Philadelphians had their third and final chance to say goodbye to Elton John at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night as the legendary showman opened the final North American leg of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road farewell tour.
Rock and roll retirements are a notoriously retractable prospect, although Sir Elton sounded sincere as he thanked the stadium full of fans for their “loyalty, love and kindness” towards the end of his 2.5-hour performance.
“America made me famous,” he continued. “How could I ever forget you?”
The weariness in John’s voice was equally genuine as he noted that there were over 100 dates left on the tour, which kicked off in September 2018. The tour was extended to nearly five by pandemic postponements, delaying the day when he can stop to spend more time with his children and husband, as he explained his plans.
Noting that it was his “52nd and last concert in Philadelphia”, he recalled his first, in September 1970 at the Electric Factory. Given that history, the 1975 hit “Philadelphia Freedom” arrived with remarkably little fanfare as the second song in Friday’s set. A much larger response greeted John’s first encore song, “Cold Heart (Pnau Remix)”, which he sang alone over a backing track that included Dua Lipa’s vocals quoting “Rocket Man”. The song was a No.1 hit for John last year in the UK, something the 75-year-old marveled he had achieved at his age.
Those accumulated years failed to dampen John’s exuberant spirit throughout the evening, though it did have an impact on his vocal range. It no longer attempts the high notes that were once routine, robbing songs like “Tiny Dancer” and “Rocket Man” of some of their drama. Still, he sounded strong within the confines of his current lineup and invoked powerful emotion through classics like “Levon” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.”
The concert began with a laid back “Bennie and the Jets”, Elton dressed in a rhinestone-embellished white jacket with tails. His talented six-piece band included several veteran collaborators, including drummer Nigel Olsson, lively percussionist Ray Cooper and guitarist Davey Johnstone, who was too often buried in the heavy bass mix but unleashed jaw-dropping solos on “Levon” and a extended jam added. to “Rocket Man”.
The scene was surrounded by a gold frame adorned with roses, evoking a more glamorous variation on the brick and plaster border of the goodbye yellow brick road album cover. A plexiglass canopy stretched above them between huge video screens that occasionally revisited key moments in John’s story, but too often played Gap-ad style montages that proved more distracting than companions.
One of the most egregious featured a series of models wearing t-shirts with rock and/or civil rights icons as the band performed a passionate rendition of the eponymous 1970s “Border Song.” Elton John album. Previously, the singer took the opportunity to sing the praises of Aretha Franklin, who covered the song later that year, dedicating the song to the queen of soul.
While the majority of the set was, unsurprisingly, a parade of hits (and there’s a lot to choose from in John’s story), he did dig a little deeper into the catalog for a few surprises that turned out to be moments strong, in part because they haven’t become so routine over the decades. “Have Mercy on the Criminal”, from 1973 Don’t shoot me, I’m just the pianistwas particularly moving, while “All the Girls Love Alice” and “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” were new additions to the setlist.
The piano slid across the stage as John sang his Marilyn Monroe tribute “Candle in the Wind,” signaling a brief intermission as storm clouds played across the screens, heralding the cinematic opening of ” Funeral for a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)” – and a costume change, with John reappearing in a powder blue jacket featuring the silhouette of a diamond-studded kitten on the back.
The second half came to a conclusion with “The Bitch Is Back”, “I’m Still Standing”, “Crocodile Rock” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, the latter still as sharp as ever. After “Cold Heart”, John went from his last hit to his first for a tender “Your Song” before bidding farewell to Philly with a final “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”.
Shedding the sequined pink bathrobe he had donned for the encore in favor of a personalized tracksuit, Sir Elton rode a hydraulic lift out of a door at the top of the stage and into an Oz video screen. It felt like a fitting over-the-top outing for one of rock’s most flamboyant figures.