SAN FRANCISCO — Near the end of Elton John‘s sold-out show at the Chase Center on Friday night, a figurative ton of confetti rained down on the crowd, which happens at concerts by a man who used to make Liberace seem boring.
And, caught on the video screen—for just a second—was John himself, first noticing the shiny paper floating down from the rafters, his face lighting up like a new Christmas tree. Just for a second.
Then it was back to work, finishing a raucous version of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” And the entire, two-and-a-half-hour show suddenly boiled down to one basic truth: If a 72-year-old man still looks like a 9-year-old on Fourth of July when confetti explodes over an audience, that is a life well-lived.
He doesn’t make great records, but he no longer needs to. If his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour is indeed his last time around the block, then he couldn’t be going out at a better time. He’s still on top of his game, his veteran band is still tight, he still has his voice (minus most of the old falsetto parts he now lets the crowd sing) and he still has his swagger. What he doesn’t have is anything to prove.
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This tour is the ultimate victory lap, and if you don’t believe it, you didn’t see him get off his piano bench and bow, ham it up, and soak up the fans’ love after nearly every song, which he did Friday. John still brings it like a pro, and it’s still pretty amazing to encounter the avalanche of great songs delivered with the effort they deserve over an entire evening.
Foregoing an opening act, John warmed up the crowd himself, methodically pacing through opener “Bennie and the Jets,” “All the Girls Love Alice” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues.” He wore a white glittery jacket with sparkling silver lapels with some sort of coiled reptile on the back, and bright green glasses. Things picked up for “Tiny Dancer,” which was the first big singalong of the evening. He and longtime percussionist Ray Cooper got their sweat on through deep cut “Indian Sunset,” on which John showed there’s still some real depth to his voice. He had some wind left for a beautiful version of “Rocket Man,” the first of many songs in the set list featuring an extending jam near the end. The Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer seemed determined to leave it all on the stage during what is likely his last weekend playing San Francisco. He later mentioned playing the Fillmore West with drummer Nigel Olsson in 1971.
Things got appropriately melancholy through “Sorry Seems To be the Hardest Word” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” which featured lively animation on the giant video screens of John’s Captain Fantastic character having an adventure with other characters from the sleeve of his 1975 album, “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.” Guitarist Davey Johnstone, who joined John’s band while a teen in 1971, broke out with some big lead work during another extended jam, during which he and John riffed back and forth at each other. With drummer Olsson and percussionists Cooper (also with John since 1971) and John Mahon, a mini-Santana show broke out, which seemed perfectly natural in San Francisco.
John is so good at taking the pace up and down when necessary, both within the dynamics of a song and the concert itself. After offering a pleasant breather during “Candle in the Wind,” John strode off-stage for an outfit change while a special effects storm brewed, morphing into the superb live crescendo “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.” It’s always a highlight of John’s set, but the veteran band built so much power by the end, the tempo may have actually sped up. The next block of songs—”Burn Down the Mission,” “Daniel,” “Believe,” “Sad Songs (Say So Much)”—seemed routine, before John reloaded for an epic “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” which he dedicated to Bay Area musical legend Eddie Money, who died earlier Friday.
“The Bitch is Back” was lively, with an over-the-top video of a woman (I think it was a woman) resembling Joan Collins, brawling with other apparent women in a “Dynasty”-like scene spilling into a pool. “I’m Still Standing” was livened up by a career video retrospective featuring John’s appearances with the Muppets, performing with Cher and Bette Midler, wearing an Afro wig on “Soul Train,” appearing animated on “The Simpsons” and “South Park,” and others.
After “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” (and a roadie taking a leaf blower to the confetti-covered stage), John came back out big for encores “Your Song,” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” Very few retirement tours look and sound so electric. This one worked almost as well as possible.
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