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Elton John kicks off final tour with a bang

Three hours and 23 songs with no opener, no special guests and no more than five minutes’ break.

You couldn’t blame Sir Elton John for wanting to maximize every minute of stage time he had at Allentown, Pennsylvania’s PPL Center Saturday night – the first date of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, billed as his final stretch of concerts before he retires from the road.

John lovingly remembered his years of traversing the globe to perform live for his fans, telling the crowd, “As much as I like to make records, there’s nothing like playing to an audience of human beings. … It’s been nearly 50 years, and you have been magnificent.”

Yet, at 71, he feels more compelled to be with his husband, David Furnish, and his two sons – “I have the most beautiful family, and I really need to spend time with them,” he explained onstage.

As well-deserved as his retirement may be, John’s show was proof that rock ’n’ roll is losing a masterful live performer as he hit nary a bad note in his almost three straight hours of belting in his rich baritone. He assembled his backing band from rockers he has played with over his five decades in music, led by his longtime guitarist, Davey Johnstone.

His discography is well-represented in a set list that includes all the hits – “Bennie and the Jets,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Daniel,” “Your Song,” “Crocodile Rock” and the tour’s titular “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” – alongside songs that may be more! unfamiliar to John’s less-fanatic fans. The one knock on t! he singer’s performance, which won’t be a surprise to anyone who has seen him live, is his charming disregard for enunciation.

And while everyone on stage delivered a powerhouse of a performance, that’s almost to be expected from John and Co., with the night’s most pleasant surprises coming from the whimsical visuals that kept the show from dragging. Video clips celebrated John’s essential campiness, with a brightly colored montage of fans wearing Elton-inspired outfits accompanying “Crocodile Rock”; a posse of drag queens brawling in a pool to “The Bitch Is Back”; and the singer himself dressed head to toe in feathers, smashing one man’s head in a piano and delivering a flying kick to another opponent’s face to the sound of “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.”

Of course, no figure in the videos shined any brighter than John ! himself, clad head to toe in several custom-made Gucci ensembles, all with oversized sunglasses to match.

Saturday’s performance was an emotional triumph for performers and fans alike, and while John isn’t retiring from music entirely, the show got funereal as a montage of John’s performances played during the closing song, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” ending with him climbing onto a platform and exiting the stage into the backdrop as his cartoon likeness walks down a yellow brick road onscreen toward the sun.

While the thought of John joining the other rock legends we’ve lost recently is almost too much to bear, his farewell tour is exactly the kind of experience fans long for after their idols are gone, the career-spanning final tour that not every musician gets to complete. That’s even more of a reason to find a way, over the next year, to see this show.

 

Maeve McDermott

Columnist USA TODAY

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