At 7.30pm the lights at Suncorp Stadium briefly dim and Sir Elton John hits a single chord on his piano. The full house erupts as that lone Gmaj7 rings out from the stage. The audience know exactly what’s coming next and you’ve soon got a full house lending their voices to a spirited reading of “Bennie and the Jets”.
Elton’s been coming to Brisbane to play shows since 1971. On his first visit a local radio station had him driving around town in a mini moke with a loud hailer to spruik ticket sales. A couple of years later he played just around the corner at the Milton Tennis Centre.
Tonight, as he plays his final ever Australian show, and closes this leg of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour, the air is a mix of nostalgia and sheer joy.
Sure Elton is looking back, but he’s also riding some recent monster hits and the age span of the crowd reflect that.
“Philadelphia Freedom” is next, followed by a searing “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”. Elton then takes a moment to give a moving tribute to soul Queen Aretha Franklin and leads the band into “Border Song”.
Next, Elton plays a dummy riff on the piano. Just as you’re wondering exactly what it is, he turns on a dime and chimes out the opening motif for “Tiny Dancer”.
Hearing that song in Cameron Crowe’s 2000 film Almost Famous seemed to bring Elton back into the collective consciousness.
Tonight the song steadily builds and – as if you needed a reminder – you realise that you’re watching one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century actually playing one of the greatest adult pop songs of that very century before your eyes.
Have you ever noticed how long it takes to get to the ‘hold me closer/tiny dancer’ chorus? The song yearns … there’s tension and then – more than halfway through the song – the release comes and the entire stadium is singing Bernie Taupin’s lyric back to Captain Fantastic. If a moment like that didn’t make you well up – well you’re a tougher customer that I am.
Running at close to two and a half hours, the set is riddled with hits and the odd tune from the relative margins of Elton’s career. “Have Mercy On The Criminal” pleases the diehards in the audience and later there’s the musical centrepiece of the night, “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” and “Burn Down The Mission”.
It’s during “Love Lies Bleeding”, in particular, that you realise that this combination of band members – in some form or another – have been doing this for decades and the mastery shows. Nigel Olsson on drums, Ray Cooper on percussion and guitarist/band leader Davey Johnstone shone like diamonds.
The on-stage visuals were terrific … the sound was top notch … but we’re all here for the songs.
“Rocket Man”, “Candle In The Wind”, “Sad Songs (Say So Much)” further highlighted John’s pop genius and then there was the sonic climb towards the encore.
“I’m Still Standing” took everything up a gear and the mood stayed there for “Crocodile Rock” and the closer, “Saturday Nights Alright For Fighting”.
No one was going anywhere and Elton reappeared on stage in a very posh dressing gown and sang “Cold Heart” to a backing track with a gigantic Dua Lipa on the big screens. After a few words thanking the audience and talking about his desire to spend time at home and make records, Elton closed the show with ‘Your Song’ followed by ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’.
Waving as he left the stage there was a euphoria washing over the venue and a little lump in the throat that acknowledged that “we” will never again traipse to a stadium or entertainment centre and gather in our thousands to sing along to one of the best catalogues in British pop with the man that made those songs famous.
For Brisbane, Australia and Elton John … the yellow brick road ends here. But, the songs … well, they’re not going anywhere.