PITTSBURGH – Sorry seems to be the hardest word, Elton John has been telling us for decades.
Although “farewell” is also a difficult word to express.
Therefore, John (let’s call him “Elton”) needed five years to wrap up his farewell tour, which made its 251st stop on Friday at PNC Park. This was the tour’s third year in Pittsburgh and would be his last performance in Pennsylvania, the megawatt superstar told his Pittsburgh audience. And while the crowd was swept away in abundant joy to hear Elton and his fine band whipping up the hits one last time, finality sank in as he delivered a well-measured speech two-thirds through his encore.
“This is my 15th gig in Pittsburgh,” John said. “My first concert was on October 9, 1973 at the Civic Arena. Tonight is my last concert in Pennsylvania and so I want to thank you for all the years that you have supported me.”
Sitting at his center piano in his third and final costume of the night, a magenta dress, John continued to thank the fans for their half-century of loyalty, saying “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be there. Because you bought the tickets to the shows. The records, the CDs, the 8 tracks, the cassettes, the singles, whatever. So everyone who dressed up tonight, thank you very much. (Feather boas, dazzling oversized glasses and sequined Elton baseball jerseys were the go-to dress choice for many fans on Friday.) You made such a difference. And I’m going to spend time with my kids and hubby and I’m going to have a great time. moment. And I will carry you with me in my heart, my soul and my head and I will never forget you.”
Elton ended his speech with “Be good to each other, be kind, I wish you health, happiness, love and prosperity”, leaving the audience to cheer before playing those instantly recognizable piano notes igniting “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, the final selection of the evening.
It’s sad to think he’s done touring, even if at least Elton is in the lead, as demonstrated by his 24-song performance in Pittsburgh full of snappy piano, driving vocals, and virtually every song ending with the venerable showman standing up from his bench, making eye contact with fans and flashing one of his huge smiles.
Bennie and the Jets
Guess that’s why they call it the blues
have mercy on the criminal
The Rocket Man
Take me to the pilot
Someone saved my life tonight
candle in the wind
A Friend’s Funeral / Love Lies Bleeding
Burn the mission
Sad songs (Say so much)
Sorry seems to be the hardest word
Don’t let the sun go down on me
The female dog is back
I’m still standing
Saturday night is good for fighting
goodbye yellow brick road
Ask five different viewers to pick highlight #1 and you might get five different answers.
The first song “Bennie and The Jets” set the tone for an evening featuring Elton’s crisp, vibrant and expressive piano pluks.
Elton didn’t sing note-for-note recreations of his singles – where’s the fun in that? − fine-tuning the arrangements or the vocal parts, like trilling his “R”s in the “rolling like thunder” part of “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”.
Elton dedicated “Border Song” to the late Aretha Franklin, noting how thrilled he and lyricist Bernie Taupin were as young Englishmen when the queen of soul recorded a cover version. Elton recounted how Franklin, in her final months, rallied to deliver a stunning performance at one of her AIDS charity benefits.
Elton choked up dedicating “Tiny Dancer” to one of the 17 victims of the Parkland school shooting in Florida who had been a huge fan of his.
While very touching, it led to an awkward streak when he introduced the next song, 1973’s “Have Mercy on The Criminal,” which, as the deepest cut of the night, filled the role “Indian Sunset” held at John’s 2019 show at PPG Paints Arena.
John’s singing took some concessions at his 75th birthday. His voice settled for a lower rise on the upper part of the “I’m gonna be high as a kite” line in “Rocket Man.”
Although his power, his enthusiasm and his ability to convey a melody with emotion remain remarkable. He was expertly backed by three bandmates who had accompanied him since the 1970s – Nigel Olsson, drums; Davey Johnstone, lead guitar; Ray Cooper, percussion; − plus other seasoned veterans John Mahon, from Canton, Ohio, on percussion and backing vocals, KIm Bullard on keys and bassist Matt Bissonette (whose brother Gregg played drums for Ringo Starr’s band All Starr last Saturday at PPG Paints Arena.) Bissonette’s son, Josh is a baseball player for the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system (Altoona Curve in Double AA), he made sure Elton told everyone.
Cooper’s timpani bangs added spice to “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”; Johnstone’s slide guitar replicated the sound of interstellar motion in “Rocket Man,” which ended with an extended jam and plenty of playful piano fills from Elton.
They all shook mightily to “Take Me to The Pilot,” one of the many songs that had Elton so gleefully fired up, he stood up and lifted and slammed the lid of his piano for a hard-hitting exclamation mark.
His piano glided hydraulically across the stage on the reliable “Candle in The Wind”. He and the band took a break backstage, letting realistic thunder effects begin the 10-plus-minute prog-gothic “Funeral for a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding.”
“Time to dance,” Elton said ahead of “Sad Songs (Say So Much.).” Bitch is back” and “I’m still up”.
Oh, Lawdy Mama, it was Friday night, and Elton’s band sounded really tight on “Crocodile Rock,” with the crowd providing the “Laa, la-la-la-la-laas.”
Everyone got a little more action on “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” with the band playing a catchy version that added to the memories fans will take home with them.
Thank you Elton, for all the great music and live performances.
Scott Tady is entertainment editor at The Times and easy to reach at [email protected]