If Saturday night’s all right for fighting, surely there was some room Friday for an almost three-hour embrace from Sir Elton John?
The first of his two Edmonton Farewell Yellow Brick Road shows was a sequined spectacle of rock and roll history/fantasy, from the opening number Bennie and the Jets on, dazzling and sometimes melancholy, but above all gracious and inspiring, especially when the ever-seated John dipped into the highly personal, whether it was through anecdotes of life-saving sobriety or — the night’s musical highlight — he and his eternal songwriter Bernie Taupin’s Someone Saved My Life Tonight.
Elton John and his beard of sparkles.
Larry Wong /
Dressed in a twinkly glitter tuxedo that drew tiny fireflies on his neck through the night, the hits came quick, the band following the bumping and slightly raunchy All the Girls Love Alice with I Guess That’s Why The Call It the Blues.
On the giant, hyper-high-definition movie screen behind the show, you could see every one of John’s keys reflected in his amazing sparkle shades as he smiled, “We’re excited to be here; we’re ready to play, and we hope you like what you see and hear.”
And how. Noting, “It could have been the Chipmunks, I couldn’t have cared less,” he enthusiastically thanked Aretha Franklin for covering Border so early in he and Taupin’s career, injecting them with confidence. The video above showed young people with their heroes projected onto them, finishing with a family photo of John and his grandmother.
Next, guitarist and band leader Davey Johnstone pulled out the double-neck for the sinaglong Tiny Dancer, which demonstrated how effectively John has threaded into subsequent pop culture. That singalong moment in Almost Famous, 29 years after Tiny Dancer was released, still gives us the cue to belt it out in any public situation as soon as those first eight piano notes hit our ears. The accompanying video of hard times in L.A., complete with the Circus Liquor clown, was breathtaking. As was the production all night, really — from the sculpted frame of John’s accomplishments around the movie screen to the singer’s occasionally coasting-around on his Million Dollar Yamaha grand. He relied on the crowd for Dancer’s high-note chorus, which was just fine by the 17,000 or so, just on the edge of a sold out show.
More superb video behind Philadelphia Freedom, a freestyle dance-off fusing disco, hip-hop and an absolute rainbow of body movement genius dancers. Down on the stage in the real world, not one, not two, but three percussionists included the completely wild Ray Cooper going mad on the congas, Nigel Olsson grinning and singing along whenever the camera was pointed his way, and John Mahon helping hold it all together. Man, what a tight band, extra impressive in their frequent subtlety with just a tambourine slap here, a finger through the bar chimes there.
After the whirlwind, John described his writing process with Taupin where he’ll be handed a song on paper, and, “a little movie will start to appear in my mind,” which he then sets to music. They’ve been at for over 50 years, he noted.
Bennie there, done that.
Larry Wong /
Cooper and John were extra kinetic for the multi-part Indian Sunset, leading us into the obligatory concert space video, as recently seen for Judas Priest’s killer Take These Chains, speaking of fabulous queer icons with interstellar legacies. This trip to the cosmos was brought to us by Rocket Man, of course (one fan even in a spacesuit, stage right), with John bobbing his head throughout. This was followed by the upbeat Take Me to the Pilot, circling down into Sorry Seem to Be the Hardest Word.
Fish Griwkowsky /
A Rick and Morty weird-level animation played behind the preposterously good Someone Saved My Life Tonight, Captain Fantastic wandering through an acid-scape of Hieronymus Bosch monsters, which led to another highlight, Levon. This one turned into a full-on jam highlighting each of the players in turn, Johnstone flirting with Day Tripper, John licking his lips like Rudy Giuliani — though without the brain-addled vampire vibe. This got the often-seated crowd up and dancing, and John walked around and flexed, looking extremely happy at the love.
Marilyn Monroe had Candle in the Wind sent her way, a layer of 1974 nostalgia upon an even older layer of Hollywood call-back, the footage of her posing and sometimes crying under layers of makeup and champagne extremely complicated to watch.
Then, a booming special-effects and smoke-machine thunderstorm brought in Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding, John changed into a silky, Asian flower print suit and amazing pink glasses.
Things got heated at Elton John Friday night.
Fish Griwkowsky /
Burn Down the Mission saw John’s piano lit on fire with more on-screen special effects, and after a war-and-surfers montage during Daniel, John got extra personal. “In 1991 I had an epiphany — I hated the way I lived my life. I reached for help and I got sober and I got clean.”
Having saved himself, he was in a better position to help others, including with the Elton John AIDS Foundation. “In 1992 it was a death sentence,” noting now, thanks to medical science, no one need die of HIV-related illness, and that it’s time we “stop the stupidity, stigma and hatred. It’s 2019, for Chissakes, wake up!” He also noted he doesn’t care who you vote for, he’s just here to entertain — though couldn’t resist, “I’m an optimist. In a few years we’ll get rid of the people that we need to get rid of.”
This fired John up for Believe, and a pleasant, sweaty Tom Selleck cabana vibe followed for Sad Songs (Say So Much).
Then John began to slowly say goodbye with style and grace: “This is the 50th year that I’ve been touring. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you. I will miss you guys.
But, “I have a family now and they need me and I need them. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me led into a raucous The Bitch Is Back, then I’m Still Standing, looking back at his impact on popular culture, including moments of South Park, The Simpsons, The Lion King and a moment squeezed in between but not actually showing the now Disney-owned The Muppets.
Speaking of which, Crocodile Rock was dedicated to his fans, and thus we did all the laa la-la-la-la-la singing of the chorus so John didn’t have to burst anything.
The mighty Sir Elton.
Larry Wong /
A confetti explosive Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting ended after two and half hours of continuous music, and for the encore — John now in a green and pink smoking jacket with the most regular of tinted shades — Your Song summoned Ewan Macgregor belting it out to Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge.
Finally, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the video showing off the singer’s former keyboard gymnastics, legs up in the air, meanwhile in Edmonton the piano taking one last roll across the stage (until Saturday night and all that fighting, of course).
Then, amazingly, 72-year-old John dropped his jacket to reveal a tracksuit, climbed onto a Gremlins-style assist-lift elevator and, waving goodbye as he rose up the ramp, disappeared into the wall for good. Timed perfectly, he was up on the screen, walking down the Yellow Brick Road one last time, which melted into a golden sunset.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how to make an exit.
Well done, Sir … with love.
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
Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
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