It’s the 10th year of Apple’s annual assault on London, where they host a string of free concerts with impressive headliners who are much used to playing vaster venues than Camden’s treasured Roundhouse, and who better to kick off this year’s celebrations than the man whose unyielding passion for discovering new artists could rival even iTunes’ daily recommended lists?
Sir Elton John promised “a night of surprises,” as if his glittering presence and boisterous back-catalogue alone wouldn’t be enough to sustain the evening’s party ambience. But, after a storming three-punch opener of ‘The Bitch Is Back’, ‘Philadelphia Freedom’ and ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’, he lived up to his reputation as the music world’s most benevolent knight by sharing his spotlight with the first of four new artists who’d come to duet with him tonight, and expose their talents to this huge and appreciative audience.
Former Clash Next Wave hopeful Rosie Lowe first performed her own stunning track, ‘Woman’, backed ably by Elton’s band, then the Devon-based songstress joined in with ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’.
After two tracks (‘Looking Up’ and ‘Good Heart’) from his lively new album, ‘Wonderful Crazy Night’, it was the turn of LA’s R&B star, Gallant, whose ‘Weight In Gold’ was interpreted fantastically as a brass-heavy showstopper by the band, and then highlighted perfectly the R&B nuances of ‘Bennie And The Jets’.
A stunning and emotional ‘Your Song’, which began with Elton alone at the piano, basking in one stark spotlight, was juxtaposed by an epic, expanded take on ‘Levon’, which allowed each band member - including original Elton John Band members Nigel Olsen (drums), Davey Johnstone (guitar) and Ray Cooper (percussion) - to deliver a sizzling solo.
Oklahoma folk artist Parker Millsap was Elton’s third guest, and would fill George Michael’s shoes by duetting with Elton on a grand take on ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’.
The fourth and final guest star, who seemed to effortlessly steal the show, was French sensation Christine And The Queens. Bringing to the stage an exquisite choreographed version of her hit ‘Tilted’, she was a timely reminder of the theatrical side of pop that Elton has always championed. Her graceful vocals were then a sweet accompaniment on the classic ‘Tiny Dancer’.
When all four guests convened for show finale ‘Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)’, it was hard to tell who looked more elated by the situation, them or Elton. He beamed from his piano stool, proud of his new friends and galvanized by their excited energy. Having previously shown his support by playing their songs on his Beats 1 radio show, it was clearly a fulfilling and thrilling opportunity to manifest his patronage in such a public and generous manner.
The Apple Music Festival continues throughout this month with gigs by Alicia Keys (20/9), OneRepublic (21/9), Calvin Harris (23/9), Robbie Williams (25/9), Bastille (26/9), Britney Spears (27/9), Michael Bublé (28/9) and Chance The Rapper (30/9).
Words: Simon Harper