Where do we begin to talk about the legend that is Sir Elton John? In his 50-year career he’s racked up a total of 31 albums, sold over 300 million records around the world, and had more than fifty UK top 40 singles – including nine number ones. That’s as well as releasing an autobiography, writing music for stage and screen, raising money to fight HIV/AIDS and having his life and career dramatised in 2019 film ‘Rocketman’. Now he’s out on his final tour, ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road’, which began in 2018 and is finally hitting the UK this week, including a stop off last night at BST Hyde Park in London.
John arrived on stage just before 8pm to the strains of ‘Pinball Wizard’, dressed in a white tail coat with flower embroidery and black and rhinestone trim, along with black trousers, shiny silver trainers and a sparkly green pair of his trademark glasses. He opened his two-and-a-half-hour set with Bennie And The Jets, highlighting the honky-tonk-style piano as well as the depth and richness of his voice (along with the song’s trademark hisses and vocal riffs). The crowd burst into thunderous applause as he finished and he saluted them from his piano stool in a gesture of thanks.
What followed was a whistle-stop tour through half a century of hits. With the background video screens featuring clips from across John’s career, along with some of his music videos and shots of Taron Egerton (who portrayed him in ‘Rocketman’), he took the crowd on a fantastic journey both musically and visually. Throughout the show John could frequently be seen standing up from his piano stool, raising his hands to encourage the crowd to cheer even louder and bowing down to them in adoration. It’s clear he loves his fans and based on the number of T-shirts and the range of classic Elton costumes in the audience – which John singled out in his thank you speech – the feeling was very much mutual.
Early highlights included the soaring ‘Philadelphia Freedom’, as well as the first singalongs of the night on ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’, ‘Tiny Dancer’ and ‘Rocket Man’, which saw the crowd chanting John’s name at the end of the song. Meanwhile, ‘Take Me To The Pilot’ had plenty of punchy swagger, and there were also slower, moving moments in the section with ‘Candle In The Wind’ and ‘Levon’, showing John’s musical diversity.
That said, there were still a couple of surprises thrown in there too. ‘Border Song’, which John introduced by telling the story of how the song was originally recorded by Aretha Franklin before dedicating it to her, was full of soul and accompanied by a powerful video on racial equality and unity. Elsewhere, ‘Have Mercy On The Criminal’ provided an atmospheric moment early on, whilst the dramatic ‘Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding’ and ‘Burn Down The Mission’ gave John the chance to show off his piano-playing skills as well as the musicianship of his incredibly talented bandmates.
One thing that particularly struck me during the set was how easily John can switch between his more uptempo numbers and his ballads. The second half of the show in particular (which saw his piano moving across the stage and a costume change into a sparkly harlequin jacket and pink shades) was a great example of this. He easily transitioned from the likes of ‘Sad Songs (Say So Much)’ – complete with crowd clapalong – to the emotional ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’ and ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’, which he dedicated to George Michael and performed in a raw, emotional fashion that almost had me believing George might emerge from the wings. Then it was back into a raucous runthrough of upbeat tracks including ‘The Bitch Is Back’, ‘I’m Still Standing’ – including a huge crowd singalong on the chorus – and ‘Crocodile Rock’, which he dedicated to the fans, before closing with ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’. It’s a huge challenge to condense such an extensive back catalogue down in a way that covers all bases, and he pulled it off with aplomb.
For his encore, John reappeared alone on stage dressed in a black and pink robe and a heart-shaped pair of glasses, and performed ‘Cold Heart’, his recent number one collaboration with Dua Lipa (who appeared via video screen to perform her part of the song) He then took us back to the beginning – from his most recent hit to his first – with a touching rendition of ‘Your Song’ before closing with ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’. As he thanked the crowd at the end of the song, telling them ‘I will take you with me in my heart and soul [and] you’ll be part of so many beautiful memories’, he removed the robe to reveal an Elton John tracksuit before disappearing up the stairs at the back of the stage, whilst a projection showed him walking away into the distance. The audience were sent on their way to the strains of ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’, and from the chatter in the crowd everyone was absolutely buzzing.
Overall there was a wonderful, celebratory feel to ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road’ that highlighted just what an amazing talent Elton John is, not only as a singer but also as a songwriter and musician. At the start of the show, John promised to ‘play some lovely songs for you and hopefully you’ll like them’ – and that’s exactly what we got. This may be his farewell tour, but he’s still at the top of his game in terms of showmanship, vocals and sheer musical talent. It made for an absolutely incredible evening and a real privilege to see such an icon and the huge legacy he’s given to popular music. He’ll be back in the UK next spring and whatever you have to do to get a ticket, it is absolutely worth it for a fantastic night of music.
Set list: 1. Bennie And The Jets 2. Philadelphia Freedom 3. I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues 4. Border Song 5. Tiny Dancer 6. Have Mercy On The Criminal 7. Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time) 8. Take Me To The Pilot 9. Someone Saved My Life Tonight 10. Levon 11. Candle In The Wind 12. Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding 13. Burn Down 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 Bitch Is Back 18. I’m Still Standing 19. Crocodile Rock 20. Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting Encore: 21. Cold Heart 22. Your Song 23. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Performance date: 24th June 2022
See Elton John on the Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour in the UK:
Sunday 26 June 2022 – Bristol, Ashton Gate Stadium
Wednesday 29 June 2022 – Swansea, Swansea.com Stadium
Sunday 3 July 2022 – Watford, Vicarage Road Stadium
Monday 4 July 2022 – Watford, Vicarage Road Stadium
Friday 31 March 2023 – Belfast, SSE Arena
Sunday 2 April 2023 – London, O2 Arena
Tuesday 4 April 2023 – London, O2 Arena
Wednesday 5 April 2023 – London, O2 Arena
Saturday 8 April 2023 – London, O2 Arena
Sunday 9 April 2023 – London, O2 Arena
Wednesday 12 April 2023 – London, O2 Arena
Thursday 13 April 2023 – London, O2 Arena
Sunday 16 April 2023 – London, O2 Arena
Monday 17 April 2023 – London, O2 Arena
Wednesday 19 April 2023 – Birmingham, Resorts World Arena
Saturday 22 April 2023 – Liverpool, M&S Bank Arena
Sunday 23 April 2023 – Liverpool, M&S Bank Arena
Wednesday 31 May 2023 – Manchester, AO Arena
Friday 2 June 2023 – Manchester, AO Arena
Saturday 3 June 2023 – Manchester, AO Arena
Tuesday 6 June 2023 – Leeds, First Direct Arena
Saturday 10 June 2023 – Birmingham, Utilita Arena
Sunday 11 June 2023 – Birmingham, Utilita Arena
Tuesday 13 June 2023 – Aberdeen, P&J Live
Thursday 15 June 2023 – Aberdeen, P&J Live
Saturday 17 June 2023 – Glasgow, OVO Hydro
Sunday 18 June 2023 – Glasgow, OVO Hydro