Elton John, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
After four relentlessly dull decades, stopping seems to be the hardest word
Tuesday 17 December 2002
Elton John's career, well into its fourth decade, has produced many superlatives; the biggest selling single of all time ("Candle in the Wind"), the worst single of all time ("Candle in the Wind" again), the single most frequently seen in charity shops (yep - but let's face it the Princess of Hearts would have wanted it that way.) At one point he accounted for some two per cent of all records sold in the US.
He's a decent cove too, always good value with a quip or a hissy fit and generous enough to fund not only the retirements of several top florists but, for many years now, donating all his singles' royalties to eight charities. His knighthood is more deserved than many and these shows in a relatively small venue will also benefit similar good causes.
It's just that, for this critic at least, he's never actually made a decent record. Ever. His meat and potatoes ballads sung in a strangulated and faux-American accent might have sounded faintly exotic in an age before cheap flights to the States. Now they're just part of the general sonic pollution that surrounds us, like horrible boy bands who emulate his curious enunciation.
So it's no surprise a show heralded as "Greatest Hits 1970-2002'' should be just like listening to the records, though how a makeup company ended up sponsoring a performance by so many grizzled old musos is a mystery. Balding in front, long at the back with their very locks, the boys in the band mock their boss.
Good though it is to report that Elton's rug addiction has supplanted more harmful habits, this evening the scales did not fall from my eyes. This has to be the dullest evening I have ever spent watching live music. By the time he played "Philadelphia Freedom'' for what seemed to be the 15th time, I was despairing at ever escaping this up-market Christmas office party. "Daniel, Crocodile Rock, Your Song, Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me", the hideous "Sorry Seems the Hardest Word" these songs suck as much as they ever did.
"Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" had some life, though less than The Who's tunes it borrowed from, such as "Pinball Wizard", briskly murdered tonight, and Elton's piano-pounding is exemplary throughout. But newer songs such as "Believe" seem to have regressed musically. That's not to mention the newer ballads that sound too morbid for Eurovision.
Still, Abigail's Party has been revived in the West End, proving that 70s nostalgia can never die. A large sum of money was raised for the Elton John Aids Foundation. That's a good thing.
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