Elton John finally made it to North Little Rock on Saturday, performing to an adoring crowd of 15,482 at Simmons Bank Arena.
The rocker’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour was originally scheduled to stop here on July 3, 2020, but the first wave of the pandemic shattered those plans.
And things weren’t looking too good last week, when the 74-year-old rocker, who was fully vaccinated and boosted, tested positive for covid-19 and postponed a pair of shows in Dallas. Reports said Sir Elton’s symptoms were mild, and although he sounded a bit frail the few times he moved around the stage on Saturday night, his voice was in great shape.
Beginning with those stuttering opening notes of “Bennie and the Jets”, John, along with his six-piece band, went through his vast catalog of hits and some surprises during the 22-song set, which lasted just under 2 1/2 hours.
“Philadelphia Freedom” followed, as the singer, dressed in his signature sunglasses and decked out in a dazzling coat with tails, gave a nod to song inspiration Billie Jean King.
For “Border Song”, a track from his self-titled 1970 album, there was only John and his piano as images of heroes like Muhammad Ali, Aretha Franklin (who covered the track in 1972), Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and others performed on the giant screen behind the stage.
“Have Mercy on the Criminal” became nearly complete gospel, and the venerable “Rocket Man” took flight and had just about everyone in the arena singing along (a common occurrence for most of the show) .
“Levon” turned into a funky practice session with an extended jam at the end, then John had the stage to himself again for a touching “Candle in the Wind.”
The singer briefly ducked from the stage to change his costume and returned to his piano as a cloud of dry ice covered the stage and the band launched “Funeral for A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”, possibly be the most dramatic setting of the evening.
The band felt the funk again during an accelerated “Burn Down the Mission” and turned the 80s pop composition “Sad Songs (Say So Much)” into an almost bluesy romp.
A sea of hands waved as the crowd sang “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”. The set ended with four absolute bangers – “The Bitch is Back”, “I’m Still Standing”, “Crocodile Rock”, and “Saturday’s Night’s Alright (for Fighting)”.
John returned in a magenta bathrobe for “Cold Heart,” his duet with Dua Lipa (no, Lipa wasn’t at the show, but his recorded vocals were). He noted that the song, from his album “Lockdown Sessions,” was his current single, then featured his first, “Your Song,” released in 1970.
John’s band – guitarist Davey Johnstone, drummer Nigel Olsson, bassist Matt Bissonette, keyboardist Kim Bullard, percussionist John Mahone and hyperactive percussionist Ray Cooper – were locked in powerfully throughout the set, and the musicians seemed to have fun together. It was nice to see John smile with them as he played.
Of course, the show ended with a rousing “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and Sir Elton John’s final farewell to North Little Rock.