames. My face is not naturally this red. I love that smell in the night time...
If ever a section of spoken word required a place mat on the set list lineup it's this one before Believe. Unscripted, and off the cuff, to the point and spoken with honesty and heartfelt feeling. It summoned several interjections of applause. Nothing said would make anybody present feel uncomfortable. Those outside who need to hear it certainly need to hear it. When Elton thanked Ireland for our loyalty, our support all of the time he got a response that is only reserved in this country for winning and winners.
We sung Olé Olé Olé to him.
If that weren't enough he played it back on piano. Where do you go from here? Do Believe as if Elton's life, as if ours, and most certainly as if the lives of those of some who featured in the accompanying film clip depended on it. Close to the truth if truth be known.
From Sad Songs onwards seats were not required at the venue. The beacon moment of the 'rock out' segment was Saturday Night on night two. The sound was loud and proud (as it was on both nights, all of the time). But at times on the chorus I had difficulty hearing Elton and the band. It was if the crowd were hypnotized and the voices unberchanted 'Saturday' as if it were a cure for something. A boom heralded a twofold attack from the air and ground. Firstly a ticker tape shower in tandem with JJ soloing with titanic gusto.
And that seemed to be it. A final group bow and ships sailed off the stage. A final or false sunset? The long, almost inordinate duration of the gap seem to lure some people in to thinking the show was over.
It will never end.
If DLTS on night one was a faithful and trustworthy crowd participation, an audition possibly, then Your Song on night two was the award winner. Elton's brief pause during it was way better than buzzers pressed or seats swiveled.
And now we must confront GYBR. Not the song but it's (re)placement and its context. As I said on the Rocketman review old songs can now have new meanings. The context as regards the songs future significance had been altered. We won't dwell too much on the 'Farewell' aspect of proceedings, there is no last nor no first. It's a continuous Circle Of Life of continuous rebirth and regrowth.
Elton may have gone up the Eltonvator and walked casually off along the ‘Road’ but he's merely going over there. Just out of sight but still in the area.
His music hasn't gone away, you know.
To acknowledge if this indeed my last show is to close a door that still has some Passengers to board. There's some while to go before we can truly say This Train Don't Stop There Anymore...