Even by pop standards, Elton John's epic three-year farewell tour is an especially long and extravagant goodbye. But “extravagance” might as well be John’s middle name.
After decades of globetrotting, the now 71-year-old superstar has decided to wind down his traveling life and spend more time with his family. That family includes husband David Furnish and sons Zachary, 7, and Elijah, 5, born via surrogacy. The tour is dubbed, appropriately, "Farewell Yellow Brick Road," after one of the best-known lyrics by John’s songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin.
The international tour, produced by AEG Live, kicked off in September and will encompass 300 performances across five continents before it winds down in 2021. Gucci designed John's glittering tour wardrobe.
Fans are paying dearly for the privilege of seeing it. Tickets for the tour’s Thursday stop at the Smoothie King Center sold out quickly, even with some floor seats priced in the $500 range. Days before the show, even upper-level seats were going for more than $200 on the secondary market.
But as anyone who braved the enormous crowd for John’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival debut in 2015 can attest, he’s not going gently into that good night.
On that hot afternoon at the Fair Grounds, John turned up in an eye-popping, knee-length blue coat festooned with a cascade of crystals and emblazoned with “Captain Fantastic” in red across the back. Despite the heat, he was energized, animated and engaged, clearly having fun.
Never shy nor reticent, he hammed it up, mugging for the crowd and popping up from his piano bench after every song to milk applause, clearly his own biggest fan.
During the course of that Jazz Fest show, he reeled off 21 songs, nearly all of which were instantly recognizable and much-loved staples of rock radio for decades.
He opened with the instrumental "Funeral for a Friend" and "Love Lies Bleeding," the pairing that ushered in his landmark "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" album. He dispensed with "Candle in the Wind," his Marilyn Monroe/Princess Diana eulogy, early as the third song in the set.
He was not content to simply rattle off radio-length readings of his hits. Instead, he goosed many with extended piano flourishes and saloon-style solos. After a manic freakout at the end of "All the Girls Love Alice," he stood up and slapped his grand piano. In "Levon," he hammered away at the high end, playing fast and hard, madman-style. A long solo excursion prefaced "Rocket Man"; another extra run concluded it.
"Your Song," he left alone, to be enjoyed as another communal moment — or, for many couples in the crowd, a private one. In this hits-heavy set, "Hey Ahab," from his 2010 Leon Russell collaboration "The Union," and "Burn Down the Mission," the final track on 1970's "Tumbleweed Connection," qualified as obscurities.
The members of his practiced and polished band — drummer Nigel Olsson is an original member of the Elton John Band, dating to 1969 — also got in on the fun. Guitarist Davey Johnstone — who, at that point, had stood alongside John for only 42 years — dirtied up the opening of "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," then ambled over to lean against the boss' back.
John bore down hard during an aggressive "The Bitch Is Back," jumping up multiple times to lead the clap-along himself. For the encore, he blew kisses ahead of the loopy "Crocodile Rock." A longtime fan of New Orleans piano players, he saluted the late local legend Allen Toussaint and dedicated "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" to the recently departed Percy Sledge and Ben E. King. It was, all in all, a tremendous show.
When he announced his farewell tour during a January news conference in New York, he made clear that he would continue to write and record music even after the tour. He also suggested he might continue his occasional residency in Las Vegas.
In short, he’s not bidding farewell to performing. Only to performing on the (yellow brick) road.
Note: There is no opening act for the Elton John concert at the Smoothie King Center.
The adjacent Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be hosting high school football playoff games.
For those attending the Elton John show, parking in Garages 2, 5 and Champions Garage is recommended. Payment is $20, cash only.