Elton John rockets through career-spanning BST Hyde Park gig
- Credit: RORY BARNES
BST Hyde Park, June 24, 2022
Unlike many other artists of a similar status who like to keep their fans eagerly waiting in anticipation, Elton John’s performance on the opening night of BST Hyde Park begins right on schedule - and what follows for the next two and a half hours is a dazzling spectacle from a homegrown music icon who, aged 75, remains one of the best in the business.
The pop-rocker’s timely arrival as the clock strikes 7.50pm slots into this show’s wider narrative, too: he and the sold-out crowd have waited two years and a pandemic to get to this moment as part of his extensive ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road’ tour, which will take him around the world once last time until mid-2023.
After a day of support acts handpicked by Elton himself - including rapper, producer, and songwriter Berwyn, synth-pop duo Let’s Eat Grandma, LA-based gospel/soul ensemble Gabriels, Japanese-British pop artist Rina Sawayama - it’s time for the main man himself to take to the stage, with even the unveiling of his grand black piano leading to rapturous cheers.
Casually walking out in his signature glasses and a cream and black jeweled tuxedo to pumping dance beats as vibrant kaleidoscopic flowers cover the screens, there’s no huge fanfare.
Instead, he’s ready to get straight on with the show: “We’re very happy to be here and we’ve been looking forward to this show for a long time," Elton says, knowing exactly what his fans are here for. "So we’re just gonna get on and play some lovely songs so we hope you like them."
Rocketing through his biggest hits as well as giving album tracks from his extensive back catalogue an outing, Elton’s 23-track set is one that pleases fans of all ages (many of whom are sporting their most flamboyant homemade outfits for the occasion, including sparkling jackets, feather boas, ruffles, heart-shaped glasses, and we spot many young children dressed as mini-Elton’s, which goes to prove his generation-crossing appeal).
Opener ‘Bennie and the Jets’ has everyone singing along instantly as does 'I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues'. A poignant and deeply moving rendition of 'Border Song’, meanwhile, is dedicated to the “everlasting magic” of his friend, the American queen of soul Aretha Franklin.
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It's not the only tribute, either, as a tear-jerking rendition of 'Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me' is sent out to "someone we all miss very much: Mr George Michael". 'Candle In The Wind' is equally emotional, too.
Elton's in fine voice throughout the show (particularly during 'Tiny Dancer' and 'Rocketman'), and the up-close camera on his piano proves just how talented a pianist he still is as well; a special mention must go to his transfixing percussionist, the legendary Ray Cooper, who really puts all his energy into the performance, looking as though he’s loving every second).
Getting up from his piano stool every now and then to point at different sides of the audience - with a beaming smile on his face at all times - Elton keeps the mid-song chat to a minimum, though one touching moment is when he lets everyone know that his family are in tonight's audience.
There are several times, though, when he walks along the front of the stage to bow down and praise the crowd, humbly thanking them for their support over the last five decades.
He takes the time to introduce each of his band members - many of whom have been performing with Elton since the 1960s - and sincerely encourages a “huge Hyde Park roar”. Of course, the crowd is happy to oblige.
While the middle of the set is reserved for more tender songs from his repertoire ('Candle In The Wind', a twinkling rendition of ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’), the energy is picked right back for a four-song run of upbeat party anthems: ‘The Bitch Is Back’, ‘I’m Still Standing’, ‘Crocodile Rock’ and 'Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting' uniting everyone in a state of nostalgic carefree euphoria.
But this masterclass in pop isn't over yet. After a whistle-led 'Elton' chant, he returns for a much-deserved encore wearing a bathrobe that makes him look like he's about to get in the ring for a boxing match.
A rendition of his recent dance-infused chart-topper 'Cold Heart' provides the perfect segue into one of his oldest songs: "at 75 years of age, it feels incredible to have a number one record around the world, and this was my first hit from 52 years ago”, he says, before simmering things down for a stripped-back emotional singalong of 'Your Song'.
"Thank you for all the love, kindness and loyalty - for over 50 years you’ve always been there for me," Elton says in a moving farewell speech, before closing the show with 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road'. "And when I stop next July, I’ll have so many beautiful memories," he continues, those powerful words resulting in many a tear-stained cheek across Hyed Park - "and you’ll be a part of them forever."
BST Hyde Park continues this weekend with Adele and The Rolling Stones