“Don’t let the sun go down on me,” Elton John famously sings, but on Friday night it was the rain that fans were hoping wouldn't come down over Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the Rocketman’s farewell tour. After a day of grey skies and rain, the clouds cleared not long after Elton John’s private plane touched down in Cork Airport, much to the delight of the tens of thousands in attendance at the open-air gig.
Taking to the stage with ‘Bennie and the Jets’, 75-year-old Elton played for over two-and-a-half hours. Wearing the first of several glittering outfits, he thrilled devoted fans with hit after hit, including ‘Tiny Dancer’, ‘Candle In The Wind’ and ‘Crocodile Rock’. However long queues of traffic in the city combined with reports of confusion around bus services saw many concert-goers arriving late, missing the first few songs from the perfectly punctual star. Elton had no support act and started his set just a few minutes after 8pm.
“Good evening Cork, good evening Ireland. I’m so happy to be here. We’ve been looking forward to coming to Ireland and the weather is clearing up. We’re so lucky,” he told a cheering audience, which included Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Michael McGrath TD.
“We’re getting to the end of the European tours, we have two left so we’re going to make this one count.” There is no doubt that his piano could be heard across the city – during that afternoon’s soundcheck I could hear the music perfectly from my perch in the hills of the northside, though the sound within the stadium on Friday night carried a slight echo.
The main man himself was at home on the stage, his vocals just as smooth as when he launched his amazing career five decades ago. He sang comfortably and was deeply engaged with the audience, pausing between each song to wave, thanking his fans and applauding them in return.
He was reminiscent about his fond memories of Ireland, from his first gig at Live at the Marquee 15 years ago, and said he will tell his children about Cork.
"My first concert here was in the Marquee on July 9, 2007. This is going to be my last concert in Cork and I want to thank you.
"When the tour ends next year I will be 76 years of age and I really want to spend the rest of my life with my children and my family. But I will never forget you guys. You're in my heart, how can I forget you?
"I've got so many memories to tell my children about Ireland and how beautiful this city is, how great the Irish people are. I love you very much."
He beamed when he could hear the crowd singing along and he and the band had fun with extended riffs in many songs. ‘Rocket Man’ was an obvious hit with the audience, not least thanks to one superfan in the crowd who dressed as an astronaut, complete with plush rockets strapped to his back, and featured on the big screen amid whoops and cheers.
He wasn’t the only ‘Elton’ in the sea of faces: many donned some iconic looks from throughout the decade, with straw hats and bejewelled glasses featuring prominently in many sartorial choices.
The real Elton filled the night with anecdotes too, sharing memories of his interaction with legends like Aretha Franklin, to whom he dedicated his performance of ‘Border Song’. Ahead of 'Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me', he told the audience that presenter Graham Norton was among the crowd and he dedicated the song to the Bandon man.
Elton closed the show against a backdrop of the sunset over the city behind him with an emotive encore of some of his most heartfelt tunes: ‘Your Song’ and ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’. It was a perfect farewell from the star, who is bowing out after a half century of performing, and he’s going out in his prime and yes, he's still standing.