PHILADELPHIA – Goodbyes can be brutal. But Elton John continues to usher in his extraordinary career with grace and enthusiasm, ensuring fans can enjoy a deluge of highlights from his colossal catalogue.
A beaming John and his legendary band showed up at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia on Friday before sundown, and more than two hours and 23 songs later, the first date of the final US leg of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour was a footnote in history.
The show also marked the start of the stadium portion of the tour, which will conclude in Los Angeles in November before returning to Europe for the final run. It feels like another lifetime ago as John embarked on his long and tortuous goodbye; In fact, the world looked very different in 2018 when he debuted the show in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
But it still attracts Baby Boomer fans and Millennial newcomers alike, a refreshing age range that’s noticeable in the sold-out crowd of more than 40,000.
During the encore, John noted – with a bit of humble disbelief – that he was playing a recent hit, “Cold Cold Heart,” his mashup with Dua Lipa (which appeared on video) along with his first-ever chart-topping 1971, the truly timeless “Your Song.” .
It’s an achievement that is both admirable and extremely unlikely to be duplicated.
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Throughout the night, in a jeweled white tuxedo jacket, black pants and lavender glasses, John looked refreshed and happy behind his black Yamaha grand piano. The charts opened with the familiar strumming tones of “Bennie and the Jets,” followed by “Philadelphia Freedom,” with guitarist Davey Johnstone casually unfurling the song’s strumming riff.
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John, 75, was gloriously hammy between songs, emerging from his piano bench, pointing and grinning at the crowd while mouthing thanks and leading a concert that felt lively but never dull.
While some songs (“I’m Still Standing”, “Tiny Dancer”) featured significantly lower keys to match John’s current range, he mostly sounded robust, adding vocals at the end of a slightly swinging “I Guess That’s Why They Call”. Embellishments added to “It the Blues” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” with emphatic emotion.
The highlights of this journey down the sentimental road were numerous. The blurry effects on the video that accompanied the ever-ethereal “Rocket Man” added a gossip coating as the dreamy chorus descended into an extended piano coda. “Levon,” one of the underrated beauties of John’s creative endeavours, with lyricist Bernie Taupin, escalates into a gospel throwdown before rejoining the melody. And the epic instrumental “Funeral for a Friend,” a sonic eruption that segues into “Love Lies Bleeding,” remains a masterclass in musicianship.
Although John’s teammates never earned an E Street Band nickname, these exceptional players were an integral part of his live shows. Many, like dapper drummer Nigel Olsson (with his signature gloves, headphones and a pink pocket square in his suit), sweetheart-turned-percussionist Ray Cooper, and the unmistakable Johnstone have shared stages with the maestro since the earliest gigs.
Drummer John Mahon, keyboardist Kim Bullard and bassist Matt Bissonnette also add musical flair that led John to comment on how much he enjoyed playing with this group.
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While their tension was expected given the amount of shows they’ve played, the band also leaned into a few surprises in the setlist.
The rollicking “All the Girls Love Alice” from the 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road made its debut this year (John dug up the album track at many pre-pandemic farewell dates). But more unexpected was the tour debut of Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, John’s swooning 1972 ode to New York City, which he hasn’t performed live since his Las Vegas performance in 2018. It was adorable as always.
As the concert neared its conclusion – as fans realized their time in John’s orbit was coming to an end – the musician offered a heartfelt thank you and told the audience to “love each other” while wishing them “health, happiness and success.” wished.
Then, as he has done throughout the tour, John unpacked “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” his delicate take on life in transition and the ideal summary of a career that will forever be celebrated.