Monday, 5 June 2017

Elton John - Twickenham Review

Despite the fact that hard rock and heavy metal are my main musical loves, I am also a big fan of the legendary singer-songwriter Sir Elton John. While it could be argued that he was a part of the glam rock movement of the early 1970s, John has always been more associated with the pop world throughout his career. That being said however, he (along with long-time lyricist Bernie Taupin) has written some of the most well-known and best songs of all time. I had always been interested to see him live, but had never really made the commitment to do so. I am not sure what made me decide to finally take the plunge this time, but an outdoor show in Twickenham on a Saturday just seemed an opportunity that was too good to miss. The venue was to be Twickenham Stoop Stadium, the home of Harlequins RFC, which sits in the shadow of the much larger Twickenham Stadium which is the home of English Rugby. Twickenham Stoop was the perfect sized venue for a show from someone of John's stature however, and there were certainly a lot of people filling the stands and the pitch. I am not very good at judging numbers, but there were easily between 15,000 and 20,000 people there and the event was totally sold out. It is good to sometimes go to something that is outside of your comfort zone, and it is safe to say I was definitely the odd one out in the stadium with my Eden's Curse t-shirt and cuban heels! Most of the crowd were dressed as if they were going to an evening at the theatre, which was certainly different to what I am used to! Being an outdoor event, it was important that the weather was good. Luckily, apart from a shower during one song of John's set, the sun shone and was the perfect conditions for a stadium show. I was in one of the stands however so thankfully was not effected by the short rain shower!

Before John's set, the gathering crowd were treated to a short set by pop/soul artist Jake Isaac who started slowly but seemed to gather momentum as he went along. The support act at an Elton John concert is unlikely to be to my taste, and I cannot say that I really took to Isaac at all. This is not meant as a slight, as I am really not his audience, and there were large portions of the crowd that seemed to enjoy what he was doing - especially those down the front. A muddy sound did not really help, and I felt that some of the songs relied too heavily on backing tapes for piano parts. A lady in his band played piano on some of the songs, and played some rather unnecessary rhythm guitar on others which was the reason for the backing tapes. Some of the vocal melodies were quite strong, but I felt Isaac's overall sound was hollow with a very minimalist band. In fairness, I cannot really judge his music objectively as it just is not my thing so I will leave it at that.

At the early time of 7pm, John's band trouped onto the stage with little fanfare and immediately roared into a hard-rocking rendition of The Bitch is Back as the man himself took to the stage in a bright white suit and red shirt combo. While the sound was quite muddy for the first couple of numbers, this was soon straightened out and what followed was just over two hours of hits, newer songs, and a few deep cuts from his expansive back catalogue. Despite recently fighting off a debilitating illness, John was the perfect showman and regularly left his piano to greet the fans at the front of the stage, take bows, and talk to the crowd between numbers. Bennie and the Jets and I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues followed which made for a perfect trio of classics to open the show with. Many of John's band have been with him for a long time, and both Davey Johnstone (guitar/vocals) and Nigel Olsson (drums/vocals) played on many of the original versions of the songs featured in the set. A high-energy take on Take Me to the Pilot was the first of the lesser-known songs played; and a couple of newer numbers from his most recent album Wonderful Crazy Night were played soon after. The highlight here was the beautiful ballad A Good Heart which really suits John's slightly lower voice these days. The overall highlights of the early part of the show however were a couple of numbers from the Madman Across the Water album. The all-time classic Tiny Dancer, which saw a lot of singing from the crowd, was followed by an extended version of Levon which the band really ran with and rocked out on. John had an extended piano solo, and Johnstone let rip with a flurry of rock riffs and flowing leads. It was a shame to note however that the crowd seemed really disinterested in any of the songs played that were not the 'big hits'. You could see streams of people heading to the bars/toilets during Levon and it does make you realise why so many superstars are so conservative with their setlist choices. It also makes me wonder why some people bother going to concerts, as with all those trips to the bar you will probably miss a good chunk of the set! Rocket Man (I Think it's Going to be a Long, Long Time) unsurprisingly got everyone back on side before a beautiful rendition of I Want Love, that was dedicated to the victims of the Manchester bombing, also saw a big crowd reaction. A couple of rockier pieces, although the rather twee Your Song was sandwiched in between, followed. The bluesy Have Mercy on the Criminal was great to hear, as this was a song I was not familiar with; before Burn Down the Mission really cranked up the heat on stage. It was classics from then on and they kept coming! Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me was dedicated to the late George Michael, before four upbeat numbers brought the set to a close. Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting, with Johnstone's powerful opening riff, was the best of the bunch and again it was extended to feature lots of action from the band. While Johnstone and Olsson have been playing with John for years, newer faces Kim Bullard (keyboards), Matt Bissonette (bass guitar/vocals), and John Mahon (percussion/vocals) played excellently too and the six men on stage really whipped up a storm during the performance. There was time for one more however and John came back out to his piano and played a beautiful version of one of my all-time favourite songs Candle in the Wind. I thought he was going to do a solo version of it at first, but the band joined in towards the end and brought a fine two hours of live music to a classy close. The setlist was:

The Bitch is Back
Bennie and the Jets
I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues
Take Me to the Pilot
Looking Up
A Good Heart
Philadelphia Freedom
Tiny Dancer
Rocket Man (I Think it's Going to be a Long, Long Time)
I Want Love
Have Mercy on the Criminal
Your Song
Burn Down the Mission
Sad Songs (Say So Much)
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me
I'm Still Standing
Crocodile Rock
Your Sister Can't Twist (But She can Rock 'n Roll)
Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting
Candle in the Wind

Overall this was a fantastic evening of live music from one of the greatest songwriters of all time. It was all over by 9pm, which was very strange for a concert, but the crowd were still treated to over two hours of hits from Sir Elton John who most certainly can still deliver in spades when it comes to playing live.

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