See Elton John if you can
Rocker’s farewell to Chicago simply fantastic
By Steve Metsch
It’s been two weeks since I saw Elton John’s concert on an incredibly steamy night at Soldier Field.
And I’m still thinking about it.
Yes, that’s how good he and his band were.
Shortly after the show on Aug. 5, catching up with my son and his friends outside the football stadium – we sat in different sections – I said, “I’m trying real hard to find something negative.”
Other than “Honky Cat” and “All the Girls Love Alice” and his cover of The Beatles’ “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” not being in the set list, I’m drawing blanks.
What makes Elton John so good in concert? Simple. Nearly 52 years after his first show in Chicago, at the Auditorium Theatre, he still has it.
It, of course being the ability to deliver the goods, to not disappoint, to fully entertain, to engage with the fans and – perhaps most importantly – to know his limitations.
John, 75, is not like many of his peers who insist upon trying to hit the higher notes of youth.
Let’s face it, as singers age, their voices tend to deepen.
It’s a struggle, a challenge to hit high notes easily reached 30, 40, 50 years ago. Few can do it.
So, rather than struggle to hit the high notes, John simply sings at a lower register, tweaks the songs a bit to reflect that and the songs sound as great as ever.
It worked. So did changing up his set list.
Rather than open with the mighty one-two punch of “Funeral for a Friend/Loves Lies Bleeding,” as he has for eons – he played those mid-show – he opened with “Bennie and the Jets.”
It was just him sitting at the piano, banging out those distinctive notes. Then the band soon joined in and it was a great start to a fantastic 2 hours and 20 minutes of music.
Billing this as his last concert ever in Chicago – it’s part of his lengthy “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour – John gave fans a musical tour.
“I’ve always wanted to play Soldier Field,” he said after “Philadelphia Freedom,” a 1975 song written for Billy Jean King’s pro tennis team and went on to top the Billboard charts.
That’s how hot John and his songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, were back in the day. A song written for a tennis team was a huge hit.
John scattered stories throughout the concert, sharing with us how Aretha Franklin had a hit with his “Border Song.” It was heartwarming to hear his thoughts about the late Queen of Soul.
He and the band which, after decades together, is incredibly tight, cranked out many of the expected hits. But it never felt like an “oldies show.” The songs sounded fresh.
According to his website, he and his band has played more than 3,800 concerts together. Think about that. Wow.
“Tiny Dancer,” made more famous by the movie “Almost Famous,” soared to new heights.
“Levon” was simply fantastic.
“Candle in the Wind,” his touching tribute to Marilyn Monroe, was one of the night’s top moments, and there were many of those.
The concert made great use of the video screens, often zeroing in on the keyboard. And the light show was stunning. The sound was perfect.
It was a nice surprise when he dusted off “Have Mercy on the Criminal,” “Burn Down the Mission” – complete with red lights and flames – and the haunting “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” off his under-rated “Blue Moves” album released in 1976
Yes, most of the songs were hits long ago. But that mattered little to the packed house that greeted each with a roar.
I really enjoyed how the band kicked into high gear for the four songs that closed his set: “The Bitch is Back,” “I’m Still Standing,” “Crocodile Rock” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.”
It’s hard to top those four played in rapid fire fashion. The crowd was in a frenzy.
Talk about a rockin’ finish. The band was at the top of its game, led by loyal guitarist Davey Johnstone, who had scorching solos all night long.
Longtime drummer Nigel Olsson was in fine form all night, too.
So was percussionist Ray Cooper, whom I saw with John – yes, just the two of them – at the Auditorium Theatre in October 1979 in a show I’ll never forget.
John noted that this was the 246th show on his farewell tour, the 67th show he’s played in Illinois and the 51st time he’s performed in Chicago.
The encore started with “Cold Heart” his remix, produced by the Australian trio Pnau, that has him singing with Dua Lipa, Her pre-recorded parts were on video screens as he sang on stage.
He noted how thrilling it is to be 75 years old and have a No 1 song around the world.
A touching take on “Your Song,” his first hit in 1970, followed. John ended the show, of course, with “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” It was a fitting finish.
John told us he is retiring from touring in order to spend more time with his husband and their two sons whom, he said, attended the concert.
Will that be the case?
One member in our party speculatede that Elton John will be back in Chicago someday, saying that all rockers find the lure of performing too strong to resist.
That could be. If he does return, be sure to get a ticket. Or, if you’d rather take a road trip, his farewell tour resumes Sept. 7 in Toronto. There are 25 concerts left, including some in driving distance.
The tour concludes with concerts on Nov. 17, 19 and 20 in Dodger Stadium.
No word of whether he’ll show up in that dazzling sequin-covered Dodger uniform he wore long ago. But I think it is a safe bet he will, given his penchant for giving the fans what they want.
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