For nearly every “final tour” of a music industry star, there’s a high-profile comeback or reunion. Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road World Tour is a signature big affair, with a schedule of over 300 shows; these dates began in the fall of 2018 and continue through the summer of 2023. This is not the first time that Elton, now 75, has announced his retirement (his 2015 US tour s ‘was called The Final Curtain), but that didn’t diminish the sense of occasion during his sold-out show in Hyde Park.
The title of this tour is a clear nod to the Pinner-born singer-songwriter’s legendary seventh studio album, goodbye yellow brick road (1973), and the dynamic anthem “Bennie and the Jets” opened a set that showcased the highlights of this multi-platinum record, alongside a catalog spanning several decades. Elton’s dazzling dress sense was on reliable form; he arrived at his piano in cream and black tails, shimmering specs and comfortable coaches, steadily rising between riffs to wave to the crowd. His stiff gait indicated the hip operation he had undergone last year; his stamina over a two and a half hour set belied it.
Despite the ‘bracelet hierarchy’ (part of the BST Hyde Park summer festival, where only premium ticket holders could approach the stage), there was no denying the scale or fervor of its audience : 20s to seniors, with children in tow. You didn’t have to be a hardcore fanatic to be enamored with Elton’s musical dexterity, or the range of his hit repertoire with fellow songwriter Bernie Taupin, from glam and soft rock to stompers. inspired by Philadelphia soul such as “Philadelphia Freedom”, blues, ballad (including “Candle in the Wind”). He may not have hit the high notes of “Tiny Dancer,” but his voice was still powerful. His seasoned backing band (including irrepressible percussionist Ray Cooper and Elton’s drummer since 1969, Nigel Olsson) sounded immaculate and uplifting, especially on extended tracks like a beautifully spaced “Rocket Man.”
As the music crossed many genres, the visuals on the big screen were more like a mish-mash that sometimes clicked “I guess that’s why they call it the blues” featured the photos of affection and alienation by Martin Parr; “I’m Still Standing” had an exuberant montage of Elton’s appearances (at Live Aid; as a Disney hitmaker; as a The Simpsons cartoon; on The puppet show). Elton has earned (and flaunted) her reputation as a rock diva over the years, but tonight’s show also highlighted her genuine charm and fun to play. He bore moving testimony to deceased friends and musical innovators who had also memorably covered his songs: Aretha Franklin (“Border Song”) and George Michael (“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”) , and expressed her gratitude for the support of her fans (“You go out of her way for me, and I really, really appreciate it”) and her family (greeting to her husband David Furnish and their sons in the crowd).
A pleasingly raspy chant of “Crocodile Rock” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” was quickly followed by an encore that took us out of the house mash-up of 2021 chart topper “Cold Heart” (his career has been dotted of all kinds of collaborations – although here co-singer Dua Lipa only appears on screen) yellow brick road. The setlist packed in masses of showstoppers; his catalog still had plenty left – but, as the star pointed out, there are still around 100 tour dates left. It may be Elton’s long goodbye, but his songbook never fades.