Call it a trip down memory lane, memoir as live show, or a reminder of greatness: Sir Elton John brought a powerhouse performance to Toyota Center on Saturday, December 8 that did not disappoint fans, featuring a diverse setlist from across his storied, five-decades-long career.
John and his high-caliber, six-piece backing band ran through 24 songs in a show that went well over 2 hours and 30 minutes, covering most of his major hits and a few deep cuts to tell the story of his rise from little-regarded songwriter — working in tandem with lyric writer Bernie Taupin — to become one of the highest-selling solo artists of all time.
John admitted at one point that narrowing down the set was a near impossible task, that we'd all be there for "five or six hours" if he got his wish — which none of us would have minded.
It's fitting that the Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour included six songs from his masterpiece 1973 album and worldwide breakthrough, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (30 million sales). The album has virtually defined him as an international pop star and it's a perfect collection of tunes to center his legacy around.
Walking onto the stage in the first of three beautifully sequined suits, John opened the set with two Yellow Brick... tracks, first being fan favorite, "Bennie and the Jets," and lesser known, "All the Girls Love Alice," the giant high definition video screen behind the band playing artistic clips throughout.
It was apparent from the outset that time hasn't affected his voice. If anything, it had given it a richer baritone, softening the high soprano tones of his earlier years. It did not once waver throughout the night, hitting all the requisite high notes, embellished by a beautiful vibrato.
It's no spoiler to say John shined the most on his better-known songs, often stretching them into extended jams that allowed each of his band a moment under the spotlight. The best included a fiery "Rocket Man," a beefed up version of "Levon" that would put bands 40 years John's junior to shame, and an excellent solo by longtime John percussionist Roy Cooper on "Indian Summer."
The main set ended on a blitz of hard rockers, "The Bitch is Back," "I'm Still Standing," "Crocodile Rock," and "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting." John's charm and the sheer joy that exuded from him as he played made all those in attendance remember why we as music fans fell in love with him in the first place.
The sharpened professionalism of his band and over-produced nature of these types of tours sometimes veered towards a Trans-Siberian Orchestra show, but these moments were few and far between, allayed by John's genuine sincerity as he stopped between songs to chat with the audience, reminiscent of a VH1 Storytellers episode.
The more poignant moments included a touching tribute to the late Aretha Franklin, who covered "Border Song," from his self-titled 1970 album, or when he proudly recalled his work in combatting the AIDS pandemic through his Elton John Foundation.
The best interludes came when he spoke with frankness about how he wouldn't be anything without the support of his fans or when speaking about his well-documented fight with addiction just before an inspiring rendition of "Believe." It was a bittersweet moment when he told the audience that he'd miss performing live, but that he "had other priorities now," including raising his two sons at home with the promise that he wasn't done with music, only touring.
The fact is John isn't getting any younger, which even he acknowledged. He doesn't move the way he did in the past, now shuffling instead of strutting, preferring to stay seated in on his piano bench and letting his agelessly deft fingers do the work. Thankfully, those fingers have not failed him by any stretch, the talent still pouring over the keyboard, making anyone who has sat through a piano lesson awestruck by the sheer virtuosity on display.
John treated the crowd to two of his best songs for the encore, bedecked in a bejeweled bathrobe. The first, the 1970 slow ballad, "Our Song," had couples in the audience swaying arm-in-arm, and the finale being a soaring "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." The proceeding closed with John comically ascend what resembled a wheelchair lift into the production screen in a designer track suit, perhaps a winking nod to his golden age status.
But what could have easily been a moment of unintentional comedy, proved to be a lovely send-off for a once-in-a-lifetime artist, his physical exit transforming into a video image of him walking down the yellow brick road of that famous album cover, an echo of the past, and a celebration of a career that very few live performers could ever hope to equal, now and forever.
“Bennie and the Jets”
“All the Girls Love Alice”
“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”
“Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)”
“Take Me to the Pilot”
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight”
“Candle in the Wind”
“Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”
“Burn Down the Mission”
“Sad Songs (Say So Much)”
“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”
“The Bitch is Back”
“I’m Still Standing”
“Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”