ROCK TIL YOU DROP: Elton John at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, Sunday February 16, 2020

“I can’t sing. I just completely lost my voice. I gotta go. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry”

With those words Sir Elton John rose to his feet, about two thirds of the way through his first of three planned Auckland shows, and, looking distraught, struggled to hold back the tears. He brought his hand up to cover his face. He was led from the stage.

He had tried to sing the opening line of “Daniel”, but all he could muster was a hoarse whisper.

He’d sung hard, with passion and with energy, and he’d sung until he could sing no more.

Right at the start Elton told the audience he was struggling with pneumonia and that he would do his best. Perhaps there were signs his voice wasn’t where he’d want it to be. He belted out some of his most famous songs with gusto, but would leave the high notes to other band members.

It was after a  terrific rendition of “Levon”, his twelfth song of the night, when he turned away from his piano as if to catch a breath. Medical staff appeared on stage, one with a stethoscope. It looked as if the concert would end then and there. He regathered himself, and told us “I will try, but I can’t promise”

I want to thank everyone who attended tonight’s gig in Auckland. I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia earlier today, but I was determined to give you the best show humanly possible. 
I played and sang my heart out, until my voice could sing no more. I’m disappointed, deeply upset and sorry. I gave it all I had. Thank you so much for your extraordinary support and all the love you showed me during tonight’s performance. 
I am eternally grateful. 
Love, Elton xx

Elton John’s statement on social media following tonight’s concert.

Elton then launched into “Candle in the Wind”.  He poured his heart into the number,  the big screen filled with images of one of the 20th century’s tragic icons. At times his voice faltered, and in the moment, it added poignancy to the performance, but in fact it was a sign that the concert was near its end. A brief pause allowed a costume change, and the band returned with a powerful version of  “Love Lies Bleeding”. Much of the song contains long instrumental passages, and you couldn’t help thinking this would allow Elton further time to collect himself.  But the next song was “Daniel”, and with that, he could go no further.

When he stood to leave, the crowd cheered its support and its appreciation, and it didn’t seem as if anyone felt they were cheated. One of pop music’s great composers and performers, at the age of 72, had shown he still had the heart, if not the health on this occasion, to deliver a hell of a show. There were few breaks between songs, and when Elton did chat to the crowd, it was with good effect. He introduced one of his early hits “Border Song” by reminding us that it was a song quickly recorded by Aretha Franklin, and that he and lyricist Bernie Taupin looked at Aretha’s decision to do that as an endorsement of their abilities.

When it came to “Indian Sunset” he gave an insight into he creative process he shared with Taupin over their 53 year collaboration. Taupin would give him the lyrics, and he would consider them as a story, almost like a screenplay in his mind. Then, he said, “I put my hands on the keyboard and hope for the best.”

The show we did witness contained some big songs. Apart from those mentioned already, we were treated to “Bennie and the Jets”, “Philadelphia Freedom”, “Rocket Man” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”. They were played superbly by Elton’s band, and in some they added new  passages, such as in “Rocket Man’, which freshened songs we know so well.

The big screens showed a mix of live concert footage, photography and other graphic and video imagery. It was all stylishly put together, with the concert cameras often highlighting one of the stars of the night at the back of the stage, the flamboyant and attention-grabbing percussionist Ray Cooper.

This is of course Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour, apparently his last. It’s a long goodbye, starting in September 2018 and it isn’t scheduled to end until this December in London.

At the time of writing this review it is unclear how his ill health will affect the rest of the tour. Elton John is due to play two more New Zealand shows—he’s scheduled to perform again at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland on Tuesday 18th and Thursday 20th February. If he recovers and returns to stage, this is a show very much worth your attention. That voice, a voice many of us grew up with, melding pop and soul and blues, is still a wonderful instrument. Even tonight, significantly hampered as it was, Elton John showed that voice can still reach deep into your memory and take you back to the days of your youth.

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