Leeds goes wild for Rocket Man Elton John

4th September 2013. Sir Elton John performs live on stage at the opening night of the First Direct Arena in Leeds.
4th September 2013. Sir Elton John performs live on stage at the opening night of the First Direct Arena in Leeds.
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Leeds’ First Direct Arena was wowed with a spectacular opening night as British rock legend Sir Elton John delivered an unforgettable evening of hits from his stellar career.

Now officially open for business, the arena – whose protracted development had been the subject of much controversy – was given a sensational opening with a two-hour plus set by the Rocket Man.

Sir Elton first appeared on the venue’s big screens at 8pm to introduce a Croatian cello duo who treated a bemused crowd to renditions of pop covers such as Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal.

They were gradually joined by his backing band before the singer himself walked on stage, acknowledged the roar of cheers from the crowd and launched into The Bitch is Back.

He then led the band into Benny and the Jets, showcasing some virtuoso piano work.

Sir Elton acknowledged the crowd, saying: “Good evening, Leeds, it’s great to play this wonderful new place, especially as this is my first gig back for a while.”

The prolific artist, who releases his 30th solo album later this month, was performing just days after he was awarded the inaugural Brit Icon Award, another accolade to add to his six Grammys, four Brits, Golden Globe and Oscar.

With a songbook dating back to nearly 45 years there was plenty of hits to keep the fans energised, with an astonishing run of hit singles coming one after another.

And, typically for a man who has spent so much of his life onstage, he had them in the palm of his hand all night.

Among those first through the doors was Clare Powers, from Garforth, who was seeing Sir Elton perform for the first time. “He’s a real legend, a British legend. I’m so excited to see him, we’ll show him how great a crowd a Leeds crowd is.”

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting provoked mass singalongs while Candle in the Wind and Your Song were met with almost reverential silence.

Having been given a “dress rehearsal” in July by Bruce Springsteen, the concert represented the 13,500-seat venue’s official opening night, with a ribbon cutting ceremony earlier in the day by Council leader Keith Wakefield.3