MONTREUX, Switzerland (Reuters) - Elton John made his first and last appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival on Saturday, delivering a slick and energetic performance that ended with a message of tolerance and love.
The British singer’s 2-1/2-hour show, part of his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour begun last year, opened with “Bennie and the Jets”, followed by early 1970s hits including “Tiny Dancer”, “Rocket Man” and “Your Song”.
“I’ve wanted to play this festival for years and years. I’ve watched it on DVD and television. I never thought I would be playing it, but it is an honor to be here,” the 72-year-old told a sell-out outdoor crowd of 15,000 who braved a heat wave.
The five-time Grammy winner, seated at the piano center stage, wore large black frame glasses with his name spelled out in rhinestones and a black jacket with sparkling trim.
“Sorry”, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, “Candle in the Wind”, “Daniel” and “Saturday Night’s Alright” were other signature songs, accompanied by his band including longtime drummer Nigel Olsson and guitarist John Jorgenson.
John performed at La Saussaz stadium overlooking Lake Geneva, rather than the famed Stravinski Auditorium, an intimate venue renowned for its acoustics, where he was initially booked for two nights when the tour was first announced.
“This was imposed on us,” a Montreux insider told Reuters about the first-ever open-air concert of the Swiss festival.
Festival goer Sebastien Cordey, 37, said afterwards: “I’m not a big fan of Elton John. But he had great energy on stage and his voice is still incredibly strong.”
Sting on Friday opened the 53rd edition of the festival which runs through July 13. Its eclectic line-up includes Janet Jackson, Chick Corea and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke.
John said on Friday he was deeply upset by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comment that liberal values were “obsolete” and had been rejected by the majority of people in Western nations.
John, who is gay, accused Putin of hypocrisy for saying in the same interview that he wanted LGBT people to be happy. Russia has reportedly censored gay scenes in the movie “Rocketman” based on his life.
“I am sick to death of hatred, of racism and homophobia,” John told fans. “I am sick to death of people who claim to be religious and close to God and are far from God.”
“We should appreciate each other, we need to embrace everyone even if we do not agree with each other,” he said.
Fans paid from 185 to 450 Swiss francs ($189.55 to $461.00) for the show. Former co-director Quincy Jones calls the festival the “Rolls-Royce of festivals”.
John said he met Jones before the show.
“I love him very much, the man and the musician. ... He is still as vibrant as a teenager”, John said, dedicating the song “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” to the legendary American producer.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay