History will show that the very first song played at Perth Arena by a visiting artist was The Bitch is Back.

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Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

CONCERT
Sir Elton John
Perth Arena
Saturday, November 10
REVIEW: SIMON COLLINS

History will show that the very first song played at Perth Arena by a visiting artist was The Bitch is Back.

The fact that the titular bitch, Sir Elton John, had returned less than a year after rocking the Dome last December seemed to have little effect on the box office. About 11,000 fans attended the official opening night on Saturday, with a sold-out crowd of more than 12,000 expected back at the Arena tonight. Those are very strong numbers, given that Sir Elton was only announced as the opening night's entertainment when George Michael cancelled his Australian tour in September.

After playing Bennie and the Jets, the portly 65-year-old rocker, dressed in a glittering blue suit and matching glasses, welcomed WA fans in the Arena and watching the cross to his show from Telethon. "As you can see, I'm not George Michael," Sir Elton quipped, before tearing into the funky Grey Seal, a rarer cut off his 1973 classic album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Saturday night saw arguably the finest Perth performance from the knight; he needed his four backing singers to handle the high notes but his baritone was fresh and booming on favourites such as Tiny Dancer (aka "hold me closer, Tony Danza") and the stomping Philadelphia Freedom.

The epic Funeral for a Friend tested the new venue, which seemed to get a tick of approval from the people who funded it (taxpayers), despite equally epic queues at the box office in the November rain before the gig and some reports of the sound slapping. Initially billed as a concert "under the stars", the wet weather also meant that the retractable roof stayed closed. At least the big screens were in sync after there was a serious delay at the Plug Into Perth sound check concert the previous weekend.

Teething problems aside, Sir Elton seemed to revel in the brand-new Arena - "It will probably outlive me by many years," he remarked - dishing up a 25-song hits package that leaned on his early 70s golden run with songwriter Bernie Taupin.

Rocket Man and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road were rippers, however the set dragged in the second half. Rockers like Honky Cat and Sad Songs (Say So Much) plodded, ballads such as Sacrifice and Daniel dripped with cheese. Sir Elton and his crack band, which features 40-year veterans in drummer Nigel Olsson and long-haired guitarist Davey Johnstone, lifted their game again for the run home of Are You Ready for Love, I'm Still Standing and the compulsory finale of Crocodile Rock and Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting).

The vets in the Elton John band were joined by comparatively young Croatian cellists, 2Cellos, who opened the show with a four-song instrumental set featuring covers of Michael Jackson, U2 and - of course - AC/DC. Stjepan Hauser banged his head like Angus Young and re-created hard rock guitar noises with his cello on You Shook Me All Night Long.

Like 2Cellos, Sir Elton was smart enough to know that a big, punchy sound would overcome any difficulties in the new room. After finishing with the encore of Your Song and the Lion King ballad Circle of Life, the knight called it a night and the Arena was truly open for business.