Elton John’s ‘Live In Australia’ Turns 25
It’s rare that a live album captures not only a remarkable performance, but a pivotal moment in the life and career of an artist. The 1987 release ‘Elton John Live In Australia With The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra,’ which turns 25 this month, documents some amazing music as well as a legendary night when Elton stared down the destruction of his voice and career, and won.
Throughout his late-1986 tour of Australia, which featured both a traditional rock set and full orchestral set each night, Elton had suffered pain and vocal difficulties due to polyps on his vocal cords. His surgery to remove those polyps occurred just weeks after the close of the tour, in early January 1987. As he performed this show on the tour’s final nights, he had no idea whether his surgery would leave him with the ability to sing at all, let alone to perform at a rock superstar level again.
Knowing this, and hacking up both phlegm and blood throughout the night, Elton went on to perform a legendary set, with a level of commitment and passion that spoke to his fragile state. You can hear the rawness in his voice on the ‘Live In Australia’ record, but it doesn’t sound damaged; it sounds more intense, more emotional. This has been called the last recording on which Elton used his “old” register, as the surgery and aging have brought his voice down a few octaves while adding a new soulful depth to its timber. But the transition seems to be beginning here; you can hear Elton leaning harder into the notes, finding new phrasing for songs he’d performed nightly for years, determined to wring every last drop of emotion and power out of this music.
He’s backed by a full symphony orchestra under the leadership of James Newton Howard, who also contributed some of the orchestral arrangements. Howard would go on to become a hugely successful film composer, working closely with James Cameron on such blockbusters as ‘Titanic’ and ‘Avatar.’ For Elton’s Australia shows, Howard developed warm, lush and dynamic arrangements of some of Elton’s signature tunes, including ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’ and ‘Take Me To The Pilot.”
‘Live In Australia’ is an emotional turning point for Elton John, both personally and artistically. It’s the music of a man facing real pain and overcoming it while the world listens in.
Watch Elton John Perform ’60 Years On’ Live in Australia