Elton John at Glastonbury review and star rating: ★★★★★
Of course he chose mostly unknown special guests: he was the star. At Glastonbury, Elton John was more mesmerising and emotionally-charged than even his fans who’d camped out at the front of the Pyramid Stage since 4am could have hoped. The veteran rocker sounded better than he has done in years in a commanding headline set that will go down as one of the most sensational the festival has seen.
It’s not been officially confirmed yet whether or not the crowd has beaten Kylie Minogue’s record for biggest ever at the festival’s famous Pyramid Stage, in place since 1971, but it seems hard to imagine that it hasn’t.
Elton John at Glastonbury: still fizzing with excitement at 76, he clearly wants to be on the Pyramid Stage. Can this really be retirement?
Elton has said this will be his last UK show, but standing up and beaming between most songs, and goading the crowd by raising his arms for more cheers, he gave off the energy that suggests he could do more.
John seemed to be getting energy from the set rather than the other way around. He spent the two hours pulling wild faces from behind the keys, sometimes snarling at his band mates as he struck chords. Throwing his head around, John looked surprised and delighted as he played: a cross between a zany relative on a theme park ride and tractor driver coursing over rough ground. Or even, a young musician fiddling around and finding a good riff for the first time. At times his expressions made it seem he was shocked at the sounds he was creating.
There’s no question he can sing, either, after critics suggested his voice wouldn’t hold: there seemed to be a smash hit a minute. He conjured almost pin-drop silence when he spoke between the hits: Are You Ready For Love, Candle In The Wind and Your Song, and an outro of Rocket Man, set to fireworks as the festival bows out for another year.
It was a straightforward show with no costume changes or bells and whistles. Instead Elton showed that he can still absolutely shred the piano into pieces.
He’s known for his diva behaviour – he’s been photographed throwing his suitcases off his plane onto the tarmac at airports on this tour – but if a hallmark of some legends is their disinterest in playing anymore, or their onstage ambivalence, Elton still fizzed like a teenager when there was applause, and introduced his guests – mostly burgeoning artists like the ones he platforms on his Apple Music show, a genius move – with incredible excitement.
“It looked like he didn’t want it to end,” said Jo Whiley on the BBC coverage afterwards. No one did. It was staggeringly emotional, with many on social media talking about how they had cried through much of the show. Elton has come to define pop music for generations and whatever is next for the megastar, this was a defining Glastonbury headline set of the 21st century.
Watch Elton John at Glastonbury on BBC iPlayer