Yesterday (Tuesday 5th June 2012) I saw Elton John entertain crowds at Harrogate’s Yorkshire Event Centre. This is by some distance the biggest concert I’ve been to where I’ve a) walked there and back and b) slept in my own bed. It should be added that at £80 a ticket I wouldn’t have paid transport and accomodation on top.
Before I talk about the concert proper; here are two things about Elton John you may not know;
1, Between 1971 and 1976 he released six albums which are up there with the best records committed to vinyl; Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across The Water, Honky Chateau, Don’t Shoot Me … I’m Only The Piano Player, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirty Cowboy (the patchier Caribou split the last two). It may surprise you to learn that the first two produced no UK hit singles whatsoever.
2, In 2001, after 25 years of constant hits but patchy albums (Too Low For Zero in 1984 was his sole moment of true glory during this period and The One from 1992 deserves critical re-appraisal) Sir Elton (and – a critical point – Bernie Taupin as well) rediscovered their mojo and produced the magnificent Songs From The West Coast which was followed (if we sidestep the worthy but dull Peachtree Road) by the equally outstanding The Captain And The Kid and an impressive collaboration with long forgotten American musician Leon Russell entitled The Union. And … nobody seemed to notice. Sir Elton could still score a hit with a tacky reworking of Your Song or a mash up with a boy band covering Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word but his outstanding new records sold only to the hardcore. Even his so called fans didn’t seem to care. One has to be impressed that he bothers to listen to his muse.
Which takes us back to the concert. Granted, this is the Greatest Hits tour so one can’t really moan at a setlist that had `the hits` but it was telling that the sole selection from the last twenty years, Hey Ahab, from The Union was one the highlights and certainly his strongest performance vocally. Otherwise one of the few real surprises was Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters, a lyrically powerful tribute to New York from the Honky Chateau album. Oddly enough I had this record on the day before and was reminded what a great song this was; it was a pleasure to hear it live.
In all concerts it always takes you a while to get into the swing before one song gets you to your feet and you stay there for the rest of the night. In this case it was a joyous rendition of Philadelphia Freedom which was almost the highlight of the set. A few other moments came close; Candle In The Wind retains a suprising amount of power – let’s remember that long before `that` use of the song he played it in tribute to teenage AIDS victim Ryan White and that story is worth looking up. The well remembered album cut Funeral For A Friend/ Love Lies Bleeding is a reminder that Elton doesn’t owe his success to arch theatrics and garish costumes – his forty year career is founded on musical dexterity and songwriting power.
The highlight of the evening, however, proved to be a truly awe inspiring performance of Sacrifice. On record this appears to be a mournful lament of lost love but the uptempo rendition Elton treated us to reinvented the song as a celebration; we love and love goes cold so we move on but we learn from the experience and take the good memories with us and it’s no sacrifice at all. During the song I was thinking of a trio of ex lovers (SJA, RKJ and SM if they’re reading this) and I had a massive smile on my face at the end of it.
If I had one criticism of the set it was its ending but that’s probably because I’m one of the few Elton fans who doesn’t like Your Song. I find it bland and dull, quite frankly. It was always going to be the encore and it had its place but I was hoping something more triumphant would be ringing in my ears as I went for an overpriced roast pork sandwich and much needed piss but alas, not to be.
Changing the subject; as a (relative) veteran of such concerts I was surprised to find myself in the lairiest, booziest crowd I’ve been in. Some of this may be due to the seated nature of the concert; you were able to get in the drinks without losing your vantage point. I have nothing but admiration for the stewards who had a thankless job of keeping exit routes clear from some of the tipsier members of the audience (of which there were more than a few). I did see one steward getting some aggro though and I hope the red faced gentleman involved got slung out. I’m hoping the Yorkshire Events centre move towards a standing only set up for future concerts which should keep the binge drinkers and prattlers on the periphery.
More to the point there is sober, then there is tipsy, than there is drunk and beyond that there is incapable. I have it on good authority that a middle aged woman queuing to use the toilet in a nearby retail outlet (and not buying anything) was so far gone that she simply did her business on the floor which of course had to be mopped up after her (I hope she was just drunk – the alternatives are rather worrying). It will be interesting to see what comments are made regarding the crowd – let’s face it, if a concert attended by primarily young people featured taunting of stewards (generally good natured) and public urination we’d never hear the end of it from certain sections of the community.