“This may be my last show ever in England and Great Britain, so I better play well and I better entertain you,” a visibly moved Elton John remarks as he looks out over what may well be the biggest crowd ever amassed in front of Glastonbury’s iconic Pyramid Stage. You don’t often see the man looking overawed, but this really does feel special: a generational songwriter, ostensibly playing his last ever show on home soil, and doing so by closing out the UK’s most famous music festival.
If entertaining us was today’s mission, John is passing with flying, glittery colours: kicking off with a first play of his cover of The Who‘s Pinball Wizard in almost 15 years, bursts of fireworks lighting up the sky, the 76 year old then proceeds to dish out two hours of world class anthems that come rolling at a rate that feels practically indecent. The Bitch Is Back, Bennie And The Jets, Daniel, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues and Philadelphia Freedom drop one after the other, drawing full-hearted singalongs right from the front row to the very back of the field. From the obscene amount of flags shooting up across the crowd to the endless parade of EJ-homaging fancy dressers, the atmosphere is electric and emotional, and only builds as the set goes on.
There’s another pleasant setlist surprise in the form of Are You Ready For Love, a 1979 number John acknowledges did little for his career until a revamped version put out on Fatboy Slim’s label in 2003 earned him a UK number one single. And yes, there are cameos, though not the ones some were expecting; there’s no Britney Spears or Dua Lipa, John admirably choosing to focus mainly on platforming lesser known artists. Gabriels singer Jacob Lusk emerges alongside the London Community Gospel Choir for Are You Ready For Love, clearly having the time of his life as he does so; US singer-songwriter Stephen Sanchez gets to play alongside John on his own hit single, 2021’s Until I Found You; alt-pop provocateur Rina Sawayama does a fine job filling in for Kiki Dee on Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. In fact, it’s actually the biggest guest spot of the night that doesn’t quite hit the bullseye, Brandon Flowers’ voice just not quite fitting Tiny Dancer squarely, even if the Killers frontman is clearly delighted to be here.
Yet more hits follow; on a night of many emotional moments, the most poignant is John’s dedication of Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me to George Michael, on what would have been the pop icon’s 60th birthday. “He was my friend, an inspiration,” John remarks. “I want to dedicate this song to his memory, and all the music he left us with which is so gorgeous.”
By the time we get to a lengthy, extended version of Rocket Man, another dazzling fireworks display exploding into life, it’s clear neither John nor the thousands in attendance are ready for it all to end. “It’s been an incredible journey, and I’ve had the best time,” he says, tears welling up as he takes a final look out at the army in front of him. It’s gonna be a long, long time before Glastonbury witnesses another show quite like this, and perhaps even longer before we see another performer like Elton John.