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Review: Greg Phillips Photos: Jonathan White

It was 49 years ago, almost to the day that I first saw Elton John perform at the South Melbourne Football Ground, merely 5 months after the release of his iconic double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. A lifetime of achievements have since occurred for the legendary musician, including 300 million in record sales and a lifetime of memories have been experienced by his fans. It’s hard to believe that this is the last time we’ll ever see Elton John on tour again in Australia. In fact, we thought we’d seen the last of Elton a couple of years ago but thanks to the rescheduling of a couple of New Zealand shows due to the pandemic, he tagged on another farewell Australian tour to make it all worth his while.

So it has come to this, Elton John’s 52nd (he tells us) and final tour performance in Melbourne, a city which has meant so much to him. It’s where he recorded his 1987 album Live in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, a concert I was also blessed to be at.  Tonight, in searing heat, around 30,000 fans gave Elton the welcome he thoroughly deserved as the music icon walked to the stage and took his position at the Yamaha grand piano. There aren’t many songs in rock history that you recognise immediately from one single note but Bennie and The Jets is certainly one of them. A perfectly executed Philadelphia Freedom followed and the barrage of hits had begun. I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues was next and only three songs in, it was obvious that the man’s vocal strength is still there, albeit in a lower register than he performed in five decades ago.

Border Song gave Elton the opportunity to pay tribute to soul queen Aretha Franklin, who gave  Elton and his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin the ultimate compliment by recording his song in 1972 for her album Young, Gifted and Black. Tiny Dancer, a song off his 1971 album Madman Across The Water, probably didn’t receive the attention it really deserved until it was used as part of the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe’s 2000 hit movie Almost Famous. There was a strong melancholic feel about tonight’s version, as we knew this was the last we’d hear it live. Likewise, Rocket Man, spurred on by the recent success of the movie based on the life and career of Elton John, was received in different ways tonight. Depending on your age, it was either the soundtrack of your life in real time in the seventies or a new addition to your Spotify list in 2019.

Candle In The Wind was never one of my personal favourites but to the world it became synonymous with the death of Princess Diana. Of course it was met with rapturous applause tonight. Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding however, has always been an Elton John track I’ve greatly admired and the band’s performance of it at AAMI park was superb. So many great musicians have been in and out of Elton’s bands over the last five decades and significantly for this tour, stalwarts Davey Johnstone (guitar) Ray Cooper (percussion) and Nigel Olsson (drums) were all back to see the journey through to the end. You forget how many celebrated guitar solos Davey Johnstone has added to Elton’s songs and Love Lies Bleeding gave the guitar great an opportunity to shine. Like the previous song, Burn Down The Mission is not a short tune and after two extended  jams in a row, the 36 degree heat had Elton slumping over the piano to briefly catch his breath.

As the sun set and darkness began to descend, the full effect of the huge stage screens and lighting system kicked in, with the audience adding their own smartphone light show to the mix. Ironically, it was Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me which saw the end to Saturday’s daylight.

Those who attended the previous night’s show in Melbourne had to endure Elton’s longtime friend Molly Meldrum bare his arse on stage during The Bitch is Back. Thankfully tonight, as much as we love Molly, we didn’t get a repeat performance of his impromptu moon dance. No Molly in sight tonight, however ‘Bitch’ was the beginning of a rocking run home. The crowd by now was fully invested in having the time of their lives. I’m Still Standing followed and absolutely nobody was sitting down anymore. Another superb guitar solo was delivered by Davey, played on his impressive Yellow Brick Road-painted Les Paul. Crocodile Rock gave Elton some vocal rest time as the audience en masse was more than happy to supply the chorus. Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting up next and you realise just how many historic rock staples the man has given us. After such a herculean effort by the band in the heat, they leave the stage to rehydrate but we know they’re far from done.

Elton returns to the stage sans band to euphoric applause, this time not for just an amazing show but in acknowledgment of a life and career lived like no other. There is only one Elton John and tonight it is we that are thanking you. The rocket man has succeeded for so long because he’s been able to adapt to the times and always be relevant. Recent successful collaborations with Dua Lipa and Britney Spears are proof that even as he hangs up the boots, Elton John still has what it takes to top the charts globally. With that in mind, he leads the audience in an a cappella version of Cold Heart. As Elton takes the verse, tonight we are all Dua Lipa! It’s a beautiful intimate moment between an iconic artist we love and 30,000 adoring Melbournians, although the amount of foreign accents heard prior to the gig suggest that there’s been plenty of fan fly-ins from all parts of the globe to join the farewell party. Your Song is our song and we sing along with gusto for the last time.

Elton takes to the microphone to say his final goodbyes. He thanks the city of Melbourne and Australian fans in general for making him feel so at home. He tells us his kids have also fallen in love with the country. He singles out one individual fan in the front row who as attended 55 Elton gigs. He tells us to “look after ourselves, be kind to each other. I wish you happiness, love health and prosperity and goodbye and farewell,” as he launches into Goodbye Yellow Brick Road for the last time. We sing uninhibitedly, like nobody’s watching and the applause at the end was at a level I’ve never heard before and of course he encourages us to roar even louder. He turns to reveal the letters EJ on the back of his jacket, a vision replicated on the screen behind him as he walks off down an animated yellow brick road. Thank you Sir Elton John for a game well played.


Set list. AAMI Park. Saturday January 14, 2023

Bennie and The Jets
Philadelphia Freedom
I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues
Border Song
Tiny Dancer
Have Mercy On The Criminal
Rocket Man
Take Me To The Pilot
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
Candle In The Wind
Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Burn Down The Mission
Sad Songs
Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
Don’t let The Sun Go Down On Me
The Bitch is Back
I’m Still Standing
Crocodile Rock
Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting
Cold Heart
Your Song
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Remaining dates on the tour

Tue 17 Jan
Allianz Stadium, Sydney, NSW


Wed 18 Jan
Allianz Stadium, Sydney, NSW


Sat 21 Jan
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, QLD


Tue 24 Jan
Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch, NZ



Fri 27 Jan
Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, NZ


Sat 28 Jan
Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, NZ


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