Words: Simon Button
Elton John’s farewell to the Yellow Brick Road that has been his touring career for five decades couldn’t be more celebratory.
Clocking in at nearly three hours, with just one quick costume change and a two-song encore, it features huge hits and fan favourites that cover the gamut of his astonishing career from hot young 1970s singer-songwriter to global superstar, gay activist and the most accomplished and enduring British solo performer of all time.
Launching the European leg of his 'Farewell Yellow Brick Road' tour at Vienna’s Wiener Stadhalle, Elton’s three-year swansong as a touring artist is surely his most uplifting and emotional show ever.
Image: Ben Gibson
Vowing not to hit the road again once the marathon of 300-plus dates climaxes in London in 2020 so he can spend more time with husband David Furnish and their sons (though this tireless workaholic isn’t ruling out residencies or bespoke concerts), Elton is going out with a bang.
We were treated to a tour of the stage before curtain-up and learned that it takes 85 carts and 25 lorries to transport it from venue to venue. Surrounding a huge 66ft x 30ft screen is a gold leaf frame that features a ‘Lion King’ logo (even though songs from the score are strangely absent from the setlist) and ‘Billy Elliot’ and nods to countless other career landmarks and inspirations.
Visually it’s stripped-back compared to his Vegas shows, with no inflatables popping up and just a bit of confetti towards the end. But that screen is put to good use.
Image: Elton John
There’s a droll comic touch in the Martin Parr photographs that are screened during ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’ since they depict working class families holidaying in Britain and looking miserable as sin.
And the clips that accompany ‘Believe’ chronicle his work with the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which he candidly admits to setting up because - having gotten off the drugs and alcohol that clouded his 1980s and having come out as gay in 1992 - he felt he hadn’t done enough in the fight against HIV.
The crew is 60-strong, the backing band is made up of world-class musicians who have worked with Elton for aeons so they never miss a beat, and the black 9ft Yamaha grand piano is one of five he’s taking on the road. Elton remains seated at said piano for most of the show and his old-school showmanship and command of the audience is unequalled.
Image: Ben Gibson
Showing Springsteen levels of stamina and, by the time he’s reached Vienna, 77 shows into the hard slog of a three-year tour, his love of performing is as evident as his back catalogue is vast. He starts with ‘Bennie And The Jets’ and works his way through 25 songs, ranging from a rousing ‘Rocket Man’ to a deeply moving ‘Daniel’.
There’s campery in the drag queen video for ‘The Bitch Is Back’ and the visuals for ‘Border Song’ pay tribute to such LGBTQ barrier-breakers as Billie-Jean King and Peter Tatchell and allies like Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Diana.
If, at age 72, Elton can’t quite reach the high notes he still has a powerful bass voice and he’s a brilliant musician, turning ‘Levon’ (a forgotten gem from the Madman Across The Water album) into an exhilarating jam session.
Image: Ben Gibson
By the time ‘Goodbye Yellow Break Road’ rolls around at the end there’s not a dry eye in the house. And if, as he insists, this is his last worldwide jaunt he couldn’t be going out on a higher high.
Read our interview with Taron Egerton, who plays Sir Elton John in upcoming musical biopic 'Rocketman', in Attitude's June issue - out now.