Sunday, October 28, 2018

Burn Down, The Mission: As He Starts to Bid Farewell, Elton John Still Delights Down the Yellow Brick Road -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Elton John
Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour
United Center, Chicago
October 26 (also played 10/27, with Feb. 2019 dates in Rosemont)

Before Friday night, I'd seen Elton John six times in concert, dating back to 1988.

Though he'll typically mine a couple of deep cuts from his vast catalog each time out, his shows are largely greatest hits affairs. Hence, I've heard "Tiny Dancer," "Bennie and the Jets," "Your Song," "Rocket Man," "Crocodile Rock," "Candle in the Wind" and all the obvious classics several times over.

And though--especially given fairly recent passings of rock legends--one must recognize the realities for a 71-year-old performer, Elton's dubbing this the Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour doesn't bring quite the urgency it might, given that it's slated to run into 2021.

Still, beyond wanting to hear--and sing along with--all the wonderful hits at least once more, I can't deny being metaphysically compelled to a certain degree, in going to the United Center on Friday night.

Tickets sold out in a flash when they went on sale way back when, and the aftermarket remained dauntingly high, but intent on not being denied I secured a reasonably-priced 300-level seat just a few hours before showtime.

With no opening act, word from the United Center of the concert starting right at 8:00pm proved true within a minute or two--usually there's at least a 15-minute pad--as Sir Elton, resplendent in a white suit with black trim, kicked into "Bennie and the Jets."

Though his voice would warm a bit over the course of 2 hours and 45 minutes, it was strong from the get-go, and John's veteran band sounded great into "All the Young Girls Love Alice" and "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues," before the latter of which Elton acknowledged the impossibility of playing every song some might want to hear.

Noting that he had planned a set of songs that worked well live and that meant a lot to him, Elton spoke wistfully of the joy he and his longtime lyricist, Bernie Taupin, felt as young, fledgling songwriters when they learned that Aretha Franklin would be recording "Border Song," which he then played.

And amid the sheer delights of "Tiny Dancer," "Philadelphia Freedom" and "Rocket Man" came "Indian Sunset"--a long, narrative song off 1971's Madman Across the Water album--preceded by John speaking of his and Taupin's collaborative process.

That mostly tender tune was highlighted by wondrous and thunderous accompaniment from percussionist Ray Cooper. 

You can see the setlist here, which seems to exactly match every other show on the Farewell Tour, including Saturday night at the UC.

By most measures--show length, quality of the material (both historically and as performed), some nicely nostalgic commentary--it was a fantastic concert, with demonstrably strong contributions by longtime guitarist Davey Johnstone, drummer Nigel Olsson and all others onstage.

I loved the way Elton spoke with candor about getting sober--in Chicago in 1990--and championed the holistic, healing power of love and kindness before "Believe."

The video imagery was routinely superb, whether depicting Reginald Dwight's (his real name) outrageously-costumed past, a winsome Marilyn Monroe during "Candle in the Wind" or a young soldier and war imagery that--along with Elton's spoken intro--added new depth to my understanding of "Daniel."

A speech acknowledging his appreciation for the fans, prior to "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," was especially moving.

The couplet of "Funeral for a Friend" and "Love Lies Bleeding" ranked high among an evening filled with highlights.

And nearly bringing tears, "Your Song"--with Elton adorning a bath robe for the encores--was absolutely sublime, followed by the apt closer, "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."

So there is really no justifiable reason for me not to award @@@@@, especially given the show as a terrific summation of a truly remarkable career.

But I did feel it was a bit too businesslike, devoid of any spontaneity or surprise.

I understand that Elton hewed to his carefully culled setlist and not only were the choices fantastic, a 13-minute "Levon" demonstrated his willingness to break out of the box even if it meant challenging some of the crowd.

But for an entertainer I've long associated with fun--along with much else, in part due to the deceptive depth to Taupin's lyrics--it somewhat felt like there was a script to be followed, which didn't allow for much obvious mayhem or even mirth.

This reminded me that the three times I had seen Elton John on his Face-to-Face tours with Billy Joel, the latter provided much more of the overt merriment beyond the music itself. (Though I found some of that lacking in Joel's most recent solo shows.)

So for whatever minor perceptions of my peculiar mind, I can't consider this Elton John concert among the very best I've seen, even just this year.

It was great, but pretty much in the way I expected it to be, which is both a high compliment and minor knock at the same time.

Still, if not quite transcendent in intangible ways, the show was more than delightful enough.

Though I don't--currently--feel a need to catch him in Rosemont in February, I wouldn't be opposed to seeing Sir Elton once more before he shuffles off to whatever's next, though I somewhat suspect he'll continue to perform as long as his health allows, even if just in Las Vegas.

But if this is indeed the last time I get to accompany him down the Yellow Brick Road, I'll never forget the thrills I got, including--with the rest of the full house--bellowing the "Laa, la-la-la-la-laas" on "Crocodile Rock."

So thank you, Sir Elton.

How wonderful life is while you're in the world.

As apt per my closing line, here's "Your Song" from Friday in Chicago, as found on YouTube:

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