For many, Sir Elton John is such a familiar figure and voice that he feels ingrained into their lives. That definitely felt like the case on Saturday evening when the icon and Rocket Man himself kicked off the first of three shows at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena. When he appeared onstage poised at the piano, it felt almost like you knew him personally.
John, 72, is now a year into his massive 300-date Farwell Yellow Brick Road Tour, and it’s possible that this is truly goodbye. The set began with the ultra-familiar opening piano notes of “Bennie and the Jets” on repeat – not that the audience needed buildup to get them pumped. But it had the desired effect and concertgoers were in a frenzy.
The setlist was expansive and definitely what the fans came for, from “Tiny Dancer,” “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Rocket Man” early in the game … to “Still Standing,” “Crocodile Rock” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” as the evening crept slowly to a close.
John was an especially gracious host, standing, bowing and thanking the crowd after nearly every track. And while his voice was on at all times, it was spectacular to see up close just how astounding of a pianist he is. It seems like something people could forget when faced with John’s legendary showmanship, flashy rhinestone-speckled costumes and iconic songs. But he really is killer and effortless on the piano, which floated around the stage on its own.
Meanwhile, John’s band was exceptionally tight. As they should be. Most of them have been with him for decades. Percussionist Ray Cooper, arguably the most rambunctious and outgoing of the crew (he had a very Mick Fleetwood thing going on with his facial expressions and energy, especially if you compare his performance to Fleetwood’s performance with Fleetwood Mac at Rogers last November), has been with John since the 70s. Cooper is a legend in his own right, having played with George Harrison, The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, to name a few.
While the music, the man and the band were more than enough to satisfy the packed stadium, John’s accompanying videos were really lovely. They showed snippets of his greatest moments – like being knighted by Queen Elizabeth – some of his most famous performances, his guest appearances on various television shows, family life and old photos. It’s impossible to sum up Elton John’s career in a single concert, but he certainly tried. No achievement is greater than that of his AIDS foundation – the organization has raised nearly half a billion dollars towards research, education programs and support services for those living with HIV. John showed snippets of his charity work in a video montage accompanying the song “Believe,” and of course, it was a tear-jerker.
You cannot talk about John’s success and not mention his writing partner of more than 50 years, Bernie Taupin. John explained the autobiographical aspects behind the songs they wrote together. One can only wish Taupin appeared onstage as well. But John did have guests. After he explained he was retiring from touring to spend more time with his family, he brought his sons Zachary and Elijah out to really drive the reason home.
In the end, John encored with “Your Song” and, of course, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” While this is ‘the end’ of touring, according to John, it’s doubtful that we won’t see more from him when it comes to Broadway productions or composing. Someone as ingrained into popular music culture as Reginald Kenneth Dwight doesn’t just stop creating.