Photo: Ben Gibson

Live Review

Elton John’s Glastonbury 2023 headline set is a true lesson in greatness

25th June 2023

His Pyramid Stage appearance is less a goodbye, more a celebration of one artist’s place in pop canon.

That tonight is both Elton John’s Glastonbury debut and his final show on British soil feels equally surreal. And, given the hype leading up to the set – rumours of special guests plucked from pop’s A-list; the perennial habit of audiences in the field and off demanding a ‘Glastonbury moment’ – should he deliver anything other than one of the festival’s greatest ever showcases, it’ll be seen as a failure. But with few peers in the bangers-in-the-back-pocket stakes and a solid reputation for throwing only the best parties, the thousands huddled in front of the Pyramid Stage tonight (and the millions tuning in at home to boot) needn’t have worried.

And tonight is less a goodbye, more a celebration of one artist’s place in pop canon. Giant sunglasses, sequins and feather boas are plenty; festival goers in versions of his iconic Dodgers costume are in triple digits at least. Barely a word is missed during the two-hour singalong. He’s an exceptional songwriter but opens with a number he didn’t even write (‘Pinball Wizard’), before ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ - the song that gives his farewell tour its name - is slotted in early on. A national treasure for longer than most of those here have been alive, yet, his between-song chat is dedicated mostly to others’ creativity: inviting The Killers’ Brandon Flowers on for ‘Tiny Dancer’ by way of recalling how he first heard ‘Hot Fuss’; thanking Norman Cook for reviving ‘Are You Ready For Love’, where he also sings the praises of Gabriels’ Jacob Lusk, who joins alongside the London Community Gospel Choir for a euphoric take. “An extraordinary talent… and one of my best friends” is how Rina Sawayama – who made headlines during her own Woodsies set – is introduced to take Kiki Dee’s role on ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’. Meanwhile it’s not one of Elton’s many smashes that Nashville newcomer Stephen Sanchez joins in on, but his own ‘Until I Found You’. No Britney, or Harry, or Eminem, but instead (Brandon excepted) a look to the future, a passing on of the pop baton.

The only real backwards look comes late on, dedicating ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’ to George Michael on what would have been the late star’s 60th birthday. If that’s not enough of a tear-jerker (and, anecdotally, it is), then the first, solitary firework that’s set off during the closer - a joyous ‘Rocket Man’ - cements it. Emotions are overflowing as much as the field is by the song – and set’s – end. Forget a Glastonbury all-time great set, but all-time great set full stop.

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