By George Matlock
The London debut concert of a trio of dates for Elton and the band at Wembley Arena on December 11, 2002, was an event of extremes.
The highlight must have been that towards the end of the show youthful Elton signed no less than 33 autographs. Yes, some sad B**ds like me actually count these important tokens of affection from our contemporary Mozart.
Elton also acknowledged my Watford F.C. – Premier League scarf — the only Watford scarf present and already a collector’s item as the soccer team struggles to return to the Premiership after falling to Division One two years ago.
But the low-point has to have been the Wembley security staff. Although December is a time of goodwill and cheer, to make peace with those you may have fallen out with in the year or simply overlooked in your busy lives, I really do hope these security people collect their P45s (UK employment dismissal forms)!
They were on a par with Soviet style zealots, and totally out of proportion with events. Fran Gilles, this websites webmaster and a middle-aged woman, was jostled in the central aisle by a burley woman security low-life. There was no use resisting after you have been thrown about in the aisle in this manner. She was very nearly left on the floor!
Although at one aisle Le Fan Resistance (!) broke through the cordon, at others the spoilsports remained a barrier to the bitter end.
Some security intervened to block photos being taken. I ask you! How on earth are websites like ours and others to be furnished with Elton-promoting images unless we can take a few photos?
[Ed. Afterthought: And what’s more, the REAL security — checking peoples’ bags and coats — was totally absent. Had I been a terrorist I could have taken a poison bomb into that hall and wiped out Elton, band, manager, venue organisers and thousands of Elton’s adoring fans. It would have been an atrocity like September 11, 2001, only multiplied by around 20 times! It would have made headlines in newspapers for many days. So, I would have preferred checks on entry for guns rather than the heavy-handed nonsense of the frontline sentries!]
I share the sentiment expressed today by a Hercules author (although I do not know for sure WHO their author was as no name was supplied) I know David Wright has expressed his displeasure of the Wembley Arena venue on previous occasions to me.
Yes, the dustbin of London concert venues still rings metallic! As Clive Franks, Eltons sound engineer once told me in an interview, the cavernous Wembley Arena is not his favourite spot. Underneath the central zone is a hollow area where a swimming pool was built. The sound therefore swarms around badly!
It was a capacity crowd in a sold-out auditorium, but had people taken off their coats we would have seen overcrowding! But it was cold in the venue for most of the night. So as shivering fans came in from the near-zero weather outside, they kept coats on.
Elton came on stage at about 2015 GMT. He reminded us this was the first time hed performed at this venue in five years. We could only sigh some relief at five wonderful years since then! In a bright red Versace Medusa jacket, black shirt and shades, he began to a wonderful new instrumental introduction to Funeral for a Friend.
The songlist was unchanged from Glasgow a few nights earlier, but Elton dropped Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters and put nothing in its place other than fresh and superb versions of a number of classics, such as Rocket Man, Holiday Inn and strong tones from keyboardist Guy Babylon on Original Sin.
But then, this was the first time I had an opportunity to see Elton and the band perform since a spectacular show recorded for BBC Top of the Pops in September 2001. So for me, the fresh and bright sound of mandolin on Holiday Inn was worth mentioning.
One of the disappointments was how little the stage camera projected onto large screens the far left corner of the stage behind Elton. Here stood bassist Bob Birch and Guy. Not until the very end of the 2 ½ show did we see evidence of them there. And Bob was only shown earlier when he jammed close up with Elton at piano.
I was taking in the general mood around me for the first eight songs. Then of course I burst into song when “Mama theyre playing my song” (I Guess thats Why They Call It the Blues) was performed. By then David had left his seat and was heading to the back of the Arena. Shocking indiscipline!
But the crowds were not interested in anything that was not on Greatest Hits 1970-2002. Their lack of tolerance came through when Elton introduced Ryan Adams as the greatest songwriter, and he performed Oh My Sweet Carolina. I counted about 30 people from the front 20 rows heading back along the aisle to seek relief or a beer. Well, its their £50 of ticket money I guess!
American Triangle was linked into a powerful version of Have Mercy on the Criminal. And you can work out why these songs were twinned as they both deal with criminals and forgiveness. Had Elton added Ticking into his medley wed have a perfect hat-trick!
Elton briefly took off his glasses towards the end of the show. I think that was a shock, but we had better get used to such things after laser surgery to correct sight next February!
He also sang something to the effect of “And Nigel (Olsson) was having a good time” during one of the latter songs, I suspect it was Crocodile Rock. Anyone who can remember which song, please email me by clicking on my name top of this report. Thanks!
Elton’s original drummer, back in the band, Nigel was indeed enjoying himself, as was the moustache-cultivating guitarist Davey Johnstone, percussionist John Mahon and others named above.
John Mahon regularly threw drumsticks into the air ala Ray Cooper.
Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word disappointed. The backing vocals need be softer to do this subtle song justice. A point we hope not ignored by the great version in which Elton duets with boyband Blue out as a single this week.
Elton look-a-like Raymond Johnson was also spotted at the show.
* If you are going to any of the UK shows, please drop by with your review of the shows!
Heres the complete set list of the Wembley Arena show on December 11, 2002:
- Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
- Bennie And The Jets
- Someone Saved My Life Tonight
- Ballad Of The Boy With The Red Shoes
- Philadelphia Freedom
- The Wasteland
- Rocket Man
- I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues
- I Want Love
- This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore
- Take Me To The Pilot
- Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
- Oh My Sweet Carolina
- American Triangle
- Have Mercy On The Criminal
- Holiday Inn
- Tiny Dancer
- Original Sin
- I’m Still Standing
- Crocodile Rock
- Pinball Wizard
- Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
- Your Song