Three Magical Nights In Hamburg
By Melanie Hentschel
Last week was my own personal ‘Elton John’-week in Hamburg because I had tickets for all three of his shows at the Barclays Arena. I’ve been holding on to some of these tickets for nearly 3 years now, one I got myself as a birthday present last year and it was worth every penny! I’ll try to give a short (or not so short report) on each concert separately because they’ve been all very different for me, watching the show from different angles and making special memories at each one.
Show 1 (May 2nd, 2023)
Having been to The O2 just a month prior the first thing I noticed was how different the audience was from what I’ve seen in London. There were a lot more ‘casual concert goers’ who weren’t really fans, maybe knew some of the hits but were definitely not as much into the music as I’ve seen British people are. Thus, there weren’t many that had dressed up for the occasion and I stuck out with my Elton John-jacket from minute 1 I stepped into the S21 (underground train service running to the Arena). I guess, I have to add that northern Germans don’t tend to be very outgoing so it shouldn’t have surprised me. Still, I felt a bit sad about it. On the other hand, sticking out earned me the opportunity to be interviewed by German TV and talk about Elton. Sadly, they aired the least interesting part of the interview, but it was great nevertheless and people actually came up to me in the days after to tell me they had seen me on TV.
My seat was in U16, the lower ranks with a great view on the stage. Even while sitting down, I noticed that there weren’t many Eltonites around me, only casual concert-goers who were there because ‘you have to see him before he’s gone’. It showed in the way they reacted to when Elton entered the stage. There was polite clapping and some head nodding to the songs, but I was the only one in my section really into the music. I could see that it was like that all around in the ranks. I guess Northern Germans need a bit of time to get in the right mood. But half an hour later, Elton and the band had them in their pockets. It was different on the floor, people in the VIP area were having a blast from minute 1 (as they should) and even the rows behind them were standing up and cheering the band on.
I don’t need to say anything on the setlist, it’s well known and as always, the show ran like clockwork. The band was on fire and happy to improvise on ‘Rocketman’ and ‘Levon’ and when everyone was starting to finally sing along it sent goosebumps over my body. I always get quite emotional when I see people expressing their love for Elton and once he had won everyone over there was no holding back. The admiration and the cheers filled the Arena, and it was the most beautiful thing to see and hear from an audience that is normally much more subdued. The admiring noise swelled to almost drowning out his words when Elton addressed the audience about his special bond with Hamburg. He talked about how he had first come to Germany before he became Elton John, playing his first gigs in Hamburg at the Top Ten Club at the Reeperbahn (with Bluesology of course) and how much he had loved coming back to this ‘beautiful city’ ever since.
The joyous feelings held on after the show had ended, you could see people with smiles on their faces strolling to the exits or lingering on to buy a shirt at the merchandise stand to have a lasting memory of that special day. While waiting for the shuttle bus to take me back to the underground station, I had another lucky encounter. Two ladies came up to me, telling me they had sat behind me on the ranks and loved my outfit and how much I’d been celebrating the show. Then they gave me the deluxe tour programme as a gift, and I was completely speechless.
It was the perfect ending to a perfect day one.
Show 2 (May 4th, 2023)
This was the show of shows for me because this time I had a ticket in front row. Technically it was row 4 but because of the kidney-shape of the stage there were no other seats in front of me. I wasn’t in the VIP area though as my seat was quite far to the left but very close to Elton’s piano. I had brought a banner that I had especially made for Elton to see and hoped it would be noticed. It sure was by Ben Gibson who spotted me unfolding it and asked me to take a few pictures of me with it. WOW! Around me I had a lot of people that were real fans and I felt very humbled when I started talking to them. Some of them have been fans for ages and seen Elton perform many times. It sometimes makes me feel like a fraud when I have to admit that I only became a fan after watching ‘Rocketman’. But everyone was very welcoming, and I had some great talks and felt part of a family.
I had the perfect spot to see Elton approach the stage when the show started. I’m always amazed how energetic his stride is when he goes up that ladder and towards the piano, I hope I’ll be in such a good shape when I’m 76! Sure enough, this time I felt the excitement and adoration from minute 1 washing over the stage and the band, given that I had mostly fans around me. It was amazing seeing the band so close and it took me a few minutes to realise that they were actually only a few meters away from me. It was amazing! And it became even more amazing when I held up my banner after ‘Philadelphia Freedom’ and Elton saw it, pointed at me with a smile and mouthed ‘thank you’. Even the people beside me noticed and cheered for me. Just a few minutes later Davey came over to our part of the stage and after playing his solo he threw his plectrum out and I got it.
It felt so good to be free to stand and clap and sing along not worrying about people behind me getting annoyed because they were all doing the same. I had that exact same feeling in Hyde Park last year when I was surrounded by life-long fans who sang every single word to every single song and it felt like a big family united by Elton.
Being so far left I wasn’t really sure I’d get to the front of the stage during stage rush but when the time came it wasn’t a problem mostly because the front row VIPs didn’t want to join in. Imagine that! Being able to go to the front of the stage and be so close to Elton and the boys and then just missing out. I found the perfect spot at the curve of the stage centre and right in front of Elton’s piano. He was now only about 3 or 4 meters away from me. I couldn’t believe my luck! And sure enough there came an obstacle in the shape of a security guy trying to push us back to our seats. I asked him why and he just said: Because. What a jerk! I guess if Elton had noticed that he would have told him off! But as it was, I had to step away from the stage but when the guy was gone, and another was in his place I sneaked into my old spot again.
I had brought a small present for Elton and when he passed me, I held it out to him. He looked at me with a smile but didn’t take it. It was worth a try though and the smile was everything to me! He even did it again when I held my banner up one more time, again he mouthed ‘thank you’ and looked at me kindly. He surely doesn’t know it means the world to me that he did that!
I got very emotional this time during ‘Sorry Seems To Be…’ because I was so close and my heart was so full of love for this man. And it was such an adrenaline kick when the confetti rain at ‘Saturday Night’s’ came down on us. I sure took some of that home with me!
I should say a few words about the show itself, but I guess everyone who’s been at one of the Farewell-concerts knows how brilliant it is and how fuelled with energy. It’s amazing to see seven guys in their early to late 60s or early to mid-70s put on such a show for 2 ½ hours. And it always feels like they could go on for another hour or two with ease. Also, the collected talent on stage is amazing, each and every one of them is a master musician in his own right. No question about that! Together they are – in my opinion at least – the best band in the world. That’s why it never feels repetitive to watch more than one show even though the setlist is always the same because once the boys start to jam, there’s no turning back and it’s always different, always in sync and always amazing.
Sometimes though the clockwork doesn’t run as smoothly, and this actually happened at the very last song this time. After Elton had played ‘Your Song’ and turned to the audience with his final words, repeating the stories about why he loved Hamburg so much, he turned to his piano again and started playing the into of… ‘Your Song’ again! He noticed a few seconds in and stopped himself with a grin, saying ‘Oh, I’ve just played that’ and started to play ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’. But the amusement was clear on his face and Davey couldn’t hold back laughing, it was a joy to see!
After the show a lot of people came up to me asking for pictures of my outfit or the banner and a couple at the underground station told me they had watched me from the ranks and said they had been rooting for me because I had celebrated the whole show so much. Yeah baby!
I’ve also made some friends that night that I saw again the next day and will be seeing again in Cologne too.
Needless to say I didn’t sleep very much that night because I was still so full of adrenaline and joy from everything that had happened!
Show 3 (May 5th, 2023)
After the excitement of the day before I was worried for this show. My seat this time was on floor level but further down from the stage and I hoped that it wouldn’t dampen my mood to be so far away when I had been so close. I was talking to my new-found friends about it via messenger and they reassured me that we would find a way to get closer. I still had my doubts but tried to enjoy the show nevertheless.
This time I noticed a lot more people who had dressed up for the occasion, many in sequined dresses or jackets, one in a Dodgers-uniform and lots of feather boas and lights. Still, I stuck out with my jacket and got a few more compliments (which of course is always appreciated). From where I sat, I had a good overview of the stage and the whole show on the screens but once people stood up it was hard to see the band.
I actually hoped for people to stay seated then so we could all see the musicians and not only the screens. Still, the adrenaline rush set in the moment the concert started and I shouldn’t have worried about my mood. It was all high up the moment the first chord of ‘Bennie And The Jets’ filled the Arena. I have to say the sound in the venue was marvellous, no matter where you were seated. It was always spot on (well done, Clive!). People around me were quite into the music but again, I wasn’t surrounded by fans, so I was the only one singing along to every song. I’ve always loved seeing the thunder and lightning-intro for ‘Funeral For A Friend’ followed by the smoke filling the stage and from where I sat this time I had the best view on it and enjoyed every second! But when the time came for the stage rush, I was up and running towards the stage. I had to wait a bit for my friends and felt really nervous, contemplating going back to my seat but when I spotted them, I joined them, and we actually got admitted to the front of stage again. I admit, being rather shy, I wouldn’t have dared to go up front if it hadn’t been for them to take me with them. So thank you, Nadine and Ralf for encouraging me to do it! This time I was at the centre of the stage and could only see Elton’s head behind the piano, but it was still an adrenaline boost. People beside me obviously weren’t fans because they didn’t sing along (only at ‘Cold Heart’) but I had the time of my life, even more so because I hadn’t expected this to happen! Davey came very close to me a few times. He wanted to give the girl beside me his plectrum, but she didn’t take it. Can you imagine that! I’ve seen a few people refuse to take the plectrums from him that night I simply can’t understand that! But it was my luck, because he then handed the plectrum to me, and I blew him a kiss that he acknowledged with a smile. From my place I could see the whole band close up for the first time and it was magical. I enjoyed watching each and every one of them perform, they are just the most amazing guys! I can’t imagine them not playing together anymore after the tour finishes. The second half of the show was just filled with adrenaline and serotonin, and it almost blew the roof off the Arena. Elton acknowledged the energy of the evening by telling us that we were one of the best audiences he’s had on the tour!
I was totally stunned when Elton walked past me just a meter away, it was unbelievable to be so close to him. But even more so when he and his piano ‘drove’ by at ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and he looked at me. I blew him a kiss and he smiled back. I wanted to die happily at that moment. But even more so when he had stripped out of his robe and stepped into his little lift. He looked around and our eyes locked for a moment – and he blew me a kiss back. Sure enough I broke down crying after the show had ended because I was so full of emotions. Ben Gibson was still on stage, and he asked me to take a few pictures of the back of my jacket which was the last great thing to happen that night.
It was a magical ‘Elton John’-week in Hamburg.
And now I can’t wait for the last two shows in Cologne.