ELTON JOHN @ HBF Park gets 9.5/10

Sir Elton Hercules John @ HBF Park

w/ Tate Sheridan
Saturday, November 30, 2019


Elton John arrived properly on the scene just as The Beatles split, and went on to become one of the most recognised artists of the 70s alongside the likes of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. After 50 years as a touring artist, this final visit was his biggest and best concert to date in Perth; probably the gig of the year, in fact. Saturday nights are indeed “alright”.

Support act Tate Sheridan was handpicked by Elton despite being a relative unknown. A lovely piano player on his Yamaha MOTIF XF8 electric, whose influences like John and Aretha Franklin shone through on original tracks such as Two Steps Back, Alright and Angel Man, it was clearly a coup for Sheridan to get the slot, and he made the most of it with sublime playing and a clear focus on talking about his craft between songs. Perhaps though, Sir Elton could help him more with tips on stage presence and fashion, as he struggled to grab or hold the crowd’s attention, and lacked the ‘wow’ factor you might expect from an artist given that sort of opportunity.

That and a nearly hour-long wait between acts were the evening’s only shortcomings, as the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour soon came and went within a (close to) three-hour blink of the eye. It was certainly Elton John‘s most visually spectacular tour to date. Walking onstage surrounded by all three of his key original bandmates (plus a few others), from the opening, elongated staccato chords of Bennie and the Jets, all three hi res, synchronised screens were as loud, bright and spectacular as Elton in his prime.

John himself gave a shout out to Aretha Franklin for her cover of early single Border Song, which is enjoying a resurgence following the release of the Rocketman biopic this year. He kept the crowd onside early, interspersing deeper cuts such as this, All the Girls Love Alice and Take Me to the Pilot with a steady stream of favourites including I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues and the irrepressible Philadelphia Freedom.

He was loyal to his 70s catalogue and best-loved albums Madman Across the Water, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and the self-titled Elton John received the most attention – as one might expect. The former gave us all-time fave Tiny Dancer early, and a pair of inspired highlights that were less likely. Indian Sunset was a total wonder, John explaining that he’d taken five pages of lyricist Bernie Taupin’s lyrics and crammed them into the three-part epic; accompanied by just Ray Cooper’s evocative percussion and American landscapes of mountainous lakes visually, it was something else.

Better still from the same album was Levon. Just wow. Hearing Elton sing the 1971 classic about the man who “calls his child Jesus” was enough, but the way it was extended to feature guitarist Davey Johnstone’s glittering Les Paul solos (including a Day Tripper segue), plus a brief Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) interpolation from Elton – in one of his many fantastical piano solos – ensured the night’s first standing ovation.

It wasn’t the only tune he elongated to magnificent effect. Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time) came earlier than expected, and its starry, otherworldly visual production was matched only by its extended coda, moving from ethereal piano tinkering by the 72-year old master to a bass drop nearly 10 minutes in that left our seats vibrating 50 metres back. His voice may not be up to the high parts (he’s probably wondering why he wrote so many gorgeous falsetto lines in his youth now), but every other aspect was electric.

The combination of deep cuts and timeless hits kept coming; a gorgeous, solo Candle in the Wind (complete with stirring footage recreating Marilyn Monroe’s final photo shoot) was followed by all 11 minutes of proggy fan fave Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding – somewhat biblical with its impressive lightning and organ arrangement early on.

John’s speech (he talked often and well) thanking the crowd for accompanying him for 50 years, led to another standing ovation – even before Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me up next was a major highlight and had hands down the best visual accompaniment of the night, multi-coloured ‘suns’ rising and vibrating on screen.

Then came a full throttle, high energy homerun for the ages. The Bitch is Back featured hilarious footage of drag queens cat fighting until they wound up in a swimming pool; I’m Still Standing went for retrospective vision of Elton in popular culture, ranging his appearances on South Park to Carpool Karaoke; the timeless Crocodile Rock was dedicated to hardcore fans (many of whom appeared in oddly funny footage on screen) and got everyone off butts and out of seats once and for all; and main set finale Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) kept them there as the night peaked ecstatically.

With energy on an enormous high, the crowd remained on their feet throughout the chant for an encore, Elton emerging from his final costume change (in a night gown, no less) as he prepared to say goodnight once and for all. Your Song was played solo and dedicated to Perth; arms swayed along to the track that put him on the map. It left only the night’s title track to farewell us, and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road‘s superior melodies were the perfect ending, as vision of John’s incredible costumes and live performances graced the screens.

Really, it could only have been bettered by wheeling out legendary co-writer Bernie Taupin to wave goodbye, then continuing with Honky Cat for another encore while the crowd was on their feet, wanting nothing more than to keep dancing.

But by then Sir Elton Hercules John had done more than enough to remind us of his legacy. A one-of-a-kind and the greatest piano-led pop star we’ll likely ever see, it was the most fitting of send offs, and under a perfecty moonlit Perth night sky, arguably the best concert WA has seen this year. If you can get your hands on a ticket for Sunday night’s second and final finale, don’t hesitate. We won’t see his likes again.


Photos by Linda Dunjey

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