Elton John, Vienna Stadthalle
EVEN as long goodbyes go, Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour is an epic. Its first European night was its 78th show; it will reach Britain next month, then return next year. The good news is that John is going neither quietly nor gracefully. He is dragging himself into retirement raucously and defiantly. Whether this inveterate 72-year-old performer stays there will be another question.
Taking on trust this really is Goodnight, Vienna: what a way to go. A 165-minute set chiefly made up of early/mid-1970s favourites, with a handful of deep-ish cuts thrown in, and only one tune post-dating the 1980s. Moreover, John and his six-piece backing band, who together must surely have accumulated over 500 years on the planet, attacked the songs with an unwavering gusto that would have left a group half their collective age in puddles of exhaustion. Four decades ago, Elton was old hat; now he’s plain old, and playing barnstorming gigs.
Three of those musicians are on drums or percussion, which combined with John’s own wham-bam piano style (although some extempore passages reminded us he can also play with no little invention) underlined the intention to rock the haus. The big ballads featured, as they must; a spare, solo Candle In The Wind, restored to its Marilyn theme, was particularly moving.
But mainly there was noise — a lot of it — and spectacle, with the giant screen backdrop displaying a mix of often very hip new video, archive footage and a wonderful psychedelic animated cartoon based on the Captain Fantastic character. An ornate frame features episodes from John’s career, depicted in relief.
Neither modesty nor understatement, then, and why would you want those from him? John leapt from his seat after every song, revelling in the applause like a manager whose football team had just scored a vital goal. At the end, he rode away on a stairlift to heaven — a perfect summary of the camp humour and pageantry in which he has long specialised. When Elton John plays a greatest hits set, they really are hits, they really are great and they stay played.