Saturday, December 8, 2007
A Knight With a Legend
I travelled from Auckland, New Zealand to New Plymouth by car to see Elton at the beautiful Bowl of Brooklands for his one off New Zealand date as part of the Asia-Pacific Rocketman Solo Tour.
Firstly, I must congratulate Capital C Concerts, Venture Taranaki, Twenty First Artists Management and of course Elton for coming to New Zealand and being loyal to his fans down in middle earth. The venue they selected was incredible, it was set amongst lush native bush, it had a lake in front of the stage, and it was incredibly intimate, the diamond seating at the front of the venue was so close it felt as if Elton was singing just for us.
The night began with the worst weather one could ask for at an outdoor concert. It was raining, it was freezing, it was overcast, it was windy and it was dark. The gates opened and the fans flooded in. We saw a man who had images of Elton tattooed on to his body, competition winners being led back from Elton's dressing room, with huge grins and signed goodies and crew arranging the stage just so. Although I didn't get to meet the man, I did happen to see him drive past with a police escort and long line of Mercedes entourage earlier in the day. It was like seeing her majesty the Queen!
After an intolerable wait in the freezing cold, the opening act Strike Percussion began. Their mesmerizing rhythm and dance-like spectacle was unique and helped warm the crowd up. At 8pm, Elton's team came on stage and did some spring cleaning. They unwrapped the piano, set up heaters, plugged in the monitors, set the mic and iced the cola. Elton's Piano tech Dale Sticha came on stage and tuned the keys, ready for the maestro himself.
At 8:30 sharp, a local Maori group welcomed Sir Elton with a traditional Powhiri and Elton came on stage and launched into Your Song. At this time the weather could not be worse, the wind was messing up Elton's hair and making the speaker stacks swing. But as if some greater force was looking down on us and singing along with your song, the sky started to clear and a magnificent rainbow appeared right above the stage. Elton must have fans in very high places!
Elton then said good evening New Zealand and "as you can see I always bring the best weather with me." He spoke of bad weather following him around Australia. He talked about his love of New Zealand and how he has been coming here for years and how it is always like coming home. He then introduced Sixty Years On and rocked the bowl with those distinctive piano chords.
Next was The Greatest Discovery, an early classic. Elton spoke of this being written by Bernie Taupin for the birth of his brother Trig. Classics I Need You To Turn To and Border Song followed. Then Elton introduced The Ballad of The Boy in The Red Shoes. He said that it was written about the early 80's when many were suffering with AIDS and nothing was done for them. Elton said how "under Reagan nothing was done for them, it was a disgrace." Elton's piano playing was incredible, it was perfect and seemed effortless. His voice was strong and powerful, his voice is deep and crisp, like a fine aged wine.
Next was an audience favourite, Daniel. During this song a strong gust of wind caught the carpet on the stage and blew it up off the stage. Elton just kept playing, without the slightest fault. Elton's crew quickly rearranged the stage and he thanked the audience for being so loyal and sitting through the weather. Honky Cat followed, and many of the young couples got up and danced in the aisles. The extended version of Rocket man was a spectacle in itself. An incredible light show, images of space and the use of synthesisers and echo made this a real standout. This solo version had real emotion in it and you could feel the loneliness when he sings this song.
Tiny Dancer was dedicated to all the young ladies in the audience, and many patrons took the opportunity to sing along with those word famous lines. Mona Lisa's and Mad Hatters "a song about New York City" captured some of Bernie's great lyrics. Nikita was another audience favourite and Philadelphia Freedom had a fantastic USA light show and was very different to the band version, very refreshing. Sacrifice followed, a big hit in Taranaki.
Ticking was a very unique number. Elton said it was written about violent crime in America and how "unfortunately that still has not changed today." Although, I had the impression that because the song was not widely known, Elton sped it up and sang the lyrics much faster than normal, it still had an Erie feel to it and was very powerful. Roy Rogers was introduced as a song written about Elton's early childhood heroes, and this was well received with the adult members of the audience. Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word was strong and involving. During Candle in the Wind, audience members were given free candles the hold up during the song, although many blew out immediately, the thought was there. I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues was a big hit with the kiwi audience.
Elton talked about the setting for Electricity and how Billy is asked what it feels like to dance. This song received a great applause and was very well received. Carla Etude followed an displayed Elton's musical genius and ability to play classical piano solos. This blended into Tonight, a very sombre piece. Take Me To The Pilot was not performed. Blue Eyes was a great sing-along. Levon was replaced by Bennie and The Jets and followed by Crocodile Rock. Old favourites, to which the audience thoroughly enjoyed. Elton ended his set with a powerful version of I'm Still Standing, to which the audience gave a rapturous applause.
David Furnish then appeared to the side of the stage and Elton could be seen talking to him. Two Maori elders then arrived carrying a feathered cloak. Elton shook their hands and the cloak was put around his shoulders. He gave them a Hongi (pressing noses), a Maori symbol of respect. Elton walked down the stage extension across the lake and bowed to the audience. The king of Piano sat back on his throne and told the audience how he could have used this earlier. "In all my 38 years of touring, I've never been so cold, and I have heaters on stage, so God knows how you must feel. But, thank you so much for such a beautiful gift." He ended the show with a very strong encore of Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me.
On behalf of New Zealand's Elton John fans, I would like to thank Elton for a breathtaking show, and for returning to our humble cities. We would love to welcome him back again next time (Elton said he will be back real soon!). As the concert ended fans could be heard singing various songs and heading home with smiles on their faces.
FOR AN EXCLUSIVE VIDEO CLIP OF THE CONCERT PLEASE SEE: YouTube
BACKSTAGE PHOTO'S COMING SOON...