Elton John and the country-rock legend Leon Russell opened the BBC's Electric Proms festival at London's Roundhouse last night with a two-and-a-half-hour show of classic hits, some lesser-known treats and a run-through of the pair's latest album The Union.
Forty years after his last gig at the circular Camden venue supporting The Who, the multi-award winning singer/songwriter kicked off the festival's fifth anniversary with a trip down memory lane.
Starting solo with an array of classics such as Burn Down the Mission, Elton soon treated the crowd to the rarely-performed Ballad of a Well Known Gun. A glitter ball was then unveiled and he eased into the peerless classic Tiny Dancer, during which one punter took the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend (she said yes, to thunderous applause).
Sporting a relatively understated ringmaster-style black tailed suit adorned with glittering motifs, the star didn't wait long to introduce the first of his hand-picked guest singers, gritty East End soulster Plan B (aka Ben Drew).
Unfortunately, Elton's introduction of Drew as a "phenomenal singer" seemed to curse one of this year's most impressive new acts, who promptly offered a nasal rendition of I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues.
Any number from Drew's No 1 album The Defamation of Strickland Banks would have been preferable and the song was only saved by Elton's passionate keys and his band (who had been flown in all the way from Nashville). Introduced by Elton as his "idol", Russell then made his entrance in an electric wheelchair, before performing three songs solo. The British superstar admits that one of the reasons for the collaboration with Russell was to bring the musician back into the limelight. However, it's clear from a slight restlessness in the crowd that Elton's all-too frequent absences from the stage to give Russell said limelight are not always as popular as he may hope. That said, Russell put up an admirable fight for audience adoration when joined by Elton's next guest, the Laura Nyro-esque singer Rumer, who lulled the audience with a rendition of Russell's own song This Masquerade.
Elton and Russell then proceeded to return to their piano blues and honky-tonk rock 'n' roll roots for the next hour of the show. The veteran songwriter admitted to the crowd of mainly thirty- and fortysomethings that he knows it's not easy to listen to a whole album live. Yet he and Russell continued to rattle through their newest and least familiar duets and the majority of his fans seemed happy to listen.
The star has recently said his future lies in collaborating with new talent, but judging by the reaction to this Gospel-drenched double-piano epic, the old-timers draw the biggest cheers. And proposals of marriage.