Elton John: Farewell Yellow Brick Road at Staples Center

Larson Sutton on January 30, 2019
Elton John: Farewell Yellow Brick Road at Staples Center

Sometime in late December of 2020, when Elton John is done circumnavigating the globe, having played 300 shows in five continents to millions of fans, odds are he will rest and relax completely satisfied that his gargantuan Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour was an unqualified success. Not only does this performance sonically, visually, spiritually, and emotionally represent the philanthropy, showmanship, and, most importantly, the musicianship of Captain Fantastic and his band as well as any three-hour concert possibly could, it’s all achieved, incredibly enough, without any stifling pretense or mawkish sentiment. If this is indeed John’s final go-round, it easily earns the label of “can’t-miss experience.”

Every detail has John’s touch: from the pre-show music playing personal favorites such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Simon and Garfunkel to the last exit into the virtual beyond. Yet, all of the spectacle is amazingly in balance and fitting for this exceptional artist. The enormo video screen backing the musicians and cascading onto the stage, crystalline in its definition and framed with carved mementos from John’s 50-year career, never distracts from the delight of making music. The band is superbly seasoned and precise, allowing the repertoire to feel as much created in the moment as executed. Clearly, these guys are enjoying themselves.

Enjoying it most of all is John. He pops up from the grand piano after every song, both acknowledging and urging the ovations, like a cheerleader for the state champs. If especially chuffed, he lifts and pounds down the lid of the piano, almost in disbelief at the fun he’s having. And there is a simple reason why it’s so much fun: the music.

With longtime compadres such as guitarist and musical director Davey Johnstone, drummer Nigel Olsson, and percussionist Ray Cooper along for the ride there is a palpable comradery and comfort. It’s also a ship-tight program, opening with “Bennie and the Jets,” and the downbeat hammered in sync as John’s beautifully fraying vocal immediately gets the sold-out Staples shaking loose together. The ensemble flexes when warranted; Johnstone adding bottleneck slide to “Tiny Dancer,” or donning a sequined Les Paul as he nods to The Beatles’ “Day Tripper” during the extended jam tucked into “Levon.”

They give John his solo showcases, as well, leaving him alone first for a heartfelt tribute to Aretha Franklin on “Border Song,” then on the elegiac “Candle in the Wind.” There’s also plenty of room for Reg to talk, telling revealing stories about his songwriting technique with lyricist BernieTaupin, expressing his disdain for hypocritical Christians (“I hate them.”), and offering his deep gratitude for the people that helped him when he needed it, and the fans that have given their love and support for five decades.

It’s a beast of a set, curated by John and peppered with the expected classics and the rarer entries, including “All the Girls Love Alice,” and “Indian Sunset.” The majority of the two-dozen songs come from the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album, whose title track serves as the concert’s finale, and why not as it’s John’s most expansive and iconic effort. But, the emotional souvenirs come from all points: the AIDS-inspired “Believe,” or “Crocodile Rock,” dedicated to the fans, “I’m Still Standing,” and its video montage dedicated to his career, or “The Bitch is Back,” dedicated to campy glam.

As Elton John, on a reversing hydraulic lift, disappeared, literally, into the video screen at the show’s end, he perhaps took with him the unforgettable sight of his accomplishments: thousands of people cheering this grinning English boy who, for yet another night, made good in America. He’s saying farewell just the way he wants. And just the way they want, too.