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Elton John at Glastonbury review: ‘Rocket Man lifts up-and-coming talent over established stars at climactic UK gig’

The worries of those concerned this was going to be a farewell set of deep cuts and rarities were soon put to rest, writes Joseph Ryan-Hicks

5.0 rating

By Joseph Ryan-Hicks

Elton John on stage at Glastonbury
Elton John was joined on stage by Rina Sawayama at at Glastonbury Festival. (Photo by Harry Durrant/Getty Images)

While this may not be the first time Elton John has bid farewell to audiences, there was certainly a climactic feeling surrounding his closing slot at this year’s Glastonbury Festival. Perhaps this is because it was the final date on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, a show that began in 2018 but was repeatedly postponed at various points during the pandemic. Or maybe last night’s show felt like the end simply because it was.

Whatever the reason, it was the must-see performance for festival-goers last weekend, easily attracting the biggest audience of the three days. What surprises he might have in store was the topic of conversation on everyone’s lips.

“I never thought I’d play Glastonbury and here I am…” the 76-year-old told the crowd. It still feels difficult to believe that he had not previously performed at the festival. Yet here he was more than 50 years into his career playing his first (and possibly last) set. With that said, he’s more than definitely built up a catalogue of hits worthy of filling the slot. 

For those concerned this was going to be a farewell set of deep cuts and rarities, their worries were soon put to rest as the Rocket Man launched his way through six decades of hits. Leading with his cover of The Who’s ‘Pinball Wizard’, the showman had Worthy Farm on their feet and vibing along solidly for nearly two hours. Hearing the likes of ‘Bennie and the Jets’ and ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’ live were a reminder of how many diamonds his back catalogue possesses. Elton was on top form himself, bantering with his audience between songs and coaxing them to sing along too. 

Now for the special guests. Rumours were rife as to who exactly would be invited for this final musical shindig. Dolly, Cher and Gaga were among the bookies’ favourites. But perhaps the name that was thrown about the most was Britney Spears. It seemed far-fetched, but a series of clues now known to be coincidences led audiences to believe that the ‘…Baby One More Time’ singer was in town. 

An almighty fireworks display went off at the end of Elton’s set (Image: @aaronparsonsphotography)

What ensued was a far less obvious, but nonetheless brilliant, selection of (mostly) new talent – a testament to Elton’s commitment to giving up-and-comers a moment in the spotlight. The first to join him on stage was Gabriels’ frontman Jacob Lusk, who had also performed at the festival that Friday. The pair teamed up for a joyous rendition of ‘Are You Ready For Love’ which had everybody grooving along. Following the trend of new artists, Elton next brought out American singer-songwriter Stephen Sanchez. This provided audiences with another lighters-in-the-air moment, despite not being overly familiar with the young talent. A left-field inclusion was that of The Killers’ frontman Brandon Flowers, who, while being a revered musician, was not exactly providing the much needed campiness audiences were craving.

Thankfully, Elton’s final guest came in the form of ‘Hold the Girl’ singer Rina Sawayama, who joined on stage for his 1976 hit, ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’. In a rare moment, Elton walked from behind his piano to join Rina centre stage for the duet; their delight in performing together was evident. It was a highlight from the evening. 

There was a collective “aww” as audiences realised Dua Lipa would not be joining for their 2021 collaboration ‘Cold Heart’, with the disappointment apparent on Elton’s face, too. Still, the show must go on. Elton and his live band closed the set with an epic extended version of 1972 hit ‘Rocket Man’. The set concluded with an almighty fireworks display and an emotional exit from the man himself. 

It’s a difficult reality to face the fact that this could be Elton’s last outing for UK audiences. With that said, if this really is goodbye, then what a sensational way to do so. Sunday night was a reminder of not only what a brilliant musician he is, but also what an engaging and one-of-a-kind showman he is too.  “I’ve had the best, best time”, he told the audience. Us too Elton, us too.