Elton John at Glastonbury review: Glasto set was a joyful journey through one of rock's best back catalogues

The sun literally went down on Elton as he performed 21 of his most beloved songs to a devotional, emotional crowd at the closing night of 2023's Glastonbury Festival - but his star power lit up all of Worthy Farm
British legendary singer Elton John performs on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury festival (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)British legendary singer Elton John performs on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury festival (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
British legendary singer Elton John performs on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury festival (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

There are certain musical events and concerts that have attracted crowds that create as much folklore as the performances themselves. Freddie Mercury’s final performance with Queen at Knebworth. Oasis, also at Knebworth. Live Aid. But all of those are distant memories; ticket stubs on a fading sun-stained wall.

But when the camera panned out across the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury last night, it was difficult to comprehend the scale of people in attendance for Sunday’s closing headlining set. From front to back, there was barely a ticket stub’s width between thousands of festivalgoers, clamouring to get a glimpse of a musical legend’s final swansong. Estimates said there were at least 100,000 people in that one field.

It has become a bit of a running joke that Sir Elton John is on another farewell tour, saying goodbye for the fourth or fifth time to an audience who never really want to let go. But finishing your 60-year career with your first performance at Glastonbury in the legendary Sunday closing slot was the perfect way to say goodbye to one of the UK’s greatest musical acts.

He may not have the rip-roaring energy or stage presence as he had in shows of old, but what followed was two hours of one of the most-impressive back-catalogues in music, assisted by a slew of stars, and a crowd lapping up a farewell fit for a king. Kicked off with a slightly nervous message to the waiting masses, the rock icon stated; “I never thought I’d play Glastonbury but here I am. I’d better entertain you as you’ve been standing there so long.”

And entertain he did. With barely any time in-between songs, the 76 (SEVENTY-SIX) year-old transitioned effortlessly from touching ballads like Candle In The Wind, in to barnstorming crowd-pleasers like Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.

The power of a musical legend clearly slightly restricted by age still made for an extraordinary show, with Elton conducting a rapturous crowd with his incredible piano skills. There is something really special about a musical act that began in 1962 uniting people who will have known his work in the 60s, with people born in this century: revelling in the pompousness and energy of his shows, all after four days stood in the same fields watching different acts achieve varying levels of success. 

Sir Elton John performs on stage during the 2013 Carnegie Hall Medal Of Excellence Gala at The Waldorf=Astoria on June 13, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images)Sir Elton John performs on stage during the 2013 Carnegie Hall Medal Of Excellence Gala at The Waldorf=Astoria on June 13, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images)
Sir Elton John performs on stage during the 2013 Carnegie Hall Medal Of Excellence Gala at The Waldorf=Astoria on June 13, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images)

There were tears of joy from some, tears of sadness from others (well played BBC camera operators) and even a proposal. For an artist who has lived a number of different, chaotic and fascinating lives it was a perfect encapsulation of the joy he has brought to people’s lives over a five-decade career.

As the show finished on Rocket Man, his band said goodbye before making a hasty exit to allow Elton to lap up an intoxicating level of gratitude, adoration and love. Stood there, there was an acceptance that a career was preparing to be launched in to the stratosphere, a closing chapter of an act that has touched so many. It may have seemed like a timeless flight at the time, but all good things must come to an end. It might be lonely out in space and a long time till we next see him, but if anyone deserves to go out on a high it’s Sir Elton John.

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