Published 9:57 AM EDT Sep 9, 2018
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 spend time 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 -- and so he's bidding touring farewell with a year-long world tour, which tentatively wraps in September 2019.
As well-deserved as his retirement may be, John's Allentown show was proof that rock 'n' roll is losing a masterful live performer, with the singer hitting nary a bad note in his almost three-straight hours of belting in his rich baritone. He assembled his backing band from a cast of rockers he's played with over his five decades in music, led by his longtime guitarist and the tour's musical director Davey Johnstone, resulting in a group as tight as John's beloved songbook deserves.
His expansive discography is well-represented in a setlist 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 the singer's performance, which won't be a surprise to anyone who's seen him live in the past, is his charming disregard for enunciation, treating the consonants in his lyrics as mere suggestions.
And while everyone on stage delivered an absolute 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. Short 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 (Expletive) 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 that included a knee-length sequined coat and a luxurious loungewear robe, all with oversized sunglasses to match.
The show's video accompaniments got more serious with a "Tiny Dancer" short film, a celebration of Los Angeles that became the song's official music video in a YouTube contest last year; and the clip for "Daniel," which echoed the song's original meaning as a memorial to a dead soldier, depicting the life and death of a young man shipped to Vietnam. At other points in the show, John paid tribute to Aretha Franklin with a track of his that she once sang, "Border Song," and reminisced to the crowd, "You can imagine how I felt when this incredible woman covered this song.”
He also remembered Mac Miller after the rapper's tragic death on Friday, dedicating "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" to him and telling the crowd, "It's inconceivable that someone so young, and with so much talent, could do that ... and Mac, wherever you are, I hope you're happy now."
More: Elton dedicates performance to Mac Miller
The show also nodded to John's humanitarian efforts through his Elton John AIDS Foundation with a montage during his performance of "Believe," a song he introduced by speaking about the turbulence he sees in the world today.
"If there's one thing I learned in my life, it's about the extraordinary healing power of love and compassion and giving, and love is truly what cures the ails of our sick world," he said. "We are living in uneasy times, not just here but everywhere I seem to go, and certainly in Britain and Europe. And I wanted to sing ("Believe") because it says everything I wanted to say about love."
That's a love the crowd reciprocated throughout John's set as he pumped his fists at the end of every song to cheers and teared up at multiple points during the night, with some attendees spotted crying in their seats at the end of the show. Saturday's performance was a particularly emotional triumph for the performers and fans alike, and while John isn't retiring from music entirely, just from touring, the show got funereal as a montage of John's performances plays during the closing song, "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," ending with the singer 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.
And while the thought of John joining the other rock legends who have passed away recently is almost too much to bear, his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour is exactly the kind of experience fans long for after their idols are gone, the career-spanning final tour that, because of illnesses and conflicts and deaths, 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.
1. "Benny and the Jets"
2. "All The Girls Love Alice"
3. "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues"
4. "Border Song"
5. "Tiny Dancer"
6. "Philadelphia Freedom"
7. "Indian Summer"
8. "Take Me to the Pilot"
9. "Someone Saved My Life Tonight"
11. "Candle In The Wind"
12. "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding"
13. "Burn Down the Mission"
16. "Sad Songs"
17. "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me"
18. "The (Expletive) Is Back"
19. "I'm Still Standing"
20. "Crocodile Rock"
21. "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting"
22. "Your Song"
23. "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"