Tim de LiSLe GiG of The week
Madison Square Garden, New York
Everywhere you look in pop music, someone is saying goodbye. For Soft Cell, this took the form of a single London show. For Sir Elton John, it means a world tour, spanning 300 nights. The Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour includes a lap of honour round Britain next summer, then another before Christmas – Christmas 2020, that is. At 71, Elton is so desperate to spend more time with his family that he’s going to leave the stage in three years flat.
He has quit touring before, back in 1977, only to return two years later. He clearly adores his young sons, but he loves performing too. He’s like a friend who solemnly assures you she won’t touch a cigarette after her 40th birthday, when she’s 37.
In showbiz, retiring is not so much a statement of intent as an excuse for a party. This tour features Elton’s familiar band and something like his usual set list, but he goes to town with the visuals and the reminiscences, turning the Yellow Brick Road into Memory Lane.
For a tubby septuagenarian sitting on a stool, he certainly knows how to catch the eye. After arriving as a posh Pearly King in a gemencrusted tailcoat, he squeezes into a suit made of pale pink silk, like the bomber jacket on the cover of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Of the 24 tracks he plays, six come from that album, which may be his best.
The set, designed by Stufish in London and built by Tait in Pennsylvania, deploys a giant picture frame with highlights from Elton’s CV carved into it, from John Lennon, who shared this stage with him in 1974, to Billy Elliot. The effect is cheesy but charming. The piano, a Yamaha grand, sits there as ever, stage right – until, with Elton still playing, it slides over to stage left. The driverless car has been overtaken by the driverless piano.
On the screen, conventional closeups alternate with bright ideas. For Crocodile Rock, Elton’s old costumes reappear, worn by giggling fans. For Candle In The Wind, there’s footage of Marilyn Monroe, pouting, flirting, then suddenly beset with sadness. Princess Diana isn’t mentioned, but she is on many people’s minds.
Elton keeps pausing to reflect, lucidly, as befits a man now working on his memoirs. He relives the moment in 1990 when