Elton John

***** Hammersmith Apollo, London

Adam Sweeting
Wednesday December 15, 2004
The Guardian

Ancient readers may recall that when Elton played at Wembley Stadium in 1975, he treated the huddled masses to a run through of his then-new album, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. The critics considered this a very poor idea, and doled out a drubbing accordingly.

Thirty years later, Elton is at it again, and he opened his Hammersmith mini-season with a string of eight songs from the month-old Peachtree Road. This time the ploy was more successful, probably because the Peachtree songs are big, tuneful pieces with huge choruses, cut from classic Elton John cloth.

Weight of the World rolled past with the stateliness of a royal funeral cortege, Porch Swing in Tupelo was a funk/rock/gospel stomp in the Tumbleweed Connection tradition, and They Call Her the Cat snarled rowdily, given an extra shove by an eight-piece gospel chorus.

Elton - dressed like a Belgian crown prince from 1914 in a blue frock coat embroidered with flowers, with a wing collar and gold cravat - seemed grateful the crowd hadn't pelted him with fruit. He explained apologetically: "I just can't sing the old ones all the time," and then proceeded to sing the old ones for the rest of the time. Despite an audible croak in his voice, he did it with such enthusiasm that it was as if three decades of bone-shaking mileage had never happened.

He opted for a fuck-art-let's-dance strategy, apparently galvanised by his discovery of the gospel singers while making Peachtree Road. They lit up Are You Ready for Love? as it hammered along over Nigel Olsson's massive drumbeat, then gave it both barrels in the "shine a light" refrain from a house-quaking Philadelphia Freedom. Burn Down the Mission blazed like Atlanta in Gone With the Wind, and a raucous The Bitch Is Back had Elton stamping his foot on the piano lid like a music-hall parody of Jerry Lee Lewis. Between songs he strutted triumphantly round the stage, punching the air; I can't remember the last time I saw anybody enjoying their own performance this much.

He kept Your Song for a solo finale, prefacing it with a touching little thank you to his fans for putting up with him for so long. Good for another 20 years then, Elton?

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