Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 2. 13th March 1974
Elton John Concert: Western Springs, 28.2.74. Reviewed by Redmer Yska.
Miss Linda Lovelace, whose recent cocaine bust had none of the impact of her famed man-eating activities in the Movie 'Deep Throat' was the 'hostess' at a recent Elton John concert in Hollywood.
Firstly she introduced the 'guests': local actors dressed up as such well-loved showbiz personalities as Frankenstein, Mae West, the Queen of England, Groucho Marx and the Beatles, who thronged the stage followed by a pudgy little superstar, swishing like Liberace at Madame Tussauds.
An elaborate and expensive bit of fun, apparently in keeping with the character of this eccentric popstar whose records sell millions and whose live performances are as famous for their music as for their visual impact.
Then we heard that the 'supersonic, motivated King of the Scene' as he self-effacingly calls himself, was to visit New Zealand. So we went out and brought 'Yellow Brick Road'—Eltons' newest album and as much on the strength of the genuinely inspired music therein, as the attraction of vaudeville spectacle, we thought the live performance would be worthwhile.
The venue of the concert was at Western Springs and the stadium filled quickly as the start of the show drew nearer. The Queen City 'milieu' was mixed, from the omnisexual glitter brigade to the buck-skin fringed hippies to the Jesus Freaks and bikies, but they all squealed as one as Elton bounded onto the stage. The huge crowd rose to its feet as he sat down at the piano dressed in what one reporter later called a 'technicolour chicken-man suit' but which at the time brought to mind the garb of a dandy witch doctor dressed as a bird of paradise.
Elton John and his four-man band began with 'Funeral for a Friend' and 'Love Lies Bleeding'. Billowing dry ice, taped sound effect and dim crimson light completed the tableau. The crowd was impressed but unconvinced and it was not until 'Hercules' a faster number where Elton began to move, to punch his keyboard, bending low over his piano; that the crowd began to kick up its heels. He is a very fast, very competent pianist whose talents stand out the best on rockers like 'Hercules' and it was songs of this type that the audience were to really enjoy.
But the Band did not stick to rock and roll and the moods were varied. When they played the hit-records like 'Daniel' and 'Rocket-Man', the crowds swayed nostalgically as they sang along with the words. Elton John has a sentimental side which was especially underlined in his dedication of 'Your Song' to the "biggest audience I've ever played to". This is a truly pretty number but when he introduced another, similar song later in the show as a "hot, teary ballad" (sic) he seemed to sum up the slightly over-sentimental mood. Others must have shared this feeling for towards the end of the show when Elton asked the audience if they wanted a fast or a slow number the throng shrieked assent to the former.
Elton John's back-up band was really outstanding. As he was to say himself: 'Elton John is the name of a band' and this was evident on-stage far more than on record. Davy Grahams' guitar work was memorable and the new percussionist Ray Cooper amazed the crowd with an extraordinary kazoo-solo on 'Monkey Cats'. Vocally too, the band helped Elton through some of the high notes on songs like 'Yellow Brick Road', which he couldn't manage.
But the concert was Elton John the man rather than Elton John the band. All eyes were on the piano player as, sensing the mood especially during the louder numbers, he would carry the band up and up, then letting them continue, jumping up from his piano and hopping across the stage and dancing/groping with the members of the band. On these livelier numbers like "All the Young Girls Love Alice" the whole stadium seemed to be dancing, approaching the intensity of last year's Rolling Stones' concert.
The pace and intensity of the music rose and rose and as the concert came to a close the audience reaction became more and more frenetic.
The star's exit was followed by a call for an encore as hysterical and ecstatic as the music the crowds felt suddenly deprived of. A moment later Elton came back onstage having changed into a silver lame suit with a tasselled Davey Crockett sombrero, complete with Clockwork Orange codpiece. The atmosphere was almost mock-religious—nothing moved except Elton John. With the help of an engineer on organ, the band drove into 'Crocodile Rock' which is almost the archetype of the fifties rock 'n' roll numbers at which the star so excells.
The warm Auckland night was swimming with the mad marriage between audience and performer, the tiny dancer acting out the fantasies of everyone present. Elton's triumphant jump onto his piano seemed like a 'King of the Castle' gesture but with his unmistakeable feel for the audience anticipation it seemed the most natural, obvious thing to do.
The band simply had to come back for one more encore and Elton resplendent in yet another costume, stunned his audience with his electrified spectacles which lit up twinkling lights.
"Saturday Nights All Right for Fighting" brought the set to a thunderous close with the star singing with the audience "Saturday, Saturday, Saturday Nights All Right". There was nothing more to play. The show was over Walking back among the crowd through a veritable miasma of pot-smoke and stumbling over a river of empty cans, I felt dazed and deafened by the whole spectacle. Much later that night as we cruised through a silent Auckland the announcer on the local radio station was gleefully boasting about the huge crowd which apparently had brought a net taking of 160 grand. He ended his newsflash with an impression given by a fellow announcer of the concert "He said he looked like the Pope". Interesting. Interesting.