Elton John at BST Hyde Park: Almost exactly what you expect – and all the better for it

·3 min read
Elton John performing at British Summer Time in Hyde Park (Michal Augustini/Shutterstock)
Elton John performing at British Summer Time in Hyde Park (Michal Augustini/Shutterstock)

Midway through his last ever Hyde Park show, Elton John croons the track that first made him an icon. It’s a testament to his decades-long legacy that when he delves into the chorus of “Your Song”, the crowd raise real-life lighters; not, as it has become custom, phone torches.

This show – on the last leg of his epic, globe-spanning Yellow Brick Road tour – has been a long time coming, delayed by two years and a pandemic. Perhaps that’s why tonight, he takes the stage bang on time. The unmistakable first keys of “Bennie and the Jets” ring out at 7.50pm, catching revellers off-guard as they abandon all hope for a last-minute beer and flock to the stage. Dancing, of course, as they go. The song, about a pop star who is as famous for her eccentric look – “electric boots, a mohair suit” – as her music, is an appropriate introduction for John, who sits by his piano dressed in a white tuxedo and his signature bedazzled frames. It’s the tamest outfit he’ll wear tonight.

Earlier this month, the 75-year-old disputed “silly stories” in the tabloids reporting on his allegedly declining health. He said he was in top shape – and the proof is in the pudding. Across the show’s nearly three-hour duration, he never wavers. The entertainer continues to leave it all on stage as he tears through several powerful piano solos. Although the days of jumping on top of his keys are behind him, ever the showman, he finds other ways to delight his fans. A cheeky hip gyration here. A manic grin there. On the few occasions that he does rise to blow a kiss or clutch his heart in gratitude, he is met with screams and bellows of admiration. Chit-chat is kept to a minimum. There is a tribute to the “magical and everlasting” Aretha Franklin and a long-list of thank yous, but most of his energy goes into splashing those power chords.

John’s voice has grown beefier with age, and he cleverly steers clear of any falsetto. On the mock-Americana inflections of “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”, his voice is as honeyed as ever. On stage, he is joined by old pals whom he takes care to introduce and hype up mid-show: Ray Cooper on percussion; Nigel Olsson on drums; Davey Johnstone on guitar. Playing together since the Seventies, they don’t miss a beat – and all of them match their frontman’s vigour.

An epic trio of “I’m Still Standing”, “Crocodile Rock” and “Saturday Night’s Alright” sandblasts any inklings of creeping fatigue. Unsurprisingly, “Rocketman” and “I’m Still Standing” are the big-hitters of the night: rambunctious sing-alongs led by the world’s greatest maestro. Behind John, who pounds the keys with gusto, a sizzle reel of his decades-spanning career plays, a suitable – and emotional – accompaniment to a song about perseverance.

Only a performance of his latest hit, the Dua Lipa duet “Cold Heart”, falls flat. The track’s one redeeming quality is that it gives John the perfectly emotional segue from his latest No 1 to his first-ever, as he next launches into 1970’s “Your Song”. The jumbo screen shows many a wet cheek in the audience.

And with that, the musical legend takes his fourth and final bow at Hyde Park. Now wearing a silk robe with the face of a cat bedazzled on the back, because well... he’s Elton John.

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