A thrilling evening with a national treasure…

Elton John is an entertainer, the epitome of pop flamboyance. Yet he’s also a philanthropist, someone who works to lift up those around him. He’s a household name, a brand as familiar – as thoroughly British – as fish ‘n’ chips. Yet in many ways he’s also underrated as both a musician and songwriter, and his success owes as much to Vegas style glamour and excess as it does to, say, Watford.

Tonight’s lengthy, excellent stroll through Elton’s past touched upon all of these roles and more, a rollicking mission that opens with the instantly familiar piano of ‘Benny And The Jets’ and closes with our hero raised to heavens on a stair-list. It’s funny and moving, and finds Elton switching between outfits but also masks, allowing the crowd to see him in full 360.

Part of the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road tour, there’s a palpable sense of emotion lingering in the air. Yes, it’s celebratory – any set that touches on ‘Tiny Dancer’, ‘Rocket Man’, ‘The Bitch Is Back’ and ‘Crocodile Rock’ isn’t going to disappoint – but Elton isn’t afraid to get emotional. Bowing to the crowd at different points in his performance, he also notes the presence of his family – including his two young boys – in the viewing point.

The onstage monologues, too, are touched with a deep and abiding love for music, and also an awareness of friends that aren’t with us anymore. ‘Border Song’ is presaged by a touching reminiscence about the majesty of Aretha Franklin, while ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’ is dedicated to George Michael. And as for ‘Candle In The Wind’, well – it’s been 25 years since events overtook that song, and implanted a new meaning to those worlds in our lives.

But that’s not to say tonight is maudlin, far from it. Elton John’s well-oiled band are on spectacular form, adding a fresh vitality, and elasticity to those arrangements. Songs like ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ take your breath away, while a raucous ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ has the crowd jiving as far back as the eye can see.

Indeed, the sheer variety of the thousands descending on Hyde Park for this show illustrate how deep Elton John has permeated British life. Opening his encore – he’s seated with a dressing gown, the last of multiple outfit changes – with ‘Cold Heart’, he reflects on how unexpected, and how joyful it was to gain a No. 1 hit so late into his career. Rolling back the years, Elton then guides the crowd through ‘Your Song’, a smash almost five decades before.

Closing with ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’, you’re left to wonder what the future holds for this indefatigable figure. It can’t the end, surely? Aside from a small degree of awkwardness following last year’s hip operation, Elton could be forgiven for passing as a performer 20 years or so younger – there’s a zest and vitality, coupled to his near-bottomless catalogue, that continues to inspire. In this Jubilee year, it’s a thrill to get up close to another national treasure.

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Words: Robin Murray

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