On the approach to Melbourne’s AAMI stadium there was a buzz in the air, considerably hot air as the temperature held steady at 30 degrees Celsius and the atmosphere was charged. Not just because the city of Melbourne was poised to begin hosting the Australian Open just across the street at Melbourne Park but because Elton John was in town and it would be for the last time. At 76 years of age, the veteran performer, the “mad man (from) across the water”, showman extraordinaire, is closing the lid on his grand piano and seeing out the rest of his days enjoying time at home with his husband and children…so he says!
The Melbourne leg of this Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour began in 2019 and was sadly interrupted by extreme weather, natural disasters and a global pandemic. When thunder and lightning struck dangerously close to the stage out in the Yarra Valley forcing Elton and his band to abandon ship mid performance, he vowed that he would be back. He really is a man of his word.
Despite the heat and the long lines in and around the stadium, people were happy. There were grins, spectacular outfits and patience in spades because everyone was here to see Elton – to say thanks for the music and to dance in the aisles to “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” just one more time.
I’m a big fan of AAMI Stadium as a concert venue – easy to get to, great sound, plenty of amenities and a size to accommodate many thousands of people yet maintain an intimate atmosphere. The ability to connect the people to the music from the front row to the furthest reaches of the nosebleed sections was in no small part due to Elton’s skill as a performer, a musician and consummate entertainer.
I must admit to having a strong sense of déjà vu as the opening strains to “Benny and the Jets” rang out through the early evening air as I was lucky enough to be at the Farewell Yellow Brick Road concert last November at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Same excitement tinged with nostalgia, joy and sadness but in opposite land as it was a particularly cold evening and I was rugged up in a beanie and a leather jacket. The hardcore fans went all out on the costumes – we were in Hollywood after all!
Elton was noticeably more relaxed on Saturday night in Melbourne than he was that night at Dodger Stadium and his voice seemed stronger and smoother. Maybe it was the warm air and the fact that the show wasn’t being televised live to millions around the world via Disney +? Melbourne may not have facilitated the star studded guests that Tinsel Town did (Brandi Carlisle, Kiki Dee, Dua Lipa, Bernie Taupin) but Elton and his band were the stars without distraction. The band, made up of EJ live Stalwarts, Davey Johnstone, Ray Cooper and Nigel Olsson in addition to John Mahon, Matt Bissonette and Kim Bullard, ebbed and flowed with Elton as he led them through hit after hit.
Each song in the set was not only brought to life by the musicians on stage but by the well produced, engaging but not distracting, visual accompaniments on the gigantic screens cocooning the stage. It was hard to pinpoint a single standout as different eras of fans reacted to different eras of Elton. Performing hits spanning the length and breadth of his career, from 1970’s self titled album came his First hit “Your Song” 51 years ago, right through to his current hit with English/Albanian Dua Lipa “Cold Heart”, Australian producer Pnau’s mashup of “Rocket Man”, “Sacrifice”, “Kiss the Bride” and the more obscure deep cut “Where’s the Shoorah?”, which upon release in the Elton John 2021 Lockdown Sessions, has reached the top of the charts all around the world.
According to Elton’s calculations, this was his 57th concert in the state of Victoria. From a fan point of view, it’s going to be hard to imagine a future that no longer includes an Elton John international tour. Let’s just hope he follows in the footsteps of Dame Nellie Melba and John Farnham and that it’s just an au revoir for now.