If Elton John is truly going to retire at the end of his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road: The Final Tour,” he comes out with a major league shot, not a half-hearted bunt.
He proved it resoundingly with his triumphant Wednesday night concert at San Diego’s Petco Park, where the generation-spanning superstar and his band of six aces performed in front of a sold-out audience of 40,000. very enthusiastic fans.
“Tonight we’ll have the best time possible,” he promised after finishing “Philadelphia Freedom,” his second selection of the night. Fortunately, it wasn’t an empty promise.
At 75, it would have been easy for John to just hit the clock and do short, superficial versions of his greatest hits before grabbing the cash and running. His farewell tour — which kicked off in 2018 and included a memorable 2019 show at San Diego’s Pechanga Arena — already grossed $661 million last month, according to music industry magazine Billboard.
But John doesn’t seem in a hurry. And, to its credit, it clearly doesn’t miss its audience.
His concert at Petco Park included 23 songs which together ran for two hours and 23 minutes. It opened with ‘Bennie and the Jets’ and ended with the title track from John’s 1973 double album, ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’, which inspired the name of what is billed as the last concert tour. from his 53 year old album. solo career.
In between are a slew of golden classics, including “Tiny Dancer”, “Rocket Man”, “Levon” and “Your Song”. John’s scorching version of “Burn Down the Mission” was performed with so much fire that the fake flames – which briefly appeared on the stage‘s giant video screens – seem silly and redundant. (The full list of sets appears at the end of this review.)
Equally powerful were his back-to-back versions of “The Bitch is Back”, “I’m Still Standing”, “Crocodile Rock” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, which brought John’s 19-song main set to a beat. leading. close before its three callback selections.
It’s possible, of course, that he had a good incentive to switch with more vigor than usual on Wednesday. The temperature was 56 degrees when John took the stage at 8:09 p.m. under a nearly full moon. It was down to 51 by the time the show ended at 10:32 p.m.
But John didn’t even mention the cold night (by San Diego standards). Instead, he played with palpable conviction on all but one of his nearly two dozen caps.
That single dud came with its first encore, “Cold Heart,” which found John sitting in front of his Yamaha grand piano – but not playing it – and only singing intermittently while a virtual Dua Lipa mimicked her vocals, on a pre-recorded, EDM-lightened backing track, on video screens. John suddenly looked like a spectator of his own show.
Fortunately, the rest of his set was on target. It included two songs he didn’t perform at his 2019 Pechanga Arena show – the bluesy 1973 album “Have Mercy on the Criminal” and 2002’s “Sorry Seems to be the Saddest Word.”
John’s marathon gig was well-paced and delivered with the polish and precision you’d expect from such a veteran performer and his top-notch band. Fortunately, he breathed new vigor and freshness into even his best-known songs by modifying or lengthening the arrangements.
Of course, no one will ever confuse John and his band with Phish or the latest iteration of the Grateful Dead. But the extended instrumental excursions on the spatially-enough “Rocket Man” and a boosted “Take Me to the Pilot” were a treat, with John and guitarist Davey Johnstone swapping lines and occasionally soloing in unison.
When John burst into a sparkling double-beat piano break in “Levon,” his ear-to-ear beam sounded like he was having the best time of his life. He injected punchy piano strokes one moment and delicate watermarks the next, all in service to the song at hand.
Towards the end of his concert at Petco Park, John warmly thanked the audience for their decades of support and noted that Wednesday marked the 266th concert of his farewell tour. His first show here, he recalls, was in September 1971 at the nearby Community Concourse.
“I’ve had an amazing career.” he said. “Next year I will be 76 and I want to spend the rest of the time with my (two) sons and David (Furnish, her husband).”
Fair enough. But the joy that John exuded here on stage, like the exultation that he inspired in his listeners, raises a question.
After a long time, could Elton John ever want to make music again, live and in real time, and hear the roar of the crowd again? Maybe not on a world tour, but at periodic concerts?
Here is the hope.
Elton John, Petco Park Set List
1. “Bennie and the Jets”
2. “Philadelphia Freedom”
3. “Guess that’s why they call it the blues”
4. “Border Song”
5. “Little Dancer”
6. “Have mercy on the criminal”
7. “Rocket Man (I think it’s going to be very long)”
8. “Take Me to the Pilot”
9. “Someone saved my life tonight”
11. “Candle in the Wind”
12. “Friend’s Funeral/Love Bleeds”
13. “Burning the Mission”
14. “Sad Songs (Say So Much)”
15. “Sorry seems to be the hardest word”
16. “Don’t let the sun go down on me”
17. “The female dog is back”
18. “I’m still standing”
19. “The Crocodile Rock”
20. “Saturday night is going to fight”
1. “Cold Heart”
2. “Your Song”
3. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”