Sir Elton John through Mark Wheat's eyes and ears

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Elton John NYC
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18: Elton John performs during his 'Farewell Yellow Brick Road' tour at Madison Square Garden on October 18, 2018 in New York City. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

At the start of 2018, I foresaw three of my favorite artists of all time coming to town on weeknights in a 12-month period and decided I couldn't miss them. So after 14 years of never having taken a night off to see a show, I took a few nights off throughout the year. This time last year, it was Robert Plant, who I had never seen. He put on a great show and was very funny and gracious when we got to meet him afterwards. Last October, I saw Rod Stewart, who looked and sounded great, (even though some of his "old-fashioned" sexism was cringe-worthy). Thursday night was my final chance to see Sir Elton John, who I had also never seen, and he blew me away!

Kicking off with "Bennie and the Jets" was a bold start; the hit single of the song was recorded live, and has enough drama to end a set! It also set the template for the surprising major theme of the night: the musicality. Elton John's improvisation and extended jams allowed several songs, especially an epic "Levon," to stretch and morph. His super-tight band obviously enjoying the freedom that rarely comes with these hit-filled, highly polished stage shows. It also says something about Elton John as a band leader and as a human that most of his band have been with him for more than 40 years.

Some of the song choices were interesting too, considering the mainstream audience he has gathered over his long and storied career. "Indian Sunset," from his early album Madman Across The Water, with its long instrumental passages and lyrics about the "demise of The Native American" as he put it, could be considered tone-deaf in this state. Another interesting choice was an epic "Funeral for a Friend" and "Love Lies Bleeding," two songs that blend together, preceded by a massive thunderstorm effect which went on for several minutes, giving Elton a brief respite and time to do his one costume change of the night, in a two-and-a-half hour show!

The visuals throughout the concert were stunning. A simple stage set with an arched frame mirroring the album cover of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road could turn exquisitely minimal at times, then morph with terrific light effects and a huge screen showing some wonderful collages of videos, many depicting scenes from Elton John's career, along with live closeups of the musicians. "Tiny Dancer," a song that I had dismissed as one of his middle-of-the-road hits, was brought into a whole new light with a brilliant montage of artistic images.

Sir Elton's between-song banter was sparse, but well delivered. He thanked his lifelong writing partner Bernie Taupin several times — he gushed about how excited they were when Aretha Franklin was the first artist to cover one of their songs. Elton detailed the period in 1990 when he was struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, and he proudly proclaimed the success of battling the spread of HIV with his Foundation. He gave a brief shout-out to Prince. And of course, he sincerely thanked us fans for always coming out to the shows, and apologized if he missed out on one of our faves — he just has too many great ones! With "All the Young Girls Love Alice," "Crocodile Rock" and "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting," you got me covered, EJ. In fact, the reception from a very full Target Center was rapturous: a standing ovation after almost every song, and the pleas for an encore were more heartfelt than normal.

Elton John's final exit was a tad cheesy, going up the slope of the stage on a hydraulic lift that looked like those stair lifts for the elderly that are advertised on late-night TV. But by then, he had totally won me over, again. As a lifelong fan from the early '70s, it was a joy to see him carry off such an occasion, and he'll do it again tonight!

Farewell Sir Elton, a showman who will be sorely missed, but who deserves to enjoy his "late" retirement, dancing away down that yellow brick road...

Setlist


Bennie and the Jets
All the Girls Love Alice
I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues
Border Song
Tiny Dancer
Philadelphia Freedom
Indian Sunset
Rocket Man
Take Me to the Pilot
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
Levon
Candle in the Wind
Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Burn Down the Mission
Daniel
Believe
Sad Songs (Say So Much)
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me
The Bitch Is Back
I'm Still Standing
Crocodile Rock
Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting

Encore
Your Song
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

2 Photos

  • Elton John NYC
    NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18: Elton John performs during his 'Farewell Yellow Brick Road' tour at Madison Square Garden on October 18, 2018 in New York City. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
  • Elton John NYC
    NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18: Elton John performs during his 'Farewell Yellow Brick Road' tour at Madison Square Garden on October 18, 2018 in New York City. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)