Elton John finally performed in Dubai on Friday after postpoining the show twice. Originally scheduled for December 2016, the show was bumped to January before John was diagnosed with a medical issue that prevented him from travelling. He warmly acknowledged the situation saying “finally” they were in Dubai. Fans at the Autism Rocks Arena were rewarded for their patience with a two-hour set of two dozen songs spanning John’s 50-year career, including Looking Up and A Good Heart from his latest album Wonderful Crazy Night.
Fans expecting to dance along to the hits would have been disappointed, as seating was required for all ticket levels and security was actively ensuring fans remained seated aside from standing to cheer after each song. This comes not long after the venue announced that it would run dry shows starting with the Jennifer Lopez concert in November. But the atmosphere was cheerful and the audience was warmed up with a set by Dubai-based indie-folk band Vandalye, who connected with lively acoustic-guitar-driven songs and earnest lyrics.
John came on stage promptly at 9pm. Opening with the jaunty The Bitch Is Back and the singalong Bennie and the Jets, he engaged with the audience after each song, taking bows and encouraging applause. The loudest, and the longest ovation came halfway through the show, following the timeless Your Song, which John dedicated to his late mother, Sheila, who died on Monday. “She did so much for me in my early career,” he said, as he described writing the song in his mother’s apartment with longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, “I’ll never forget when I wrote this song.”
The current line-up of John’s band includes drummer and vocalist Nigel Olsson, who John said has been with him since 1969, as well as percussionist John Mahon, keyboardist Kim Bullard, bassist Matt Bissonette and guitarist and vocalist Davey Johnstone.
The entire production of the show hit the mark, with lighting and video displays that brought an additional element to each song, in particular, the outer-space visuals for Rocket Man. In a sequined black jacket at his grand piano -- arguably a member of the band itself - John’s keyboard playing was frequently visually highlighted with a camera angled at the keys. “I love playing for human beings and getting a reaction, no matter where I am; I love playing for you guys,” John said before launching into the 1974 song Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, which famously found a second life in 1991 with a live version recorded with George Michael.
Fans gave back to the performers as much as they could from their seats, with a particular passion for classics Philadelphia Freedom, Tiny Dancer and Levon. However, security had more than they could handle when the opening notes of Crocodile Rock came on and fans poured into the aisles to dance, followed by peppy tracks Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n Roll) and Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, proving there are some performers you have to break the rules for.
The show wrapped up after a quick change from sparkly green sunglasses to rose-coloured glasses for an encore featuring the quintessential Candle In the Wind, leaving fans with a tribute song that is sure to tide them over until John makes his way back to UAE shores again.
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