Elton John in Dublin: ‘Like he’s bellowing it out to a backstreet bar-room’
Review: The air of finality on his farewell tour gives this concert a youthful urgency
Elton John performs at the 3Arena in Dublin as part of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times
It feels like Elton John is everywhere these days. He’s bursting out of the multiplex in Rocketman with Taron Egerton tackling the Dame at his most gloriously excessive (thankfully there is no shame tarnishing this particular jukebox musical). He’s loudly condemning Brexit Britain,with the “establishment” showman unexpectedly revealing himself to be more in tune with reality than Morrissey – who is slowly transforming into a laughable, bigoted character from a Smiths B-side.
This extra dash of Elton is to be savoured, yes, his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour may be three years long, taking in a gruelling 300 dates, finally finishing in December 2020, but who could begrudge him this extended long goodbye? This is not Bob Dylan’s never-ending tour or Cher’s extended encore. After this trip Elton is hanging up his spangly jacket and platform boots. So the show is the send-off celebration he deserves.
Like the mother of the bride fussing around at a wedding party, Sir Elts wants to make sure everyone has had their fill and leaves the dancefloor with their ears ringing, fizzing with delight.
His parting gift to his fans is a night to feast on the banquet of his career. Floating on stage in a typically understated look consisting of a rhinestone encrusted tailcoat he briefly acknowledges the wild standing ovation before hurtling into the familiar bluesy stoned-stomp of Bennie & the Jets like he’s bellowing it out to a backstreet bar-room.
This air of finality gives the show a sense of youthful urgency. Elton and his band are not messing around with any simple soft-shoe shuffle, they’re in rough-and-tumble fight mode, ripping through All the Girls Love Alice and I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues with an exuberant freshness like a group of young vulgarians with something to prove.
The band beefs up the sound and Elton’s honky-tonk flourishes sound rawer than ever. He jabs his fingers in the air and repeatedly bounces up off his seat to encourage the audience, like a diamond-festooned football manager screaming at the sidelines.
As he speaks poignantly about his astonishment at Aretha Franklin covering Border Song, it’s a reminder of how long he’s been knocking out the hits, even though he feels that “the 70s were only a minute ago”. He then seamlessly swings into the comforting twang of Tiny Dancer, barely pausing for a breath as images of after hours neon-lit LA unfurl behind him.
Someone Saved My Life Tonight is perforated with a rough emotion as Elton describes it as one of his favourites about his and Bernie’s tumultuous career.
There’s a touch of the “embarrassing Dads” during Levon, with some dubious guitar faces pulled in the middle of the extended solo that throws a bit of Day Tripper into the mix, but it’s saved by Elton’s enthusiasm, bashing the keys with the passion of Jerry Lee Lewis at his most fiery.
Twirling about the stage on his motorised piano platform like a Fisher Price toy under a sea of candlelight, it’s a clear statement that Elton will never go quietly. The pomp, camp and excess are all part of him, a star with a true understanding of his cultural place as the liberated Liberace of our time.
He speaks movingly about the Elton John Foundation and the Aids epidemic, dedicating a searing rendition of Believe to those still fighting the battle to survive.
Acknowledging that this is his 50th (and final) year of touring, he thanks his fans for their dedication during the inevitable chorus of “Ole” saying they will always “be in his heart” but Elton’s legacy is still reverberating through the charts.
His DNA is threaded throughout the history of pop. It’s in the flamboyancy of Lady Gaga, the cerebral melancholy of the Pet Shop Boys, the vampy artistry of Perfume Genius, the timeless songbook of Rufus Wainwright, the showpony mentality of Kylie.
He finishes with a Drag Race alumnus-stuffed video for The Bitch is Back, before unleashing the defiant and brilliantly brittle I’m Still Standing. As a roll call of Eltons appear on screen – from the paparazzi-baiting tracksuited Elton to his Diana and George Michael days and the bewigged parties with husband David Furnish – the show becomes a moving adieu to a decades-spanning icon who is still here to appreciate it.
Appearing in his green crushed velvet dressing gown through a veil of ticker tape, he serenades the crowd one final time with the trippy genius of Goodbye Yellowbrick Road.
This tour is not his goodbye it’s ours. A thank-you for those lucky enough to embark with him on his journey of pure pop magic.