Elton John review, Glastonbury 2023: The glitziest, most high-energy retirement party the world has ever seen

People were ready for a spectacle and the Rocket Man delivered

Kate Hutchinson
Monday 26 June 2023 05:59 BST
Immense crowds seen during Elton John’s Glastonbury set

It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the final curtain for one of the greatest showmen on earth, closing Sunday night at his very first Glastonbury. To say the air was fizzing with anticipation for Elton John is a bit like saying “don’t forget your tent”: rumours have been abounding all weekend about the guests he’ll bring on. Will it be Taylor Swift? Lorde? Harry? Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen?

It’s proof, if any was needed, that John is one of the few artists who cuts across the generations, from his Seventies Rocket Man era to the Nineties omnipresence of The Lion King soundtrack and “Candle in The Wind 1997”, or the Noughties revival of the greatest road trip song via Cameron Crowe’s Oscar-winning rock odyssey Almost Famous (“Tiny Dancer”), to now, revitalised for a new generation thanks to John’s recent Dua Lipa and Britney collaborations.

Whoever your Elton is, the people are ready for a spectacle, sardined as they are in front of the stage. For the first time in recent memory, it’s so busy that a voice comes over the sound system and asks the sea of people to pack up their chairs and stand so that more people can cram in for the ride.

And what a ride it is. John’s farewell shows began in 2018 and, despite delays due to the pandemic and a hip replacement, is now the highest-grossing tour in pop history. Five years and more than 300 dates later, it’s finally coming to a close, by way of one last send-off in July, when John will finito in Stockholm. But all yellow brick roads have always led to Glastonbury, for the last-ever UK performance of the 76-year-old’s career, for which, earlier this week, he promised an entirely new show and “deep cuts” from his ridiculously prolific catalogue.

But deep cuts do not a Glasto headline show make, and it’s apparent that John takes a different tack, opting instead for wall-to-wall bangers from the Seventies and early Eighties (but no Nineties) and guests from pop’s new wave. It’s a show that truly has everything: platform boot-stomping rock’n’roll, tender ballads, rousing rhythm’n’blues with a gospel choir, a moving tribute to George Michael – who would have turned 60 on Sunday, John reminds us – and even a slight frisson of disappointment when Dua is nowhere to be seen and the crowd is left to sing her part on “Cold Heart”.

But it doesn’t dampen what is surely the glitziest and most high-energy retirement party the world has ever seen. John, sat at his grand piano in what you might call a pared-back look of gold lamé suit and orange specs, gives it gusto for “Pinball Wizard”, “The Bitch Is Back” and “Bennie and the Jets” – so much so that you wonder how his voice will last two hours (it does). “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” is a particular highlight early on, as – amid some rather more random visuals elsewhere – hilarious photos of couples who’ve grown tired of each other shot by Martin Parr appear on screen.

The ballad section, meanwhile, is moving: “Your Song”, that rousing, lyrical masterpiece, provides another stellar singalong, before the original version of “Candle In The Wind”, with footage of a Marilyn Monroe lookalike glugging from a glass of wine, and “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”, which John chooses to sing alone, without someone taking Michael’s part, are received with fists-in-the-air jubilation.

Sunday’s performance is partly a trip down memory lane. But it also feels like a subtle handing of the pop baton to the next generation, who John each introduces like he’s on his radio show, outlining how he discovered them with genuine enthusiasm. First up is the magnificent Jacob Lusk of Gabriels, who sings “Are You Ready For Love” alongside the London Gospel Community Choir – the first truly major moment. Later, up steps Rina Sawayama, dressed incredibly, in a strikingly see-through dress, to do the Kiki Dee part in “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, while an unnervingly smart Brandon Flowers takes on “Tiny Dancer”. John hands the baton so much, in fact, that at one point he’s joined by a lesser-known artist here, Steve Sanchez, a charismatic American singer-songwriter who plays his own viral hit “Until I Found You”, and who gushes earnestly about John before he begins.

It’s the only slightly awkward moment in an otherwise giant karaoke party where the crowd has really given it their all for their de facto queen. It’s something John recognises with genuine appreciation, noting at two different points how much he loves the outfits people have worn to commemorate this moment. “I want to thank you for 52 years of loyalty,” he says, a little heavy of heart – but a typically generous way to bow out for good. “I will never forget you. You’re in my heart and my soul.” And you, Elton, are forever in ours too.

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