Monday, June 30, 2008

Swansea Review

A record crowd rocked the Liberty Stadium tonight as Sir Elton John blasted out an explosive two-and-a-half hour repertoire of his greatest hits.

Around 25,000 fans packed the stadium to hear the Rocket Man and his band belt out countless classics from a catalogue spanning the past four decades.

Support acts Richard Fleeshman - of Coronation Street fame - and Swansea band The Storys warmed up the masses ahead of Sir Elton's spectacle of old and new favourites.

The Storys' lead singer Steve Balsamo told the audience: "It's an absolute dream come true to be performing at the Liberty Stadium alongside Elton John."

And then the pop world's most flamboyant star took to the stage in what was a breathtaking performance - his first in Swansea and his only Welsh tour date this year.

And before wowing the crowd with hits such as Daniel, Tiny Dancer and The Bitch is Back, the Watford FC president told fans: "It's great to be at Swansea and at this wonderful arena, especially as I was involved with Swansea back in the day when they went up to the first division and Watford were only a few steps behind.

"It's wonderful that Swansea have gone up to the Championship."

The sell-out mega-bash took place eight years after the pop legend played to a 15,000-strong crowd at Margam Park and was a massive economic boost for the area, with hotels and B &Bs across the city booked.

As the concert gathered pace, so the classic hits began to unfold.

There were songs from the early part of his career such as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Honky Cat, Rocket Man, Bennie and the Jets, Philadelphia Freedom, Crocodile Rock and Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.

There was huge crowd reaction to Candle in the Wind - the original version - and then hits from the 1980s such as I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues and Sacrifice.

Some things get better with age. And I was curious to see whether Sir Elton John was one of them - at the ripe old age of 61 and after nearly four decades of worldwide tours.

But they don't call him Rocket Man for nothing - and the flamboyant superstar was firing on all cylinders at Sunday's Liberty stadium mega-bash.

Former Corrie star Richard Fleeshman and Swansea rockers The Storys kept the 25,000-strong audience entertained as they took their seats and donned giant heart-shaped glasses.

But as good as they were, there was really only one star the crowd had come to see. And at 7.30pm, he took to a Swansea stage for the first time.

Dressed in a relatively conservative black knee-length coat with 'love' scrawled down one arm, Elton and his quintet kicked off with the prog-rock 1970s classic Funeral for a Friend. A mournful piano solo which merges into a hurt and angry song about the end of a love affair, it lasts almost 12 minutes - quite an opener.

After greeting the enthralled crowd, Elton took a brief trip down memory lane, remembering his involvement with Swansea City "back in the day when they went up to the First Division."

He said: "It's wonderful that the Swans have been promoted to the Championship," before leaping back to the grand piano to belt out The Bitch is Back, a song Bernie Taupin wrote after one of Elton's infamous tantrums.

During the chorus, Elton jumped on to his piano stool while in 30-foot letters the word BITCH flashed behind him - class.

Wasting no time, he flew straight in to Tiny Dancer, which he dedicated to "all the ladies in the audience." Leaning over the piano, Elton paused only to wipe his misted-up sunglasses before lulling the crowd with Daniel.

Rocket Man inspired a Mexican Wave from the crowd, who were whipped into a frenzy by now. Elton took a quick breather as two ladies - one dressed as Marilyn Monroe in her famous white dress - marched past security to hand him a humble bunch of sunflowers and a Watford shirt.

Clearly touched by this, he smiled as Davey Johnstone grabbed the banjo for a bouncy rendition of the spirited Honky Cat. Then, as nightfall began, it was Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me which sent a wave of electricity around the stands, causing impromptu dancing in the aisles and a whole lot of impassioned swaying.

Moments later, there were gasps from the audience as Elton's nimble fingers danced to that tune which sends a shiver down the spine and brings back memories of a royal icon.

Candle in the Wind - the original version - soon became candles in the wind as fans reached for their cigarette lighters and illuminated mobile phones.

Cute modern hit Are you Ready for Love? lifted the mood before the crowd rather fittingly got to their feet for the classic comeback chant I'm Still Standing.

Two hours in, Elton was still pounding the piano and showing no sign of slowing down. It was clear there wasn't going to be a dull moment as he stormed through Crocodile Rock, Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting and Pinball Wizard.

Star-struck fans offered him a Welsh flag which he draped over his shoulders, much to the delight of the patriotic crowd which stirringly burst into the chorus of Hymns and Arias.

There were no costume changes, no theatrics and no fireworks. All a performer like Elton John needs is a sturdy piano stool and an audience ready for a night to remember.

Before the evening's final song, he signed autographs for a lucky few and said: "You have been amazing. It's a great set-up here and I hope you get promoted to the Premier League. This is for every single one of you - for the love you send my way."

The simple opening of Your Song began a truly moving moment as the capacity crowd sang every word right back - some dancing, some embracing a loved one.

All, I'm sure would tell you, how wonderful life is ... while Elt's in the world.

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