We’re all living on Planet Elton nowadays. The Rocketman biopic is burning up the box office, while it’s estimated the singer’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour will have played to a cumulative audience of more than half a million by the time it finally disappears into the sunset in 2020.
Weirdly, for Elton John himself, life for the time being proceeds much as normal. He’s living out of a suitcase – but when was it ever different? He was always a hard-toiling musician with a work ethic that belied his image as a rhinestone dipped gadfly. Nor does his retirement jaunt come with the novelty of old nuggets rescued from the archives. He’s mostly bashing out the same favourites with which he’s been entertaining his fanbase for decades.
So though the fuss around Rocketman provides a lively backdrop for the latest leg of his marathon victory lap, the performance is Elton with shiny sleeves rolled up and head down. Spit and sawdust festooned with glitter epitomises his approach to touring and here, in Dublin, he proceeds, with a stateliness that never descends into showboating, through the edited highlights of his sparkling repertoire.
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The songs are obviously timeless. And though he’s been on the road since last year, the now 72-year-old comes across as determined for the material to sound rollickingly fresh, both for fans and for him too. “Bennie and the Jets”, which Rocketman reveals to have coalesced during the darkest of his druggy days, is a deliciously brooding opener, where glam funk collides with Elton’s classic ballideering and Bernie Taupin’s hall-of-mirror lyrics.
He’s soon skewing in a more sentimental direction with Eighties epic “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”. This is an opportunity for his veteran sidemen, including guitarist John Jorgenson and idiosyncratic percussionist Ray Cooper, to cut loose, which they do in the fashion of dads reliving their dimly remembered youths.
The title track from the new movie, of course, makes an appearance, with Elton strapping on figurative rocket boots and blasting for the stratosphere. Alas, there is no repeat of the previous weekend’s cameo in Brighton by Rocketman star Taron Egerton, who popped up to duet on “Your Song”.
Not that the already busy production requires further embellishment. Around the stage, gold adornments nod to past Elton triumphs such as The Lion King and the Billy Elliot musical. Highly stylised background videos, meanwhile, reference the chip butty-and-deckchair seaside holidays of the singer’s childhood, his headlong plunge into fame in the Seventies and the enduring fealty of hardcore Elton-heads.
Not every flourish comes off. During “Candle In the Wind”, as the screen flashes montages of Marilyn Monroe, his piano creeps across the stage on a rail. Few things in pop are less dignified than a mobile grand piano and even Elton struggles to maintain his poise.
Still the instrument is soon back where it began and Elton is praising his audience and their decades of loyalty. “I’ve had enough applause to last a million lifetimes,” he says. “Thank you, Ireland, from the bottom of my English heart”. Asking if anyone in the room has seen Rocketman – obviously quite a few have – he also makes an emotive speech about his struggle to overcome addiction, before finally cleaning up in 1990.
Two and a half hours in, it all winds to a close with the devastating encore one-two of “Your Song” and the title track from 1973’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. That album’s cover depicts Elton wearing those famous bug-eyed spectacles and glancing to one side as he sets off on an adventure. But now those wanderings are coming to an end, which he seems to acknowledge as he negotiates the ballad with a crack in his voice. It’s a poignant leave-taking from an artist treating us to what is surely one of the most affecting long-goodbyes in pop.