The sure fire rule of thumb at any ADOTG winery show is that there will be three distinct demographics present in the crowd:
1. The die hard fans who may range in age from 20-85, know every word of every song, give the stage their undivided attention and make minimal treks to the bar;
2. The cashed up bogan/casual fans who dance and sing loudly to the hits while holding drinks aloft, talk loudly throughout the deep album cuts and have a penchant for written word tattoos, usually at the back of the neck or forearms;
3. The young hipsters who have been raised by boomer parents with collections filled with all the classic albums that have been discovered during the late teenage years.
All three groups were out in full force to grab their last chance to see Sir Elton John before he hangs up his sequinned Versace suits, closes the lid of his grand piano and heads off down the yellow brick road to his retirement from live performance.
I arrived in time to see the opening performer, Sydney singer songwriter Tate Sheridan. Also a piano man, he had a full band in tow and sounded very complementary to the main act. It’s a hard slot to occupy at these events as it usually means playing while people are scrambling for position on the general admission grasslands or lining up for food and drink, but this fine fellow did an admirable job, particularly given the extreme heat.
Describing the heat as extreme is not even remotely adequate when trying to convey the conditions. The heat was oppressive, humid and body melting. I wondered how Sir Elton would fare up there on the stage under lights and in costume when I could barely cope sitting in my lawn chair in shorts and a T shirt expending only enough energy to pour water down the back of my neck for relief. Being a seasoned professional and ever the showman, Elton strode out wearing a full tuxedo, complete with white tails (all bedazzled of course) sat down at the piano and launched into a rousing rendition of Benny and the Jets.He was on fire from the get go and I’m sure everyone in the crowd felt like they were too.
The first words he uttered to the masses were “Good evening – it’s fucking hot!” and that won everyone over right off the bat. It was great hearing some of the stories behind the songs as he explained how amazed he was when Aretha Franklin covered Border Song. As a fledgling songwriting duo just finding their way in the business, he and Bernie Taupin couldn’t believe that one of their idols would be singing one of their songs! That was in 1970 and the first single from Elton’s second album and the rest is history!
Tiny Dancer had everyone rising up out of their pools of sweat and swaying in the thick, humid air. This a particular favourite with demographic number 2. The screen at the back of the stage provided a backdrop of carefully crafted imagery that punctuated the ebbs and flows of the set. Elton’s voice was as strong as I’ve ever heard it and his fingers never missed a beat as they glided effortlessly around the keys. Philadelphia Freedom, the song that Elton and Bernie were commissioned to write as a theme song for long time friend Billie Jean King’s tennis team The Philadelphia Freedoms was spirited to say the least with its synthesised string sounds invoking that famous Philly Soul.
The hits just kept coming and momentum was building – Rocket Man, Take Me to the Pilot, Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word and the intensely personal Someone Saved My Life Tonight. It was amazing how true to the original recordings all these songs that I had grown up with sounded all these years later and how they truly stood the test of time. The momentum built to the crescendo of Levon with its sneaky Day Tripper riff as well as a hint of Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, and as darkness began its descent over the Yarra Valley, the echoes of Candle in the Wind this proved to be literally the calm before the storm.
As he began the intro to Funeral For A Friend, the piano and Elton glided across to the other side of the stage and spun around with dramatic effect, the screen behind projected images of a stormy sky accompanied by sound effects of cracking thunder. As soon as the piano reached its temporary destination on the opposite side of the stage, as if on cue, the heavens opened up! Sheets of alarmingly heavy rain appeared as if out of nowhere and everyone was soaked to the skin within about 30 seconds. Relief quickly turned to concern as the PA abruptly cut out mid note and Elton and band were hurriedly escorted from the stage. Apparently the torrential downpour had hit the stage and the equipment hard and promoter Michael Chugg announced that to his and everyone else’s disappointment, the show was over. He also advised that somehow this show would be made up at a later date so “hang on to your tickets!”. To be continued…