Elton John - Manchester MEN Arena - 29.5.06

Elton's arrival in Manchester marked a widely different performance from the last time Designer Magazine saw him. As the world watched on at Live 8 last summer Elton introduced the singer of a generation, Pete Doherty, to the stage and anarchy happened with Doherty half slurring his words, Elton looking on half worried / half like he'd just unleashed Frankensteins monster and was relishing in the attention after the bland drone of Keane and Joss Stone. In comparison tonight's sedate performance entertained, but it never raised the bar and lived up to the status of one of our greatest songwriters who in turn has influenced contemporary musicians as Scissor Sisters and The Feeling.

As has become customary at these events Corrie Stars litter the seats, Peter Kay comes on and does a 5 minute comedy spiel and the night starts on a high. What we weren't banking on was a seat in the gods where the high meant gravity defying vertigo which was swiftly resolved by seat directly behind the stage with a prime view of what can only described as Elton John red and black pyjamas. In these days where a Top Man outfits are considered the fashion chain du jour the fact that Elton's still ripping up the rule book with his own eccentricities means that to this day he's still out of step with the rest of the world.

The instantly recognizable chords to "Benny & The Jets" kick in with it's rock opera pomposity before "Philadelphia Freedom" brings us some honky tonk soul. With such an extensive back catalogue over his 40 years in the business you'd have expected that the setlist read like a Now This Is What They Call Elton compilation but despite the presence of "Rocketman" and "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" there's a midset lull of extended instrumental breaks and newer material, which while familiar to much of tonight's audience who owns every single Elton album is to a large extent forgettable. With a selection of musicians from Edinburgh to Chicago, the oldest of which has been playing with Elton since 1973 it's statement in itself that they're sharing the same stage as Elton and while the musical fret wankery is sometimes needed when a 10 minute rendition of "Rocketman" is played even the hardened fans tire.

"Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Thing" has been rescued from the boy band trashing Blue version back into what it should be - a heartfelt ballad by a singer with one of the most unique distinguished rich voices of all time. "Sacrifice" is a relatively modern classic which even with some 80s sounding synth sounds creeping in still sounds amazing. For many here tonight "Are You Ready For Love?" shines out as the real highlight with the omnipresent security not being able to hold back the hoards of fans rushing out of their seats as that unmistakable intro leads up to the soul classic recently revived from the vaults to be heard by a younger audience.

With an encore of "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" Sir Elton John left on a high, but the exclusion of classic tracks such as "I'm still Standing", "Crocodile Rock" or "The Bitch Is Back" made the difference between this being a good gig and a great gig. There was also a great missed opportunity with Peter Kay in the building to deliver a cover of version of "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" with Kay taking the role of Kiki Dee. Next time Elton get your hits out for the lads!!!

Alex McCann

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