May 16, 1998 14:17


[B]ELTON JOHN hasn't let superstardom get in the way of honest, unpretentious, musically adventurous performances... and if you believe that, you'll also believe APRIL LONG enjoyed her three hours at

Elton John

London Wembley Stadium

You haven't had fun until you've had it here. Tonight, 'Face To Face', as the banners so proudly proclaim, the 'legendary' Elton John and Billy Joel will duel on the ivories - 'Crocodile Rock' will be answered by 'It's Still Rock'n'Roll To Me', 'Rocket Man' will ricochet gloriously into 'Piano Man'. Oh, the banter. Oh, the laughs.

But, alas, it doesn't happen that way. See, Billy Joel has gotten himself a throat infection and has had to bail out. Do they cancel the concert? Do they refund the thousands of 50 quid tickets sold? Perhaps even, say, reschedule? Of course not, for we still have Elton. He, an ominous pre-performance announcement intones, is going to more than compensate for his colleague's absence. He is going to "rock Wembley", for three-and-a-half hours. At least. God help us. To the sound of simulated thunder, a group of men with Michael Bolton hair run on to the vast stage, Flying Vs and triangles held aloft in anticipation of the arrival of his lordship.

The crowd stands, focusing binoculars... and a short podgy chap in a bad weave trundles out from behind a curtain. Wearing a mauve suit. Looking like a dollop of berry yoghurt with the head of a nodding dog, he settles his fleshy frame on to a piano bench and lurches into an instrumental medley of the 'high' points of his career. This, he reminds us, is what we have to look forward to. A symphony of bad taste. First, though, he must waddle across the stage, bowing and flailing his arms. Because he loves us, every one, and so does poor Billy, who is "bummed out" he couldn't make it. Leaving Elton to make bad jokes to a crowd who don't realise that old people dancing in broad daylight to 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' really isn't a good idea.

Billy's absence could make things half as bad, but instead it makes them two-times worse. Everything is overdone. The 'Lion King' theme is accompanied by saccharine film clips on the stage-side mega-screens, 'I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues' is 'enhanced' with farting trumpets and superfluous banjos, and the maudlin 'Daniel' is dedicated to a "brave little girl" in the crowd because, hey, sad songs say so much. Throughout, Elton - Sir, Saint, Dame - soaks up the worship he feels he so richly deserves. But when he introduces 'Crocodile Rock' with an ingratiating plea of, "You've got to help us out with the chorus on this one", some of us would rather chew our legs off.

April Long

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