It’s been a divisive weekend of headliners at Glastonbury 2023. Arctic Monkeys were criticised for not playing the right songs in the right way, while Guns N’ Roses proved that maybe some things are best left in the past.
Understandably, there was a lot of pressure for Elton John to get it right at his first ever appearance on Worthy Farm for his Sunday night headline set. He hasn’t made matters any easier for himself either, talking up the gig in recent weeks and promising an array of special guests.
Rumours were flying that Harry Styles, a reformed Spice Girls, Eminem and even Dua Lipa would be joining him onstage but this mammoth, sequinned crowd only really wants to hear from one man – and he puts on a blinder.
Things kick off with a rare outing for rousing rock n’ roll anthem ‘Pinball Wizard’ before a fabulously defiant ‘The Bitch Is Back’. “It’s a very special and emotional night for me because this may well be my last show in England,” explains John, clearly having such a good time he’s already reconsidering the ol’ retirement. “I better play well and entertain you,” he adds with a smirk.
If his ongoing Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour is a slow-burning celebration of his long-standing legacy and the fans that have been along for the ride, this set is an urgent flex of John’s continued power.
There’s the hammering ‘Bennie And The Jets’, the sprawling epic of ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Rock’ and the bombastic ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’, all of which are bellowed back to him by the audience. “I’m never going to forget this,” says John, taking a second to soak in the sight of one of the largest ever Glastonbury crowds.
The video screens may showcase John’s wide-ranging cultural impact, with clips of everything from The Simpsons to Rocketman on display, but John’s keen to make sure tonight isn’t self-indulgent. The set is a lean Greatest Hits. Every song ends with him punching the air and roaring together with the crowd, while a string of special guests acts as a ceremonial passing of the torch.
Gabriels’ Jacob Lusk joins Elton and the London Community Gospel Choir for a phenomenal take on ‘Are You Ready For Love’ while John hands over the spotlight entirely to 20-year-old American singer-songwriter Stephen Sanchez for his breakout track ‘Until I Found You’.
After her incredible set on the Saturday, Rina Sawayama takes her rightful place on the Pyramid Stage for an electric ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ that’s somehow both poignant and spiky. Adding to the sense of occasion, Glastonbury veteran Brandon Flowers from The Killers joins John for a soaring ‘Tiny Dancer’.
The set weaves perfectly between the celebratory ‘Crocodile Rock’ and a rowdy ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ but leaves space for the heavy hitting ‘Your Song’ and ‘Candle In The Wind’ to tug at the crowd’s heartstrings as well.
Elsewhere, an aching ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’ is dedicated to George Michael, on what would have been his 60th birthday while John’s most recent Number One single ‘Cold Heart’ causes disco carnage among the younger portions of the audience.
John isn’t as chatty onstage tonight as he has been at other shows on his farewell tour, but it’s very on-brand of him to let the music do most of the talking. By the time a full-throttled, extended take on ‘Rocket Man’ closes out tonight’s staggering 21-song set, Elton John proves once and for all that his music will remain timeless, even if he is retiring from playing it live.
As for the gig itself, it’ll go down in history as one of the best headline performances Glastonbury has ever seen. If this really is Elton John’s last ever show in the UK, he’s going out on an almighty high.