So goodbye yellow brick road,
Where the dogs of society howl
You can’t plant me in your penthouse,
I’m going back to my plow
Reginald Kenneth Dwight, raised in a London council house and long since established as the Liberace of classic rock, played the first of his two concerts at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday. You know him as Elton John, but you may not know him for much longer. This is to be his final tour. (Mind you, it’s a three-year tour, and a slew of new North American dates were announced on Wednesday morning. Two-night stands in 2019 are set for Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and back to Toronto again.)
A sold-out crowd at Scotiabank Arena was up to its ears in John’s greatest and lesser hits coming cavalcade-style. The 71-year-old performer was done up in statement spectacles and Gucci fever-dreamed topcoat and tails. Somewhere, Cher and Captain Kangaroo fanned themselves and said “get a load of him,” but, really, the duds weren’t that extreme compared with the sequined Los Angeles Dodgers uniforms and Donald Duck outfits used by John in his glorious sartorial past.
The sound was excellent; John’s voice, tough and ready. Somebody else handled the falsetto role in the concert-opening Bennie and the Jets, but otherwise the star septuagenarian was in robust vocal form. The piano playing? There was boogie and the occasional right-handed flash, often with a gospel influence that was not hidden at all.
It was a greatest-hits show, with no new songs to flog (although John’s Rocket Man is newly topical: Not only does it show up as a sample on Young Thug’s new rap High, the song was part of Donald Trump’s shock-and-awe diplomacy with a ballistic-bent North Korean dictator.)
According to a hurried post-show poll, set-list highlights included Tiny Dancer, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, Take Me to the Pilot, The Bitch is Back and an extended jam on Levon. A two-tune encore started with Crocodile Rock and ended with the tour’s namesake song, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
When he was done, John rode what looked to be a stair-lift device up and into the stage backdrop. The audience remembered when melodic rock was young as they hummed I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues on the way out of the confetti-strewn arena. Goodbye Norma Jean – goodbye Elton John.
There’s a lot of that going around, farewells. This past weekend, Paul Simon finished his Homeward Bound tour at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, New York, not far from his childhood home. The tour was framed as the final go-around for the 76-year-old songwriting icon.
As with John, the folk-music legend Joan Baez is also on a goodbye tour. Early this year, Neil Diamond, the Song Sung Blue troubadour who apprenticed on Tin Pan Alley, announced his retirement from the road after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
These are the days our heroes grow old. Their tours are veterans’ parades of a kind – songs as shiny medals. This all has the possibility of sad, end-of-an-era times, but they really don’t feel that way. They feel feel more like celebrations.
This fall sees the release of 50th-anniversary box sets and reissues of albums including The Band’s Music From Big Pink, the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland and the Beatles' White Album. Many of the people who made the music from those landmark records are gone. But John, Baez and Simon have stuck around.
So, it’s about surviving. Paul McCartney, Neil Young and Bob Dylan are extremely active. And if Dylan sings that it’s “not dark yet, but it’s getting there,” the man with funny glasses sings I’m Still Standing. It all depends on how you look at it.
Elton John plays Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre, Sept. 28; Quebec City’s Videotron Centre, Sept. 29; Montreal’s Bell Centre, Oct. 4.