Published Sep 26, 2018Elton John is the latest in a growing line of boomer music icons who are supposedly retiring from the road. And while time will tell if a quieter life with his partner, Toronto native David Furnish, and their children suits Sir Elton, his "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" tour certainly makes a strong case that he's going out on a high.
Even as scores of fans remained stuck in security lines outside the venue, John hit the stage at 8 p.m. on the dot, kicking things off with the stomping "Bennie and the Jets." Backed by his six-piece band (which included three percussionists) and a giant gilded frame that showed both impressionistic videos and nostalgic images from across his 49-year career, John remained stationed at his piano just to the left of the stage for the bulk of the evening. Though known for pounding away on the ivories, his strong, clear voice remains one of his most unsung attributes. Though he long ago lost the higher range that marked much of his '70s work, its power remains undeniable.
The evening's first act was packed with heavy hitters. "Rocket Man," "Philadelphia Freedom" and "Tiny Dancer" were all met with rapturous applause from the crowd, whose adulation John seemed to relish. After each number he'd stand and take a bow while gesticulating with his hand, as of saying "more, more, more!" Could this guy seriously be packing it all in?
Few artists walk the line between artist and entertainer quite as well as John, who seems to have a unique relationship to his own catalogue; he visibly relishes playing his hits for fans. Even as he worked through a song like "I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues" for the umpteenth time (setlist.fm stats peg the number of times he's performed the track at just under 1700) he imbued the song with all the energy of the original recording. After decades of radio saturation have numbed us to their meanings, John manages to take them — and the crowd — back to that original emotional spark. "I chose them personally because over the years they've got me through everything," he said early on. Even "Candle in the Wind," which closed the first act, managed to shake off some of its more maudlin tendencies.
As if to prove his point, John threw in some nuggets for diehards (and more importantly, himself). "Indian Sunset" from Madman Across the Water and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road's "Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding," which introduced the second act, were among the deep cuts he served up. "I'm Still Standing"'s theme of resilience took on some added poignancy while "Believe," the most recent track of the evening, was preluded by John's admission that he felt he didn't do enough for the LGBT community during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s (this led to the creation of the Elton John Foundation). "Crocodile Rock" meanwhile was perhaps the only true fan-service moment of the evening, with John encouraging the crowd to partake in the song's famed "na-na-na-na-nas."
Near the end of the night he acknowledged his Canadian family in attendance, saying that "The situation, the scenario, has changed. I love my family more than I love touring and playing." Even though spending time with family was his stated reasoning behind the tour, the admission felt truly heartfelt, especially to an arena filled with adoring fans. As John disappeared backstage to the final chords of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" a bittersweet feeling of closure on an era slowly started to creep in. After almost 50 years on the road, this might really be the last time that we see Elton John in his element.