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Elton John says farewell in fine fashion at Little Caesars Arena
DETROIT -- Truth be told, Elton John is well worth seeing in concert even when it isn't a farewell tour.
But there's no question that the professed finality (we've been here before, after all) of his current Farewell Yellow Brick Road trek made his Friday night, Oct. 12, stop in Detroit -- the first of two concerts at Little Caesars Arena -- feel a bit more special.
The nearly two-hour and 45-minute show certainly encapsulated just how special John's 50-year career has been. The 24-song set was piled high with enduring hits -- the venue-shaking opener "Bennie and the Jets," "Candle in the Wind," "Your Song," "Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,""Crocodile Rock," "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" (complete with confetti shower) just to name a very few -- all delivered with passion and precision by the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and his six-piece band, which included Detroit-born bassist Matt Bissonnette. It also paid tribute to the extravagant flash that's part of John's stock in trade -- and illustrated in career-spanning videos accompanying "I'm Still Standing" and the show-closing "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."
But while it's easy to get lost in the inherent spectacle -- and offstage drama -- that's also part and parcel in John's story, Friday provided a reminder of just what an equally spectacular musical performer he can be.
The show's real highlights weren't necessarily the series of arty, high-concept videos (a nod to John's Las Vegas residencies) or his three costume changes, including a glittery pink bathrobe for the encores. They were the extended instrumental vamps that he and his band added to songs such as "Rocket Man," "Levon," "Burn Down the Mission" and "The Bitch is Back," among others, letting John and guitarist/bandleader Davey Jones stretch out and show off chops that haven't dulled a bit over five decades of touring. Longtime percussionist Ray Cooper had his moments, too, particularly during "Indian Sunset," which he and John performed as a duo.
And Nigel Olsson, the longest-tenured member of John's band, proved himself astute not only at drumming but knowing when the stationary camera beside his kit was focused on him.
Though the hits reigned, John also offered a few other deep dives into his catalog, including a rocking "All the Girls Love Alice" and "Believe," which he used to celebrate the accomplishments of his Elton John AIDS Foundation. He also turned "Border Song," from his self-titled 1970 sophomore album, into a tribute to the late Aretha Franklin, explaining the joy he and lyricist Bernie Taupin felt when they learned she covered (and had a bigger hit with) it for her 1972 album "Young, Gifted and Black." "We were gobsmacked," John told the crowd. "In fact, we nearly p***ed our pants in sheer delight at the fact the woman we loved so much then and grew to love even more afterward would actually record one of our songs."
He also noted that the cover began a long friendship with the Queen of Soul. "I loved her so much," John said. "I used to call her on her birthday sometimes and wish her a happy birthday, to say thank you not just for being Aretha but for every piece of music she made that inspired me."
He offered other memories as throughout the show, recalling his years of coming to "so many venues" in the Detroit area -- and specifically shouting out his first, a six-song set on Nov. 28, 1970 at the old Eastown Theatre -- and, before "Indian Sunset," offering a detailed explanation of his "two rooms" songwriting approach with Taupin.
The show's sentimentality was palpable, but not overstated, and only before "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" did he monologue, explaining that "I never ever thought in my wildest dreams that this journey I've had would be so remarkable" and giving all credit to his fans for their support over the years. "I will miss you so much," John said. "I have other fish to fry. That's more important now, but thank you, because you've given me so much."
But as he ascended into the video screen on a moving ramp at the end of the night, the gratitude came from the other direction, with the Little Caesars crowd thanking John for so many years of great music -- and for one genuinely fabulous performance on Friday.
John performs again at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, at Little Caesars. Tickets start at $49.50. Call 313-471-7000 or visit 313Presents.com
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