Comment: Do you still feel the pain? ... if you're an Elton John fan whose concert experience in Auckland on Sunday night stuttered and stopped mid-Daniel with less than half his setlist completed, yes, you probably do. Walking pneumonia has now forced Elton to reschedule the final two New Zealand shows (now January 2021) of his farewell tour. As NZME's Davey Smith writes, he can relate to fans' pain, having had a mixed history with Elton concerts — but his story does have a happy ending.
Elton became my musical superhero as a teenager. Close friends opted for the Rolling Stones and the Eagles, but for me they were miles behind the Rocket Man.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was my first record (vinyl obviously) and his first greatest hits was my first cassette tape. Some of my clearest memories from youth-ville are of driving my first car — an orange Mini Clubman — with Elton belting out Philadelphia Freedom and Someone Saved My Life Tonight loud enough to shake the little tin box on its biscuit tyres.
Unfortunately the little Clubman struggled with the task when it came to getting myself and Rolling Stones boy to Elton's World Tour concert at Western Springs in 1980.
We hadn't managed to get tickets before the event, which seemed like a good strategy given the forecast was awful. As we travelled from Hamilton to Auckland light rain steadily became heavier, to the point that little Mini started to struggle. As we approached the motorway the rain became torrential. We had a teamtalk . . . Rolling Stones boy was sure the concert would be cancelled and, given the atrocious weather, I found it hard to argue with him. The decision was made to abort . . . I think Mini was relieved.
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However, the weather made fools of us . . . it cleared by the concert start and Elton got rave reviews for his performance before a packed audience.
I was lucky enough to fleetingly meet Elton and get his autograph at a Watford football game in 1982 but it would be nearly 30 years later that I would get my next opportunity to see him live.
The venue was Dunedin's (then) brand new Forsyth Barr Stadium, with Elton's show designed to announce the Otago venue as a fitting stage for world-class acts. Elton was all class but unfortunately the acoustics were not — the sound problems were forgivable given it being the first event there but still frustrating for concert-goers.
It was a great experience. Elton played for over three hours virtually non-stop. But it was hard to not to have memories of the sound issues (which had techs climbing around the rafters trying to address it).
Four years later we headed to Wellington's "Cake Tin" — a stadium frequently used to host big music acts. Surely this time there would be no issues.
Hmmm ... how could I have forgotten to take into account Wellington's wind.
And a candle would not have lasted long in the wind that November night — Holy Moses, it was howling across the stadium.
This meant the sound came and went. Bernie Taupin's wonderful lyrics weren't quite the same broken up . . . Looking like a true . . . (muffle) . . . little kid . . . (muffle) after all this time. Just isn't the same.
However, I could have coped with the wind issues . . . it was my rear neighbours who were the main problem. We had a brief chat before Elton opened with Funeral for a Friend . . . and they seemed pleasant enough, though perhaps one vino over making good conversation.
Unfortunately one of the couple's next vinos went down my back.
Thankfully I was wearing a fisherman's coat — not exactly water off a duck's back but not a biggie. There was no convincing the couple though, they insisted on repeatedly apologising and trying to pat me down — like a bikie being frisked going through an airport. Things went downhill from there. The couple devolved into an ugly domestic about who was responsible for the mishap — the rowing continued for over an hour, with both questioning "why the . . . they were with each other . . . and whether they wanted to go home together. The couple obviously could not feel the love that night and, in combination with Wellington's wind, they totally ruined the solid wall of sound I wanted to hear.
I'm guessing they finally took note of my glares, and left long enough for me to enjoy the last five or six songs in peace. Again, no fault of Elton's. He and his band were doing the biz up front.
A trip to the US in 2017 gave us another chance to finally enjoy Elton without any blemishes. We booked Caesar's Palace . . . a theatre setting renowned for great sound . . . and, given the States' low tolerance for poor crowd behaviour, I felt confident that this would be the Elton John experience I had long dreamed of.
Our arrival in Vegas already had us buzzing and amped for the concert, scheduled that night. We headed to Caesar's early in the day to check out the venue, only to find ourselves crying into our beers like the many once-hopeful losers at the casino tables.
Elton had been forced to cancel, a serious illness putting him in hospital.
Elton's Farewell tour — I had to give it one more shot.
As fans of the Mission concerts, Hawke's Bay was an obvious choice.
We got a great possie on the hill with our friends, the sun was out but not too hot and the omens seemed good.
A little trepidation set in when the minor support acts went from bad to worse — it was, in my opinion, easy to understand why they were not allowed on Elton's stage.
But there the sad stories end. From the moment Elton hit the stage belting into Bennie and the Jets there was no doubt — this was the night 25,000 of us would hear the Rocket Man at his best. The concert was simply sublime . . . Elton hit every note, his interaction seemed genuine, his band (including longtime mates Nigel Olsson — drums, Davey Johnstone — guitar and Ray Cooper — percussion) was magnificent, sound quality was outstanding and the crowd were tiny dancers in his hand. I turned to see my sister-in-law (not one prone to emotion) with tears streaming down her face — "It's just so beautiful" was all she could say.
I shut my eyes and in those moments Elton was playing just for me.
The hairs on the back of my neck and even my legs, went up, as he played Funeral for a Friend and Love Lies Bleeding . . . it was my turn to shed a tear as memories went back to the little orange Mini.
Predictably, fittingly, after nearly three hours of musical magic he finished with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
Our group were exhausted . . . he had given everything and so had we. Performances don't come better. My happy ending.
Lord, when he finishes his farewell tour, we'll miss Elton, we'll miss him so much.