25 Jan 2023

Review: Sir Elton John dazzles at first of final New Zealand shows

11:09 am on 25 January 2023
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 01: Recording artist Sir Elton John gestures to the audience after performing the song "Tiny Dancer" during a stop of the Farewell Yellow Brick Road: The Final Tour at Allegiant Stadium on November 01, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada.   Ethan Miller/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Ethan Miller / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Sir Elton John. Photo: AFP

"Well done Christchurch, you've come back from a hell of a pasting."

The perennial pop showman delivered a poignant tribute to the Garden City, on a night abundant with tributes, celebration and dazzle.

Sir Elton John, 279 shows deep of a marathon farewell tour which had begun two years before Covid disruption ensued, resumed pleasantries with New Zealand last night for the first of a three-show adieu.

The Farewell Yellow Brick Road round trip reportedly stands as the second highest grossing tour of all time and for the 30,000 patrons at Christchurch's Orangetheory Stadium, it was money well spent.

Alongside his hardened backing band, the 75-year-old Brit delivered a grandiose 24-song set for the sold-out crowd over two hours, probably best described as the ultimate pop audio-visual extravaganza.

The show's visual element played an elevated role, indicating that John - in the top tier of best-selling artists of all time - was going all out.

And that can be extended to the music itself.

When those heavy opening piano pounds of 'Bennie and the Jets' kicked proceedings off, it was clear this was all going to be about his accomplishments.

Sir Elton John onstage at Christchurch's Orangetheory Stadium on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour.

Sir Elton John onstage at Christchurch's Orangetheory Stadium. Photo: RNZ / Adam Burns

About three-quarters of the set-list were of songs from his most lauded creative period during the early-to-mid 70s, a stretch that served up, largely, his most renowned hits.

Many of the crowd played into this theatrical aesthetic, sporting flashing glasses as they revelled in the occasion, despite overcast and drizzly conditions in Christchurch.

After, succumbing mid-show in Auckland back in 2020 to a bout of walking pneumonia, John's voice was at its muscular best throughout.

Elton John leaves the stage after ending his show early.

Sir Elton John is taken off stage while performing in Auckland in 2020. Photo: Twitter/Elton John

He loosened up the chorus of 'I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues', giving it a rough and untreated quality, underlining the influence classic R&B and rock and roll has had on the superstar.

This was followed by a wordy anecdote of a moment he shared with another queen, Aretha Franklin, before dedicating 'Border Song' - one of John's earlier singles - to her, as images of the late soul legend, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis were displayed on the big screens.

The opening seconds of 'Tiny Dancer' - a song that drew a new generation of fans due to its pivotal use in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous - sparked a multitude of DIY videos from the crowd, recognising the song and the moment as essential documentation.

Although John's discography is not short on ballads, he shifted into rock mode for the lesser known 'Have Mercy on the Criminal', an electric blues rock belter.

Much of the first half of the show played to John's more experimental tendencies and for the more casual Elton admirers, possibly the closest thing to a lull all night.

The performance of 'Rocket Man', another classic from 1972's Honky Chateau, was appropriately twisted into a psychedelic acid-trip which undeniably veered into Pink Floyd 'Pulse' territory.

However after a brief intermission and costume change, John and co ramped it up for the home stretch, offering a sizzling sequence of sing-a-longs, as the visual presentation continued to impress.

Live shots of John during 'Burn Down the Mission' were augmented on the big screen with fire graphics burning from his Yamaha piano.

The man, the performance, quite literally, on fire.

John again paid tribute to another musical peer, David Crosby for crowd favourite 'Don't Let the Sun Come Down on Me'.

The 81-year-old singer/guitarist of Crosby, Stills & Nash and The Byrds died only a week ago.

There was a sense of reverence and realisation by those who attended as 'I'm Still Standing' was married against visual snippets of key Elton moments throughout his half-century career, that the end was nigh.

A limp explosion of confetti, which maybe doused the first two rows of patrons, capped 'Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting' wasn't quite the climax intended.

But the ultimate flex came as John returned for an encore, draped in a glam dressing gown, as the four-to-the-floor groove of 'Cold Heart' - his 2021 collaboration with Dua Lipa and Australian electronic vets Pnau showcased how transferrable a classic Elton hook really is.

"I'm 75-years-old and still have a number one record."

He closed it out with 'Your Song' before acknowledging the city of Christchurch.

It was appropriate that his final trip to the mainland was at Orangetheory, given his previous Christchurch date was at the Addington Showgrounds nearly 33 years ago.

"You guys have gone through hell ... this is a very resilient city."

It was perfectly wrapped up with the title track from 1973's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, considered by many as his greatest studio achievement.

And with that he left the building, with the simple but moving utterance of "Christchurch, I will miss you" lingering for all.

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