Elton John, The Valley, London
Tuesday 06 June 2006
Amid the hissy fits and white-tie-and-tiara balls, it can be easy to forget why Elton John became famous in the first place. These days, Sir Elton is a big business in which music ranks alongside musicals, television projects and his film company, Rocket Pictures, owned jointly with his partner David Furnish.
Tonight, though, the emphasis is very much on the music side of the business. As Elton strides on stage at Charlton Athletic football ground, we have only a few seconds to marvel at his extraordinary outfit - crimson satin trousers and shirt, a too-long black tail-coat with the words "Burning Fire" emblazoned around the waist, an enormous, glittering Lacroix-style crucifix and sunglasses - before he launches into the heavy opening chords of "Bennie and the Jets", followed swiftly by an equally rousing "Philadelphia Freedom". He is in fine voice as he belts these out but the mainly middle-aged crowd remains resolutely sedate, foot-tapping and thigh-slapping the only visible sign of enjoyment. The introduction of "Daniel" is greeted by a collective "ahh" and a lone couple get up to waltz.
A protracted "Rocket Man" and a stonking "I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues" follow, in which Elton's voice takes on a pleasingly gruff, growly quality. On the big screens that hang either side of the simply designed stage, Elton's stubby sausage fingers are frequently shown pounding away in close-up on "piano cam". There are several long piano solos, which, while showcasing impressive jazz skills, become a little tedious. The crowd laps it up, though.
Less successful is the middle section. While "Turn the Lights Out When You Leave" and, particularly, "They Call Her the Cat", a riot of honky-tonk and bluegrass, from 2004's Peachtree Road are fresh-sounding, they still act as a signal for a large percentage of the audience to head to the bar.
"Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word" heralds a return to form and, finally, the first sing-along of the night. From here on in the audience gathers a momentum that has so far been lacking from the rest of this slick show. By the time we reach "Sacrifice", paunchy middle-aged men are on their feet, swaying and clutching beer bottles, giving way to full-on dancing for the spectacular disco anthem "Are You Ready for Love?". The upbeat mood is sustained until the end - a spellbinding "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" and a magical "Your Song". Altogether, it's a business-like, professional performance from a consummate performer.
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