Not even an “atmospheric river” could keep Elton John fans away from Golden 1 Center on Wednesday night to hear the pop-piano great power through the Sacramento stop of his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour.
Thousands of fans, some in finery inspired by the musician’s famously over-the-top stage outfits, huddled patiently outside the arena in driving rain as the wind turned their umbrellas inside-out, waiting to file in for the Sacramento stop of what’s billed as the final tour of John’s 50-year career.
John walked on stage, sat down at his gleaming black Yamaha concert grand piano and launched into a rollicking, thumping “Bennie and the Jets.” For more than 2 ½ hours, he took the audience through a set heavily weighted with his ‘70s hits including “Tiny Dancer,” “Rocket Man,” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.”
He also sprinkled in some later songs such as “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” and “Believe,” and treated the die-hard fans to “Indian Sunset.”
He apologized to fans if he didn’t play their favorite song, saying it was hard to choose a set list for his career wrap because with such an extensive catalog, “We don’t have enough time.”
The staging was streamlined against a the backdrop of a giant gold frame surrounding a video screen that played everything from historical photos and videos to dance videos and animated images.
At 71, John had no trouble reaching the rafters of the full house with his vocals, and his playing was as strong as ever. He moved through the set list of two dozen songs at a brisk pace, but demonstrated a showman’s timing, interspersing a string of high-energy songs with solo renditions of ballads like “Candle In the Wind” and “Border Song.”
He took only one short break, during which stormy light and sound effects echoed the wild weather outside the arena.
He struck an easy rapport with the audience as he paused to share stories and observations. At the start of his career, he said, he thought he would be a songwriter, but started performing so that he could write the songs he wanted to write. “It all happened by accident,” he said.
More than once, he spoke warmly of his long collaboration with lyricist Bernie Taupin, saying that in a tough business, “50 years plus is an achievement.” He shed insight on their songwriting process, saying he takes Taupin’s title and lyrics into a room, “and I put my hands on the piano and hope for the best.”
John, who has been open about his struggles with addiction, talked about how in 1990, he hit rock bottom, sought help and achieved sobriety. Mentioning his regret that he wasn’t at the forefront of the fight against AIDS, he said he established the Elton John AIDS Foundation after he got clean and sober, saying, “I truly believe that in my lifetime we will see the end of this epidemic.” He then played the 1995 tune “Believe,” the most recent song from the set list.
Overall, the show focused tightly on the music. Backed by a six-man band of players he’s worked with for decades, including percussionist Ray Cooper and guitarist Davey Johnstone, John included extended jams on songs such as “Rocket Man” and “Levon.”
Toward the end of the night, John spoke of his connection to America, saying his career took off after his 1970 U.S. tour. “I will never forget you guys,” he said, thanking the audience “from the bottom of my heart of this Englishman to you Americans.”
The “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour, which kicked off in September and consists of more than 300 shows on five continents, runs through 2021.
‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road’ Golden 1 Center
1. Bennie and the Jets
2. All the Girls Love Alice
3. I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues
4. Border Song
5. Tiny Dancer
6. Philadelphia Freedom
7. Indian Sunset
8. Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)
9. Take Me to the Pilot
10. Someone Saved My Life Tonight
12. Candle in the Wind
13. Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
14. Burn Down the Mission
17. Sad Songs (Say So Much)
18. Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
19. The Bitch is Back
20. I’m Still Standing
21. Crocodile Rock
22. Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting
23. Your Song
24. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road