Elton John ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road’ Concert Review
The Rocket Man is blasting off one last time. Elton John, one of the most successful recording artists of all time, is bringing his live performing career to a close with his farewell tour, aptly named the ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road’ tour, a reference to his renowned 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
The reason John is calling it quits is that the priorities in his life have changed, especially in his own home. “After the tour finishes, I’m very much looking forward to closing off that chapter of my life by saying farewell to life on the road,” said John, a 71-year-old father of two via surrogate. “I need to dedicate more time to raising my children.”
Although the end of John’s touring career is approaching, he won’t be going out with a whimper. The ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road’ tour is set to feature more than 300 shows between 2018 and 2021, spanning five of the world’s continents. Suffice it to say, John’s performing sendoff is no small ordeal.
One of the cities lucky enough to witness one of John’s first shows in his farewell tour is none other than State College. Just eight days after the tour began in Allentown, Pennsylvania, John dropped by the Bryce Jordan Center on Sunday, Sept. 16, to put on one final spectacle for State College residents.
The concert began at just after 8 p.m., and it started with a bang. With elaborate lights, a massive video board and a shimmering black piano all on display, the Elton John Band, featuring original members like percussionist Ray Cooper, drummer Nigel Olsson and guitarist Davey Johnstone, as well as a few other faces, took the stage as an intro tape of “Pinball Wizard” exploded through the arena speakers. Immediately, the crowd began to roar while the band settled into place.
The performance began with “Bennie and the Jets,” a fitting opener given the “solid walls of sound” mentioned in the song’s lyrics. Right from the get-go, the Bryce Jordan Center was inundated with the noise of the band. Admittedly, this rendition of “Bennie and the Jets” was a bit underwhelming as it dragged along at a slower tempo than its stomping studio counterpart, but the first set still featured plenty of highlights. Such standout tracks included “All the Girls Love Alice,” a shocking, rocking tale of a dead 16-year-old lesbian performed with power and swagger, “I Guess That’s Why They Called It the Blues,” a personal favorite of John that swept along with its bluesy piano and harmonica break, and “Tiny Dancer,” a long-beloved tune that got the entire Bryce Jordan Center to erupt in cheer as soon as the opening piano melody became recognizable.
Twice in the first set, the backing band took five, leaving John by his lonesome to perform. One instance featured a soulful rendition of “Border Song,” the first single release by John to see chart success in the United States. John dedicated the tune to the late Aretha Franklin, who recorded her own version of the song shortly after it was written. The other instance belonged to “Candle in the Wind,” which means it was, unfortunately, missing its signature guitar riff, but John’s artistry at the piano made it all worthwhile.
One of the highlights of the night was the performance of “Indian Sunset,” a lyrical powerhouse describing a Native American soldier’s fight with the white man’s conquest of his home. “Bernie [Taupin] would write the lyrics in one room and I’d write the music in another. Perhaps that’s why we were able to work together for 50 years,” John joked before he played the song. But he then went on to explain that he would envision Taupin’s lyrics as a story to a short film for which John himself would write the soundtrack. John described “Indian Sunset” as a story that required a “two-and-half-hour film.” As such, John wrote the song with intense drama in both his voice and piano playing, and these facets shined brilliantly on Sunday night. With nothing but John at the piano and Cooper playing a variety of percussive instruments in the background, “Indian Sunset” made for one of the most unforgettable moments of the show.
Appearances from other greats like “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” “Take Me to the Pilot” and the timeless “Rocket Man” helped make for a killer first set, but it was the penultimate tune of the set that stole the show. It was “Levon,” a longtime favorite of both fans and John himself from 1971’s Madman Across the Water album. Not only does John play the original version to near perfection, but he extends the finale of the song into a wild jam session in which John shows off the best of piano-playing chops, while Johnstone gets plenty of moments to shine on guitar. Both John and Johnstone mimic the riff from the Beatles’ “Day Tripper” for good measure too before returning to the song’s chorus for a dynamic conclusion. If there’s one song to see, it’s “Levon.”
John didn’t take his foot off the gas halfway through, as the second set featured as much excitement as the first. Starting with the 11-minute epic “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” John gave one of his strongest performances of the night for one of his all-time strongest tunes. Just as enjoyable was the next track, “Burn Down the Mission,” another excellent portrayal of John’s piano mastery. The video board provided an extra touch of flair as John’s piano burst into flames on screen.
Before performing an excellent rendition of 1995’s “Believe,” a version that evoked much more power than the original studio adaptation, John explained that an inspiration for the song was his establishment of the Elton John Aids Foundation, a program that has raised over $200 million in its 26 years of existence. John declared that we could all make the world a better place with a little compassion and kindness before going into “Believe.”
After delivering a tearful performance of “Daniel” and an absolutely danceable performance of “Sad Songs (Say So Much),” John explained his reason for saying farewell to touring to the audience but also thanked the fans for their support through buying his music and especially for attending his concerts. “As much as I love making records,” said John, “nothing beats playing for another human being and getting a reaction.” After a lengthy round of applause, John went into “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” another one of his finest works, and Sunday’s live performance did the tune justice.
Here, the fun finale began as John belted out rocker after rocker, including a solid performance of “The Bitch Is Back,” an excellent performance of “I’m Still Standing” assisted greatly by the video board displaying references to John in television and pop culture, and an engaging performance of “Crocodile Rock,” in which John reserved the post-chorus “la, la, la’s” for the audience. It was certainly the most charming part of the concert.
John closed the second set with another stone-cold classic, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” though Sunday’s live version didn’t pack as much punch as the hard-rocking studio recording, which is perhaps expected for a 71-year-old musician. Still, it ended the main concert in classic Elton John fashion as yellow confetti rained down from the sky, leaving the audience screaming for more.
Of course, John couldn’t abandon two of his most well-known tunes and performed both “Your Song” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” in a pink robe during the encore before finally ending the concert for good.
Overall, the ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road’ concert was an absolute spectacle. Although John has lost a bit of an edge in his vocals, as he sometimes slurred his words and couldn’t quite hit the high notes he once could, he still delivered a fabulous performance at 71 years old. His ability to play the piano is as strong as ever, and the assistance of an incredible backing band and fantastic visual effects throughout the concert were sure to leave a lasting impact on those in attendance. It’s no wonder that tickets sold out within a day. Surely, fans of the Rocket Man will be sad to see him go, but those who saw him perform live one last time will never forget the experience.
DJ Bauer is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.