Guest contributor Michael Noble returns with a review of rock legend Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour’s stop in Sacramento, CA.
I’m a veteran of more than a few hundred rock concerts over the years.
BTO, The Police, Bruce Springsteen, U2, David Bowie, The Clash, Peter Gabriel, Queen, Devo, AC/DC, Depeche Mode are a handful of the big boys who come to mind immediately; The Cure, Crowded House, The Cramps, Tears For Fears, The Pretenders, Thompson Twins, Grizzly Bear, The Pixies, Love And Rockets, The The, and Adam And The Ants are a few others who made lasting impressions.
Some of the more adventurous outings featured Flock Of Seagulls, Tones On Tail, Polysics, Wall Of Voodoo, Dread Zeppelin, Haunted Garage, The Tubes and, most recently, Psychostick. Woven within them all, are hundreds more individuals and bands and shows and benefits of mind-boggling number, a couple of which I’m certain I’ve forgotten. I’m sure I’ve witnessed close to 500 events in person. And let me tell you: There were days I woke up ridden hard and put up wet after a show. (Indiana Jones said it best: “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”)
But of all those adventures I’d never before seen Elton John.
That changed last night.
His “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour was in town (the “town” being Sacramento), the tickets for the event had been purchased back in 2017. The showcase venue was the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento, the relatively recently opened arena (2016) housing the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. With a seating capacity well over 16,000 seats for concerts, the Center did a nice little job of filling up for the night – not quite to capacity but damned close.
Going into the show, I fully predicted a retrospective sampling of John’s storied songwriting history. (And he did not disappoint.) But I was expecting more from the man and the band, regardless of the fact the dude has hit his 70 year mark. (More than a few of his band members, too, are a bit long in the tooth, some having played with him since the 1970s.) Did he still have the chops? How long would the show last? And could his voice hold out for however long the show commenced?
John set the tone for the evening by launching into the familiar strains of “Bennie And The Jets” which, of course, got the crowd clapping in unison. After that rousing beginning, however, things went downhill quickly with “All The Girls Love Alice” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.” Let me explain:
It wasn’t the song selection by any means. It was the unfamiliar, goofy arrangements he decided to use. His odd rendition of “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues” actually had me cocking my head dog-like with its funky queerness; John’s almost off key singing didn’t help matters. And this is something that would continue throughout the evening, I was to discover. Several more tunes (“Rocket Man,” “Crocodile Rock” and especially “Sad Songs” and “The Bitch Is Back”) unapologetically tested the audience’s listening range. But isn’t that part of the concert going experience? You never know what you’re going to get, right? And, after all, they can’t all be gems.
But with the evening’s fourth song came the highlight of the show: “Border Song.” Not only did he execute it brilliantly, he offered a tale about its infancy back in 1970 when it was originally released and how, as a young man with a young band, he discovered the song covered unexpectedly by none other than The Queen Of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who did very well with her version. (Side Note: John shares a birthday with Franklin, a nice little piece of trivia there.) The song has always been a favorite of mine in my history of Elton John Marching And Chowder Society appreciation. It was a pleasant surprise to hear it. Early in the show John formally apologized to the audience in the event he didn’t get to some folks’ preferences given the abundance of tunes in his song repository.
Now, while there was often song quirkiness to break up the evening, some of the more pleasant aspects of the night hovered around the extended piano riffs and copious band pronouncements during several songs. The crowd was treated to “extended versions” of tunes courtesy of “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” and “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” the latter already clocking in as a long composition in its original form. There were a couple more examples, but these two in particular were unexpected highlights.
And, yes … there was of course the cheesiness of “Philadelphia Freedom,” “I’m Still Standing” and “Crocodile Rock” – all with ditzy arrangements – to round out the mix and get the crowd jauntily clapping in rhythm. (I’ve never been on board with those particular fluffy songs. It’s a personal thing.)
But, when all was said and done, Elton John turned in an overall worthy two and a half hour concert for the 15,000 or so in attendance. Not bad for someone turning the page on 71 years in a couple months. And while his voice didn’t hit the highs and lows of younger days, he more than made up for it with his enthusiasm and appreciation at being the center of attention. There seemed to be a palpable genuineness to the man whenever he stood and took in the applause of the crowd.
Was I happy to have finally seen him? Yes, regardless of the sometimes weird warbles with which he constructed some songs. (I even plunked down $75.00 for a poster and tour program, well worth it to this concert-attending yahoo.) I mean, come on: The dude’s an icon. He’s a legend. He’s been appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. For his charitable work, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. And, most of all, he’s a major player in music, making up a big part of the fabric of rock and roll history.
See him if you can. His Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour is worth the effort.
The Evening’s Set List
Bennie And The Jets
All The Girls Love Alice
I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues
Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be A Long, Long Time)
Take Me To The Pilot
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
Candle In The Wind
Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Burn Down The Mission
Sad Songs (Say So Much)
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
The Bitch Is Back
I’m Still Standing
Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Thanks, Michael! You can read more by Michael Noble at Hotchka.com.
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