After Elton John finished “Philadelphia Freedom,” his second song at Value City Arena on Tuesday night, he lifted the lid of his Yamaha grand piano, then slammed it down with satisfaction. Fresh off his 75th birthday, he seemed to be thinking, “Yeah man, we can do that!”
He should have known it from the dramatically halting first four signature chords on his piano that opened the show with “Bennie And The Jets.” He had it in the bag, as cries of recognition wafted over him from the crowded arena.
The British rock star hit Columbus on a second visit on his ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road’ tour, the first in November 2018, and the second being postponed to last Tuesday due to the pandemic.
In recognition of the many times John has performed in Columbus since 1971, Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther officially proclaimed the day “Sir Elton John Day” and renamed Olentangy River Road at the corner of West Lane Avenue, “Yellow Brick Road”.
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Elton John’s heartfelt thanks to the fans
During his moving introduction to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” – his third encore after a two-hour set – the singer thanked not only Columbus but also the United States for its key role in giving him a life he hasn’t. had ever imagined.
He explained that when he and co-songwriter Bernie Taupin landed in Los Angeles in 1970 to play a breakthrough gig in The Troubador, they could “breathe in the music” that had inspired them from the start. The crowd needed no convincing last night, as vintage soul, rock ‘n’ roll and especially gospel music ran through the entire program like the blood of life.
The singer recalled the thrill he and Taupin felt when Aretha Franklin recorded “Border Song” from their second official album but the first released in the United States.
Strong gospel ties to the music of Elton John
To the extent of that observation, John’s rendition last night sounded like a gospel tent revival, with the singer hammering fiery chords.
The long coda at the end of “Rocket Man (I think it’s going to be very long)” and “Burn Down The Mission”, were among the many examples of gospel influence. The latter seemed to suggest John’s indebtedness to Leon Russell, the great pianist, singer-songwriter, producer and ubiquitous session man, whose work was steeped in southern gospel.
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“Rocket Man,” one of the highlights of the night, also showed the other side of the John/Taupin songbook, which is the introspective and melancholic side. A brilliant song about loneliness and anomie, it was carried through a beautiful atmospheric arrangement – that is, until the gospel parts kicked in.
Elton John still has the chops
The singer still lived up to the ballads, which are sentimental favorites of the 70s and 80s. Where his voice was not firmly available for the high notes and falsetto voices of the original recordings, the veteran singer has created new paths to chart their melodies. Although her vocals wavered on a few, especially the encore’s “Your Song,” her emotional commitment to the melody more than made up for it.
His self-knowledge, acquired over 52 years of touring, has taught him to compensate for his aging technique and, like the true soul singer that he is, to keep his performance spontaneous. This is a trick during a huge orchestrated production.
Key to the evening’s success was his tight band, especially longtime veterans guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson.
The wild man of his early years still lives in him. (For a measure of savagery, reference former party pal Rod Stewart’s autobiography.) The final four songs of the actual set — “Bitch Is Back,” “I’m Still Standing,” “Crocodile Rock” and “Saturday Night’s Fighting” – were a testament, making up a rock ‘n’ roll mini-set full of swinging abandon.
The singer said he was retiring to spend more time with his family. A fond farewell to him…and good luck keeping the rocker in tow!