You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Concert Review: Elton John Bids Fond ‘Farewell’ in Philadelphia

At 24 songs and nearly three hours in length, the set list for the tour is encyclopedically exhaustive and inclusive.

Everything has turned to Elton John lately. There are those Snickers rap battle commercials, his appearance on Nile Rodgers’ new Chic album, and the daily news of an autobiographical film for 2019. An icon of multi-platinum pop, Broadway song, LGBTQ rights and more, when a showman like John announces a goodbye tour after more than five decades in the biz — a three-year, 300-plus show “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” trek that truly kicked off Tuesday night (Sept. 11) in Philadelphia — people pay attention.

Even in today’s endless nostalgia worship, Elton John defies categorization. He was at one time a classic rock show-off followed by a masked art-pop wonder. And, though born in the U.K., he has long dug deep into the sound and psyche of America with its rural roots in the gospel South, and its uptown relationships to boogie-woogie, blues and R&B, his Californian harmonies, his country twang, and — of course — longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin’s Beat poet’s relationship to the prairies, mountains and our endless vistas.

And so the “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” show at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center was visually and sonically arresting in every way. John, the vocalist, pounced with raggedly soulful might and clarity on the up-tempo cuts, and with pensive, bruised nuance on the ballads. As a pianist, he stretched out in giddily playful solos while bouncing off longtime bandmates and harmony vocalists (drummer Nigel Olsson, glam rocking guitarist Davey Johnstone and vividly animated percussionist Ray Cooper).

If you were hoping that John would do more costume changes than the three made (pink and black military brocade tux with red rhinestone glasses, a rose-covered suit with green rhinestone specs, a gorgeous floor-length robe with heart glasses), you only had to stare at the screen behind him for more glistening Elton images than the human retina could handle. And at 24 songs and nearly three hours in length – including the rarely played dark, spare suite “Indian Sunset — John’s set list was encyclopedically exhaustive and inclusive.

Having attended dozens of John shows in the past, this seemed to be the most personal, personable and emotive of his gigs. For a guy always pleased to announce that “The Bitch is Back,” he was pretty sweet. Maybe it’s because John is semi-retiring from the road to maintain a family with his husband (David Furnish, who was in attendance and decked out in casual Gucci, Elton’s tour sponsor). Maybe it was because Taupin, with whom he’s shared this half-century-long trip, was also in the house (a rare east coast appearance, the award-winning songwriter was spotted backstage wrestling with a corkscrew). Or maybe it was John coming to terms with saying goodbye to these songs and the fans “who have always been there, buying the singles, and the 8-tracks.” No matter, this show found Elton John’s emotional output at an all-time high.

From the moment the stadium’s lights pounded in time with the opening number’s hammered piano line (“Bennie & the Jets”), to the last oxygenated breath of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” this greatest hits “revue,” as it were, was one highlight after another.

While John’s baritone voice enhanced the elegant melody lines and soulful grace notes of “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” Olsson and Johnstone luxuriated in the airy harmony vocals that were a signature of Elton’s singles since the days of “Honky Chateau.”

ALLENTOWN, PA - SEPTEMBER 08: Elton John performs onstage during his "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" tour at PPL Center on September 8, 2018 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Rocket Entertainment )
CREDIT: Courtesy Rocket Entertainment

Before John got to his impassioned funky reading of “Border Song,” he talked about how hearing that Aretha Franklin would record that tune, “blew my mind.” After said “Song,” Elton & Co. waltzed into an elongated “Tiny Dancer,” complete with those aforementioned Taupin vistas, and an elegant slide into its bridge, then a  high-pitched chorus that was goose-bump inducing. While “Indian Sunset” was dramatic and multi-moody, “Take Me to the Pilot” was rich and angsty, as if that same pilot owed Elton money.

By the time Elton got to a zealously playful take on ”Levon,” he was wagging his tongue at the first rows, and waving his hands in the air when he wasn’t pounding out a boogie-woogie solo worthy of Professor Longhair. Much of the gospel-inflected “Burn Down the Mission” had a similar physicality to it, as its melody grew incrementally higher with each verse.  When Elton and his mob hit the main set’s last four tracks – “The Bitch is Back,” “I’m Still Standing,” “Crocodile Rock,” “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” – it felt like a hard, fast race to the finish.

Of course, the personal history of John the creator and crusader was also front-and-center — highlighted on the video screens throughout the night — and included John’s accomplishments as an AIDS benefactor. But all the glitz and glamour could not distract your gaze from the main event onstage. Bravo to that.

Concert Review: Elton John Bids Fond 'Farewell' in Philadelphia

More Music

  • Noah CentineoNickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, Show,

    Kids’ Choice Awards 2019: JoJo Siwa, Noah Centineo Take on Bullying

    This year’s Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards was full of positivity and encouragement to be yourself. DJ Khaled, known for his upbeat mantras, hosted the 32nd annual awards ceremony alongside JoJo Siwa at USC’s Galen center. Siwa accepted the award for favorite social music star. Siwa said in her acceptance speech, “I get hated on every [...]

  • Concert Review: Yoko Ono Saluted By

    Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns a Wide-Ranging, All-Female Salute at Disney Hall

    Yoko One was — is — nothing if not an artist of many facets, as someone who started out in the most avant-garde corners of the visual and performance art worlds and ended up having a flair for conventional pop songwriting. Both sides, the disrupter and the sentimentalist, were celebrated in a wide-ranging tribute concert [...]

  • NF_D_JGN-D6-2160.cr2

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Jonathan Lamy RIAA

    Jonathan Lamy Stepping Down From RIAA

    Jonathan Lamy, the Recording Industry Association of America’s longtime executive VP of communications and marketing, is stepping down from his post after 17 years, he announced today. As he put it in an email to Variety, “I started back in 2002, which means it’s been 17+ years, four different RIAA CEOs, three format changes and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content