It happened! Elton John came to Exeter on the rainiest Devon day he could possibly have chosen, and it was amazing.
Last Sunday was one of those days when you should just stay in your house and watch Netflix all day – but I, along with most of Devon’s over 50 population, was in traffic for over an hour heading to see one of the greatest rock stars of a generation. Somehow it hadn’t occurred to me that the event would be outdoors; I simply assumed it would be inside that thing that looks like an airplane hanger called Westpoint Arena, where students collectively party in their underwear every December. Not so! I arrived to an enormous, festival-like set-up in a field with rows upon rows of bleachers and food stands of all varieties. The atmosphere was buzzing, the ground was muddy and I was umbrella-less but thrilled.
At 6 o’ clock, Northern Irish singer-songwriter Foy Vance took to the stage. His momentous, country-folk styling was perfectly suited to the atmosphere. Vance’s sound is earthy, with his grizzly voice moving easily from honky tonk to epic, Disney soundtrack-worthy material, before he closed with a soulful cover of Prince’s Purple Rain.
The weather showed no sign of clearing at this point, but the true Elton fans started piling into the VIP section, where we were lucky enough to be seated. A man in a neon orange suit and another in a Pac-Man print suit, both with enormous coloured glasses, walked to the front, as did several feather boa-sporting ladies, to await Sir Elton. Eventually Elton stormed onto the stage to a glamorous soundtrack in a bedazzled red and black suit and bright red shoes. He climbed onto the piano, struck a pose to rapturous applause, before launching into his first track. The band played a couple songs from his new album, Wonderful Crazy Night, released this February, before an ecstatic rendering of Bennie and the Jets. Only after this did he turn to the audience to commiserate regarding the weather: “You poor bastards!”
Over the following two hours, Elton John played every classic song that the audiences needed to hear: the emotional Tiny Dancer (which still reminds me of Almost Famous), the poignant Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the melodramatic Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word, the fraught Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me and the ever-endearing Your Song. Alongside the classics, the audience also got a view of some of Elton’s more recent work, as well as some first class jamming; a wildly impressive piano solo followed on from Rocket Man, for instance. Elton even played Levon, a lesser-known track from the 1971 album, Madman Across The Water, and one of my favourite songs of his.
Throughout the evening, the band’s energy and enthusiasm were infectious and it became clear that Elton has not lost one jot of his flamboyant stage presence, as he stood up and took a theatrical bow after each song. His musical chops are also still strong, with his voice retaining its strength and smooth timbre, while his piano skills were as impressive as ever. Somewhere in the middle of the second hour, the audience began migrating from their seats to dance in front of the stage. Much jubilance ensued as the band played timeless dance tunes like I’m Still Standing and Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting), after which the band and Elton left the stage.
However it was not long before they were called back for an encore. Sir Elton graciously accepted flowers from fans, signed autographs and shook the hands of those at the very front before sitting back down at the piano. He recommenced, of course, with Candle In The Wind; the audience swayed and waved their cell phones, the lights floating across the Devon countryside. Finally, for the cherry on top, the band brought the mood back up with Crocodile Rock, which received much dancing and left the audience reeling and joyously singing, “la lalalalala lalalalala lalalalala”.